A Review of Valery Chtak’s ‘If My Way – No Way’ at The Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Russia
‘Love does not demand an axe’ – states one of the murals by Valery Chtak exhibited in the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Along with ‘L’art c’est hip-hop’, ‘The fact that I am a Marxist does not mean I don’t care’ and other wannabe slogans and leftist maxims created and put on show by the Russian artist as a kind of self-explanatory manifesto and resume of his almost 20 years in art.
This year Valery Chtak has left the pleiad of the young artists by turning 35 and having his major exhibition opened last month in one of the biggest Moscow museums signifying the eventual recognition of the once underground street artist.
The viewers are welcomed inside by the chain of the explications placed all over the walls leading up to the 4th floor of the museum. The tablets disregard the actual showpieces and purposefully hint on the artist’s past in the art group ‘Radek’, vision of the world and art, philosophy, interest for cultures and languages, favourite poems, songs and quotes (the viewer is often left to guess which ones are by the artist and which ones are by the great minds of the past). Some are provocative (‘Copyright infringement guaranteed’), some are lightheartedly self-deprecating (‘Chtak’s stolen everything from Basquiat!’), some make you remember Monty Python or Russian nursery rhymes. But there is also a continuous introspection on being an artist, particularly in this day and age.
The four floors of the museum divide the show. Chtak’s street art background makes an appearance on the first floor that has skateboards all over it. ‘Skatebeuys’ explication precedes it, peculiarly uniting two of the artist’s inspirations. Almost each one of the boards has catchy slogans and witty drawings on it. An actual ramp with a vacant skateboard is placed in the centre of the room and dares the visitors to try their feet on it.
The second floor is dedicated to music and author’s musical preferences. Unlike the explications that are full of cultural and philosophical references of author’s choice, the second floor installation has no direct tributes – only peek-through high windows where one can watch skeletons in the environ of the underground rehearsal room and an amp connected to the strings stretched throughout the main room. As well as the one on the first floor, the installation is interactive and daring – anyone can try and play the giant instrument and produce the sound that would shake the whole museum building up.
Moving on up the stairs one enters a much more intimate surroundings. First, we see the backroom crammed with broomsticks, then, as we proceed one floor higher, the artist’s studio presents itself in all of its chaos with paint, sketches, ramblings and musings scattered all over the place. Large canvases with new and old works are lined up in the room. One can see the artist’s world in all its abundance: graphics, techniques, languages, ideas. While diaries and skecthbooks are kept under glass opened at the most exciting pages, the large canvas paintings confirm the concept that the exhibition was created in situ. The style we’ve just seen on the numerous explication tablets and prints is now available for live appraisal in the atmosphere of the studio, with tint splashes and spray paint cans around.
As Chtak himself claims, he lives in the moment since death may always be around the corner. Thus, every new exhibition is final. He makes no secret that his art is repetitive, by form and by style: hallmark monochrome colours, letters, phrases, languages and a touch of the subcultural. 'If my way – no way' represents every kind of diverse means and techniques he's been exploiting for years and makes for a very consistent conclusion and transfer from a young artist to a mature one.
Written by Nina Dymshitz, a Contributor in Moscow, Russia