Happy New Year!

Trip Start Jun 10, 2006
Trip End Jun 14, 2007

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Flag of Kazakhstan  ,
Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year,

This time of year is really exciting here. There are many parties to attend, and everyone seems to be in a frenzy, getting ready not so much for Christmas but for New Years, when everyone will exchange presents and have large dinners of besbarmak(Wikipedia.com spelling-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazakh_cuisine) and lots of Vodka to wash it down.

I thought everyone would like to see what goes on at art openings here in Almaty. So, I'm posting some photos of the last show I was in at the beginning of December. I think you guys will be pleasantly surprised to see they don't look or dress much different than a typical hipster at any art opening in San Francisco or New York.

The night of this show was for the opening of the Seismograms exhibit at the Soros Center For Contemporary Arts. The show is about how artists should be critical of the government and the culture of Kazakhstan. Artists should be the plotter pen and paper on the Seismogram, bouncing and bobbing all over the place exposing the corruption of government and the new rich.

Lots of good art was shown this night. I really have to hand it the the director Valeria Ibraeva. She really knows how to put on an opening. There were lots of people. Around over 100 people showed up for this event, including television and radio news reporters. I really got to meet some nice people that night. I am learning a little about how to work as an artist here in Kazakhstan. Most of your time is to produce good, thought provoking art and then when you show this work you really have to use the mass-media to get the word out about yourself and your art. So, it's important to get yourself on the news and really speak your mind.

No good art show should open without any controversy. One of my friends and colleagues, Malik Abyshev faced a little problem with his work after producing, in my opinion the most successful art piece in the show. His work was a computer rendering print of the work of Kenbaev, a mid-20th century master Kazakh painter. The painting is a scene of two horse riders on the steppe with the mountains in the background, capturing a wild horse. Malik takes the painting and manipulates it to have the horsemen capturing Borat from the Ali G. show on the same white horse! It's a fantastic and smart commentary on the identity of Kazakhs. The news was really excited about this work, because Borat is so hot right now. Anyhow, his piece became an instant hit with everyone. Malik's piece was printed in the papers and I think this caught the attention of the son of the artist Kenbaev. Well, he threatened to sue Malik and he made a big stink over the whole piece. Later, we asked Valeria if the son of Kenbaev still owns the piece wondering if he has any rights to the work. She says the piece has been in Moscow since 1961! This gave me a sense of relief since it isn't the property of this grumpy son who feels like his fathers art work is being dragged through the mud of Contemporary Art and Postmodernism.

I was very surprised by how this son was so protective over his fathers work. Valeria says it is often the case that the children of these classic Kazakh painters are very protective over the rights of their family works. I don't think I've really seen this before in the media over saturated west. I think this would have just been seen as an opportunity to re-appreciate the works of an artist from the past put into a contemporary context.

Most troubling of all, is the that there is a rift between these artists at the Soros Center For Contemporary Arts and the Soviet Artists who seem to have different aesthetic and political sensibilities. They seem to have little dialogue with each other. I feel this is troubling, because I think they fail to understand that ultimately they are all artists trying to produce good art. I feel as if they don't really see that they could only benefit from each other by learning the techniques of the old and the new, thus furthering the quality of their works. But, in the world of over generalizations, one mustn't fail to identify that there are many of these artists working within the two groups. Many of these artists are very successful because they negotiate between these two scenes.

The concern of the major art institutions here is to develop local Kazakh art to help build on the national identity. So, I'm lucky to work with Valeria and the Soros Center, because it is the only institution that helps foreign artists to work with locals. Out of the 20 or so artists working with Valeria, I am one of the very few painters. There seems to be a stigma against painters amongst the artists at the Soros Center. They sort of feel that painting is dead. I think that most of them were surprised that I use the media of painting in a way that isn't classical in it's content and technique. I use anything to paint on canvas;spray paint, markers, oil, or whatever leaves a mark on a raw or primed canvas. I've heard this has a lot to do with the idea that many painters in Kazakhstan have been very successful with foreigners buying their works. Many of these painters are producing works that seem to be based on traditional Kazakh culture and their paintings often use mid-20th century techniques often reminiscent of German Expressionism, French Fauvism, and Surrealism. Much of this work is actually very nice, but much of it in my opinion is very reminiscent of South Western art from New Mexico or as I've said before mid-twentieth century modernism. It's easy to come across galleries that are sort of Kazakh retailers/galleries that sell idealized scenes of yurts and horses and traditional scenes of the steppe. I'm surprised how much of this work is available. It's no surprise to me that these artists sell a lot of their works. They subscribe to this aesthetic to satisfy the foreign market. But, this isn't (to me) serious art, but it can be good if people identify this work as being merely decorative arts for people who want safe art that looks nice in their dental office waiting area. I am not really passing complete judgment on these Kazakh artists, they are merely selling to the market of the type of foreigner that comes here to buy art without thinking about the context. It's a great case study in how art can be influenced by market factors. So, the experience in going into one of these gallery/retailers is you can find anything that seems like traditional Kazakh art such as dombras, Kazakh theme chess pieces, carpets, plates, cups, prints and paintings in traditional themes. Most of this work is very expensive and this stuff is reminiscent of going to a gallery/retailer in Carmel or the Municipal Wharf in Santa Cruz or Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco. These popular tourist destinations have galleries that offer work that has paintings of nautical scenes like old tug boats and fishing boats, a painting of sailing ships from any century seems common, a scene of waves and seagulls at sunset, or the famous paintings of whales underwater( You really can't get any more campy). I've even seen some of these paintings of whales, swimming in outer space! These have to be the ultimate in low brow art in California.

Anyhow, Enough of me ranting about art. Check out my photos. Oh, write to me please. I really want to know what you all think of these photos. Let me know what is going on in your life.

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