Is There a Field of Art in Russia?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: Booth 57
Oral Presentation
Elise HERRALA , Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
A popular opinion among the international and Russian art communities is that Russian art collectors—often thought of as nouveaux riches—have no taste. Contemporary Russian art is also poorly received by both, and frequently dismissed as derivative of western art. And Russian art world insiders often complain that because of a lack of education, the general Russian public does not understand or appreciate contemporary art. Yet Russia has long had a rich cultural history with emphasis on appreciating the arts and is home to world-famous museums. Further, Russia’s tumultuous transition from socialism to capitalism would suggest there is ample inspiration for creating original art instead of aping the West. What accounts for this divergence between the potentiality of Russian art and the reality as claimed by its players?

Looking toward Bourdieu, one could say that there has been a failure to create a field of art in Russia. After ten months of fieldwork in Moscow, I found that while some conditions are in place, ultimately the field of art has not fully developed. Despite the Soviet Union’s collapse over 20 years ago, its effects have left an enduring mark on the landscape of contemporary art today. I argue that this past has created barriers to creating a field of art in post-Soviet Russia, such as a lack of institutional support (including government censorship), a negative view of the past, dependence on the West for ideals about the art world, and a belief that art market is the index of collective success