Just before the turn of the 20th century, a group of Russian artists decided to spurn the artistic conventions that had dominated the previous fifty years of art and literature. Figures such as Alexandre Benois, Leon Bakst, Konstantin Korovin created daring work, much of it for the spectacles organized by impresario Serge Diaghilev. In place of politically engaged works focusing on the prosaic and quotidian problems and injustices of daily life, the loosely affiliated members of the so-called World of Art movement rediscovered the concept of painting as spectacle and magical experience.

They turned their attention to the extravagant world of ancient regime France and of Catherine the Great’s Russia, reveling in the endlessly theatrical worlds of masquerade and commedia dell’arte.

2009 marked the 80th anniversary of the death of Sergei Diaghilev and the 100th anniversary of his first seasons Russes in Paris.

In their newest series of paintings, Igor Kozlovsky and Marina Sharapova reimagine the world of the World of Art. Employing their characteristic contrast of exquisite detail in the foreground against an abstract, vibrantly colored background, they dedicate this series to play, artifice, masking, and theatricality more generally. Although the exhibit is inspired by the World of Art and the Russian Seasons of Diaghilev, traditional figures are deployed in a new context.

As a result, the paintings have a contemporary feel, though they are linked to the history of Russian theater and theater more generally. The background of each painting is a fully elaborated character and plays an important role: in one case it recalls an old and tattered stage curtain, in another a partially eroded fresco, in a third antique tiles... The "actors" in these paintings do some unexpected things: marionettes come to life in “Night at the Theater”, fantastic coiffeurs become the main actors in "Vanity Fair," musical instruments come to the fore in "Venice", while a vase with fruit is found in a rather unexpected place in "Newton's Law."

Using all these elements, the painters approach their paintings as if they were design constructions, which gives them their unique feel.

Each of this series of Igor & Marina’s painting tells its own story, but taken together they reveal art’s ability to overcome the mundane and to create its own flamboyant and endlessly imaginative world.


Andrew Wachtel
Dean, The Graduate School
Bertha and Max Dressler Professor in the Humanities
Northwestern University

Igor & Marina
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