Sergei Kiryuschenko is regarded as a classic of Belarusian art, however his recent works continue to amaze people with their modernity and form a different attitude towards abstract art. The large-scale presentation of his works was held in Minsk, June 7 – 22, in two exhibition spaces.
The works by Sergei Kiryuschenko have been attracting people’s attention for forty years, and every five-seven years the artist transforms a vector of his activities. He identifies himself as a painter, yet he constantly refers to the options of other media: sculpture and silkscreen printing, photography and video, land art and public art experiences, neon art and textual works. This is, of course, an ordinary characteristic of any modern artist, but it has to be emphasized in the article since multimedia is not typical for Belarusian artists of his generation. Looking at the metamorphosis of his work in the context of world art, you understand that Kiryushchenko appropriates and methodically “tests” some key approaches of Western art thereby trying to “break” self-insulating pathos of Belarusian culture.
Kiryuschenko had went from the expressive-realistic post cubist landscape painting to the non-figurative abstractionism, and then he again returned to figurativism through the study of the archaic and again turned to abstract art through the synthesis of land art and conceptual art practices. Today the artist in the multiple repetitions synthesizes the paradigm of abstractionism with the theory of urbanism and public art concepts. Besides, many of his last canvases have lost their representative function, becoming stand-alone objects.
Despite the apparent cyclic change of his creative strategies, Sergei Kiryushchenko almost always explores a common theme of his creative work: the relationships among the real, pictorial and abstract spaces. The category of space always presents in his works, whether it is a work with a real landscape and architectural environment, metaphysical and mythological concepts or the immersion in the textual experiments. The artist is primarily interested in problems of abstract art: in fact the ultimate goal of his continuous returns to reality is the search for new approaches to the understanding of abstract things.
Since 1963, Kiryuschenko had been studying at the art studio of Sergei Katkov. In 1972 he entered the Belarusian State Institute of Theater and Art (the department of interior, since he wasn’t able to enter the department of painting, what now he recalls with relief). Today he makes no secret of sympathy to the free atmosphere that prevailed in the Institute at that time, which is so unlike the current Academy of Arts with its useless drill. He speaks warmly about his teachers: Mironova Lenina Nikolaevna and Hadyko Oleg Vladimirovich, who taught at the Institute the basics of composition, based on the theory of changing styles in art history. Besides the very time, as the artist notes, was dynamic and became freer with every year: weekly trips to Vilnius, Moscow and Leningrad (in 1970 the first exhibition of Sergei Kiryushchenko was held in a private apartment in Leningrad), the change of principles in the culture and the opening of another art.
Sergei Kiryuschenko has identified himself as an artist quite late despite his continuous practice in painting and permanent participation in exhibitions. According to him, he still hasn’t mastered a classic drawing. Like all the Belarusian painters of that period, he began his career with still life and landscape paintings and took a great interest in post-impressionist and modernist experiments, gradually got rid of figurative art. By joining the Belarusian Union of Artists (1983), together with his colleagues he got a studio, where later the first exhibition of the prominent artists from the group “Nemiga-17” was held (the group were named after the street name and floor number, where the studio was situated). The artistic association “Nemiga-17” was soon formalized in the Union of Artists. The group had repeatedly changed its membership, conducted more than 10 major exhibitions and ceased its activity with the project at the Tretyakov Gallery in 2003. During the existence of the group Sergei Kiryuschenko also conducted a number of large-scale personal exhibitions at the Palace of Arts, and the series of these projects is the best illustration of the progress in the author’s pictorial search.
The artist acknowledges that the study of literature rather than the theory of art had a great impact on his logic (hence even in the abstract works of the artist there is a literary presence). But he says that almost always he starts a new level of creativity “on the tip of the brush”, that is, through the picturesque formalist practice, but not with the help of pre-established concepts. In this thesis one can feel a deceit: he has never stopped arguing against the theory of abstract art, often criticizing it and speaking ironically of it, especially on the subject of orthodox direction of abstract art – the concrete painting (the area which put itself on the map 50 years ago). He doesn’t try to follow the canons of abstract art and applies its theory and experience to invention of new designs and potentials in abstract painting.
Considering the whole works by Sergei Kiryuschenko, you realize that he has never focused on dematerialization of art practice and always remains a staunch formalist. While the painting of the 20th century programmatically refused and fought with each of its visual elements, often coming to an absolute vacuum, Kiryuschenko, on the contrary, goes through the process of adding to the experience of the avant-garde what modernists so carefully denied: the accession of space, narrative, color, figure art and other elements. But to be fair it should be mentioned that Kiryushchenko by his work method is both “simplifier” and “complicator”, that is, periodically in the modernist tradition of savings, he moves towards simplified and clear statement, but at other times he returns to the complexity of his tools.
In any case, Sergei Kiryuschenko, like the American classic Frank Stella, tries to avoid art history pathos and chooses the path of progressive self-reflection of art. If you try to consider the things the artist does in regard to a particular trend in the latest art, if you try to mark him in accordance with the existing terminology, then the best suitable definition of his work would be “an abstract mannerism.” Despite the roughness of this definition, the artist’s proximity to the abstractionists and mannerists can explain his conceptual and aesthetic approaches. Besides, it gives the right to compare Sergei Kiryuschenko with other contemporary artists such as Frank Stella, Imi Knoebel, Peter Halley, Tomma Abts. All of them not just work with the form in a different way, but also develop a different attitude towards abstract art through the saturation of style and synthesis of theory of abstract painting with a variety of phenomena of modern life: the modern architecture, conceptual art, information flows, new technologies, sociology and even consumerism. On the one hand, the mannerism in abstract art proclaims the decline of style and the inability of “great gesture”, but on the other hand, it is now regarded as purely speculative and “entertaining” period in art: the connection of heterogeneous elements, the play with space and optics, irony, and, perhaps, more productive freedom than the one during the “pure” periods of style development.
On the one hand, Sergei Kiryuschenko can be listed among “positivists of the painting”, that is, the artists, who criticize painting by its own means. But on the other hand, he again and again overruns the positivist postulates, when the means of painting become its content , invariably returning to nature and reality.
Let’s consider the example of a lattice – a plastic figure which appears most frequently in his works. The artist has been working on this element, which was introduced in the visual arts with the help of avant-garde experience, with long intervals during the last thirteen years. According to Rosalind Krauss (a well-known theorist of art), to avant-garde artists the lattice, which is static, devoid of hierarchy, center and diversity, is silent, it is “impenetrable for language”. “The lattice is impenetrable for time and events, it blocks the access of language to visual sphere, which results in silence” . Kiryuschenko came to the lattice in 1999 through a real landscape, imposing it on the other graphic layers. Later he rediscovered the lattice in 2005, after his work with rural architecture and land art experiments. For the third time he came to it in 2009, when he was working with urban exhibition space and architecture. He doesn’t find and doesn’t use the lattice from art and for art imitation (as the modernists do) , but he always comes to this element through the assimilation of real things with the help of art and for the interaction with the visible surrounding reality. While Rosalind Krauss characterized the lattices as “impossible for language”, Kiryuschenko’s lattices are easily succumbed to literary language interventions. In abstractionism the lattice means the rejection of the literary and the originality, it blocks literary interpretations of pictorial space and underscores the flatness of picturesque surface. In Kiryushchenko’s case the lattice is used to demonstrate the profoundness and optical “destruction” of canvas’ surface, it shows the rupture, both speculative and verbal.
In this respect, Kiryuschenko is closer to the experiments of Barnett Newman, one of the most radical abstractionists, rather than to minimalist aesthetic of Agnes Martin. Newman considered his works not only the reproduction of geometric forms, but also “the path towards verity and the experience of the sublime”. He also said: “A modern artist is not concerned with his own feelings and mysteries of his personality, but with the insight into the world mysteries”. This thesis in many ways reflects Kiryuschenko’s view about the role of an artist.
It is difficult to estimate the work of the artist, considering only his particular works. It is better to present it via specific series and exhibitions:
1986 / The first exhibition of the group “Nemiga-17”
A group of young artists, having received a refusal to exhibit some of their works at the Union Exhibition in the Palace of Art, exhibited these and other works in their own studio. The exhibition, which has almost no documentation for now, had produced an effect unexpected for the artists and became popular among spectators, intellectuals and representatives of official circles. Perhaps because of the new more liberal atmosphere in the society and spectators’ craving for “another” art, in a short time the studio had been visited by crowds of interested people and within a year the whole exhibition was overexposed in the Palace of Arts under the authorship of the group “Nemiga-17.” At that time the group included Nikolai Buschik, Sergei Kiryuschenko, Anatoly Kuznetsov, Algerd Malishevskiy, Oleg Matievich, Alexander Metlitsky, Tamara Sokolova, and Leonid Hobotov. Later some members left the group, but another people joined it – Galina Gorovaya and Zoja Litvinova.
1994 / The exhibition “Blue Space” / The Palace of Arts, Minsk
This is the first major exhibition of the artist, where his new approaches to painting can be revealed. Working in the expressionist technique, Kiryuschenko had gradually walked away from figurative art. But later he again felt the necessity to return to it – through the reference to the “archaic”, the idea which was quite popular among creative people in those years. According to Kiryushchenko, it is extremely important for the development of culture to return to the heritage and the archaic methods as the symbolic “nullification”. It was during these years, when such a return had become particularly productive for art. The exhibition “Blue Space” was created in collaboration with a sculptor Tamara Sokolova, who also had been working with the “archaic” in this period, which was expressed in her works in stylized ceramics of saturated cobalt color.
1996 / The exhibition “The Running Earth” / The Palace of Arts, Minsk
Right after the previous exhibition Sergei Kiryuschenko presented his solo exhibition “The Running Earth” at the same place. All the exhibited large-scale paintings were painted in a record short time – seven months – under the influence of long-term stay in the village Rzhavka (Orel region), where he was impressed with endless black earth landscapes and the contrast of green, black and yellow colors. The artist had a desire to recreate the perspective of the total landscape in the space of the Palace of Arts. Through large planes, the impact of color and dynamics the exhibition testified the artist’s first significant turn to work on the interaction between real things and abstract spaces.
2001 / The exhibition “The Temptation of Space” / The Palace of Arts, Minsk
Shortly before the work on the exhibition the key bursts (for the future experiments) of creative enlightenment had happened to the artist. They influenced the preparation of the next exhibition at the Palace of Arts created in collaboration with Tamara Sokolova. Sergei Kiryuschenko continued his work with spatial categories, turning a real landscape into an abstract surface lined with picturesque palimpsests. Among some of the graphic layers the artist for the first time uses the element of lattice (the work “The Death of Bobo”, 1999), which is imposed on other surfaces. It refers us to the modernist practices. Rosalind Krauss wrote: “Generation after generation abstractionist artists have “discovered” the lattice, we can say that a potential of revelation is structurally incorporated into it: it always appears as a novelty, as a unique discovery,” . For Sergei Kiryushchenko “discovery” of the lattice will also become one of the key events in his creative activity and his “calling card”.
2002-2005 / “Space Meditations”
After discoveries in abstract painting the artist began a productive period of his work with the possibilities of pictorial space in abstractionist set. Kiryushchenko calls it “Space Meditations” (after the name of one of the series which appeared at that time). Despite the productive work of these years, he had refused to participate in any exhibitions and concentrated on his work in the studio. This time, according to the artist, could not be better illustrated by the quote of Donald Karskham: “To step aside from the pure Malevich’s black square and to see around its corner a higher dimension – geometric paradise” . The access to “Geometric Paradise” for the artist is the result of synthesis of pure flat geometric painting with attempts to endow it with spatial attributes: depth, aerial and linear perspective, rhythm.
2006-2009 / The project “High Time to Get Down to Down to Earth Art”
From the dialectic of abstract art, by the individual well-established tradition, the artist once again turns to the real, manifesting this return in the title of the final project – “High Time to Get Down to Down to Earth Art”. Three years of this period best reveal the author’s method of work: an appeal to the reality and overcoming its depiction with final geometrization via application of the principles of metaphysics and conceptualism.
Sergei Kiryuschenko again returned to the countryside. After his experience with geometric abstractionism he was no longer interested in landscape. He focused on rural architecture with its rhythm and “cabalistic” numbers (special marks on the beams of rural buildings used for frame assembling). The artist had began to paint the buildings in the village Uroda, where he usually works in summer, with abstract drawings and manifests in English, to plough up the ground around the painted buildings like a labyrinth, fixing everything in photos and on video. As Olga Shparaga notes in her review of the exhibition (the presentation of the project was conducted for the first time in Minsk Gallery of Modern Art “Ў” as the first gallery exhibition – AA): “The text written in English, which is alien to the realities of the Belarusian village, underscores the tension between the framework of rural house and the text, which appears on this framework, and implies the idea about complexities of relations between the text and the context”.
Hereafter the artist created a series of stylized silk-screen printings based on photodocumentation, gradually simplifying the drawing up to the pure abstract patterns. Scenic polyptychs, which are eventually deprived of recognizable figurativeness, present a naked skeleton, consisting of some graphic features, which remain after a series of metamorphoses: a space for text, a rhythmic of energy flows, multidimensionality. Thus, the artist, as it was expected, once again returned to the abstract. Sergei Kiryushchenko postulated in the project “A Desire to Oppose Art to Dying and Rotting”.
2009-2012 / “The metabolism of pictorial space”
The studio, where the first exhibition of “Nemiga-17” was conducted is now fully owned by Sergei Kiryuschenko. It is located at the top of one of the high-rise buildings in Minsk. Panoramic city views, a chain of streets and a variety of architecture have greatly influenced on the recent series of works, in which the spirit of the city and urban architecture has become tangible. After the project “It’s time to come to grips with down-to-earth art” the artist has become really interested in the image of a lattice, which arises in his works so often. In his new book, Rosalind Krauss again writes about the lattice: “The rules of cubist practice produced the “grid”, which pointed three ways at once: first to the flatness of the canvas the way graph paper creates a net everywhere taut and seamless; second to the edges of this flatness with each tessera miming the picture’s frame; third to the microfiber of the canvas, so as to «figure forth» the very tissue of the canvas weave” .
For now the lattice, which the artist repeats in his canvases over and over again, is not so multilayered, as it was in his previous works. Under the dynamic structure we don’t see other layers except the local homogeneously colored background. Nevertheless, the fragments of infinite lattices bounded by picture frames are situated at different angles in the visual space, destroying the plane of the canvas, and subduing the exhibition space to other measuring properties. By creating similar, purely pictorial spaces, the artist tries to avoid the effect of personal presence, methodically endowing the canvases with anthropogenic character. But the image isn’t printed on the canvas by technical means, it painted with paintbrush as decorating painting. The coloration of painting also has been transformed significantly: from green-yellow-black in the project “The Running Earth” to “modern” technical colors, the most popular of which is poisonous lemon, silver, white and black. Such work with the form and selected technique allow the artist to attain the purity of the “idea without interference”, a transparent image, which is an object with revealed net structure, clear composition and freedom of color perception.
2006 / Video “Portrait of a Curator” / in co-authorship with Vyacheslav Inozemtsev, Alexei Ivanov and Oleg Jusko
In the end it is important to mention that Sergei Kiryuschenko’s influence and participation are significant for modern Belarusian art. The artist constantly concerns with formation and development of the Belarusian cultural policy. The video work “Portrait of a Curator”, which is uncommon for the artist, reflects his depression about the situation in contemporary Belarusian art, which still remains frozen and comatose.
Today Sergei Kiryuschenko actively participates and criticizes the current cultural situation. Being involved in the formation of new artistic resources, events and institutions, he also helps young artists to integrate into the system of Belarusian art.
 Clement Greenberg. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939)
 Rosalind Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985, translated from English by Anna Matveeva)
 Donald Karsham. “Behind the square: Malevich and the cube” / Kasimir Malewich zum 100. Geburstag, gal. Gmurzynska / 1978
 Rosalind Krauss. Under Blue Cup, MIT Press, 2011 / translated from English by Alexander Borisenko and Victoria Sonkina // published in the magazine “Artchronicle”, Vol. 10, December, 2011 – February, 2012.