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Place and ways of its use in Moscow conceptualism in the 1970s — the first half of the 1980s


The artistic practices of Moscow conceptualism originate and develop outside the art institutions existed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Artists didn’t have access to traditional exhibition halls due to their political and aesthetic choice, so they adapted places that were not originally intended for art practices, such as apartments, studios, and nature. 


The ways by which artists use these places distinguish the practices of Moscow conceptualism from the practices of other artists. Unlike the apartment exhibitions of the previous generation of artists, the conceptualists’ art events held in the apartments were conceived not against the existing restrictions, but taking into account the nature of the accessible space. These places are perceived not as an obstacle, but rather as a reference point for artistic action. Such are the displays of Ilya Kabakov’s albums in his studio, “home happenings” and readings in the apartment of Irina Nakhova and Andrei Monastyrsky, apartment actions of Collective Actions group, APTART exhibitions.

Moreover, if someone had a “surplus” spatial resource, it was granted to collective use. For example, Kabakov’s studio became a place of regular meetings and artistic actions. Installation genre, which absorbs a significant amount of space, taking it away from everyday life, arises in the works of those artists who had a studio besides an apartment (Kabakov, Nakhova). APTART also became possible insofar as Nikita Alekseev lived alone in a separate apartment and could “cut off” a part of his living space, giving it to a collective artistic activity.

The attention to the characteristics of space is also specific in outdoor activities. The famous “Bulldozer” and “Izmailovskaya” exhibitions were “paintings’ viewing on open air” and transferred the act of displaying and observing of the paintings which were already created from indoor spaces to open air. On the contrary, the conceptualists presented their works on open air in the forms of objects (“UMRI” [Die] by Andrei Filippov), installations (“Take care of art — our wealth!” from the TOTART group), performances (“Journeys Outside the City”, Collective Actions

group). These works were not mechanically transferred, but fit into the landscape, focusing on nature’s states and the personal experience of it (snow height, distance, wind, etc.). In addition, not only these features are taken into account, but also the memories of being in nature together within an artistic activity. Thus, Collective Actions group included reminiscences of the previous actions (“Ten Appearances”) in the new ones and the Mukhomor group replayed the codes of Collective Actions group’s actions (“Shooting”).


Such artistic practices include the characteristics of a place in the artwork. These characteristics can be both phenomenological and discursive. Therefore, such ways of using an accessible place are fundamentally new. This new (second) way of using the place, which was not originally inherent to it, opens up to new artistic goals. Through appropriation, entry into new places, and therefore into the phenomenological and discursive spaces of the place, art comes out of the white cube — a forced exit at first, that soon became a conscious and creatively meaningful choice.