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a district built at the request of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts on the occasion of the opening of the new building for the Museum of Private Collections.

Location: State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia.

Year: 2005 - 2006


Julia Tulovsky

«Night, street, light...» A. Blok

In his novel Transparent Things the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov claimed that certain objects and places acquire a «time transparency» in the human consciousness. The past superimposed on the present creates multilayered spaces in the memory of human experience. The project «white District» by Aleksander Konstantinov provokes similar thoughts.

«White District» is a giant outdoor installation commissioned by the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and realized by Konstantinov this summer; it is intended to adorn the center of Moscow for several years. The project is a rare example of collaboration between this major Moscow museum that is mainly devoted to ancient and western European art, and a contemporary artist. Concurrent with the opening of a new building for the Department of Private Collections, Konstantinov’s installation marks the beginning of a new era in the Museum’s development. The installation is an enormous drawing depicting images of facades, gates, and fences in white tape over black plastic film. Covering several museum buildings that are slated for reconstruction, the work connects both the past and the future of the site. The black and white images evoke an association with negative photo or x-ray film onto which former and future buildings are projected. The highly stylized drawing reminds the viewer of Piranesi’s engravings, Morandi’s etchings, works by the Russian group «world of Art», Versailles alleys, or Canaletto’s views. This multitude of historical art references corresponds not only to the general direction of the museum’s politics, but also to the future function of the buildings. works of art that will be stored and exhibited in their walls are seemingly projected from within onto their facades in the form of visual reminiscences. 

This interplay of cultural references is typical for Konstantinov’s outdoor installations, realized over the past several years in various towns of Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Greece, and the USA. His works usually engage traditions of local architecture within complex allusions to world art history. Because of this strategy, Konstantinov’s installations exist in harmony with their surroundings and with the particular atmosphere of each town, while at the same time connecting them to the wider history of art. Its connection with the museum forces these features to dominate in «White District». It dissolves in the city like a phantom or a ghost, at the same time transforming its very essence. This photonegative x-ray from the past and the future functions in the environment the way dreams and memories function in the human consciousness. Latently and unobtrusively they impose their influence upon the perception of reality.

Multiple associations, vagueness of boundaries, and the uncertainties of a dream-like time and space, are characteristic of Konstantinov’s work. It is not always clear what time of day or year is depicted and where the border between art and life is. Do the rusted fire ladder, black cast-iron streetlight and railings, gray pavement and smoked sky belong to the monochrome installation by Konstantinov? Did they exist there before, or were they constructed by the artist especially for this occasion? Even the green leaves of a tree look like additional artificial objects included by the artist in order to stress the black and white elegance of his facades. The associations of a negative emphasize the ephemeral, unreal character of the work. Ephemerality that masks as reality is a sham; ephemerality that emphasizes its unreal character moves to another dimension, and becomes part of the real world. According to the laws of mathematics, two minuses make a plus.

«White District’s» dreamlike nature embodies the collective memory of the city of Moscow. Located in Moscow’s historic center, one block from the Kremlin and one block from the Pashkov mansion (now home to the Russian State Library), that was built facing the Kremlin as an architectural statement of a private person’s opposition to official power, Konstantinov’s installation enriches the ongoing dialog with the famous «Moscow courtyards», a democratic architectural feature of the old city that is now vanishing under the onslaught of heedless construction. Nowhere does the demolition of old houses and the erection in their place of weighty and cumbersome buildings reach such a scale as in today’s Moscow. Against this backdrop, Konstantinov’s installation carefully preserves the old buildings and reflects an image of old Moscow through the prism of world art history, turning a work of art into an oppositional statement about the globalistic tendencies of our time. In counterbalance to these tendencies that destroy the uniqueness of local culture and level the individuality of human existence, Konstantinov’s work unites one personal vision with the multiple expressions of artists’ individual wills present in world masterpieces, and proposes an alternative way for the coexistence of times and cultures.

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