Art for Dummies
Posed on a podium in Stella Art Gallery is a quartet of richly colored mannequins. Their colors – blue, yellow and pink, punctuated with streaks of lurid red and patches of glossy black and white – come from a collage of scraps clipped out of fashion magazines. A closer look reveals a wealth of detail: One mannequin's hair is made of designer labels, while another's bust is plastered with various shades of lipstick, rouge and precious gems. Scissors, seams and models' faces appear somewhere on each dummy. The three-dimensional collages are a metaphor for the fashion industry, for all the cutting, sewing and drawing needed to create a single, knock-down image.
The installation, named "JL" after the serial number on the four mannequins, is the debut solo show for young artist Daria Usova. In an interview Monday, she said that while fashion was distant from art, it contained a good lesson for Moscow artists, who tend to focus more on ideas than execution. "Designers put a lot of effort into making a great show, a cool performance," she said. "Artists should look to them."
Usova's use of fashion imagery evokes Pop art, a movement she got interested in near the end of grade school – not so long ago for the 20-year-old artist. She went through phases imitating Pop art masters, first painting bombastic canvases in the style of James Rosenquist, then comics like Roy Lichtenstein.
Usova first tried collage while taking courses at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art last summer, when she responded to an assignment on the theme of reconstruction by cutting up fashion magazines and using the pieces to make portraits of celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Her technique involved combining fragments of photographs with scraps of color cut into specific shapes; for instance, juxtaposing a photo of a lower lip with an upper lip formed from tiny scraps of red paper. Her mix of photographic realism and paint-by-numbers fragmentation resulted in uncannily true-to-life representations of recognizable faces.
An exhibition of these portraits at the club Kult led to commissions for illustrations in several glossy magazines, including GQ and Moulin Rouge. The latter asked her to make a portrait of Pushkin from photographs of male and female genitalia. "I'd like to work for a women's magazine," she said. "I'm tired of the men's stuff."
The three-dimensional collages of "JL" couldn't fit on the pages of a magazine; Usova said she wanted to push her skills in a new, more complex direction, not recreating a recognizable image but using color and line to create an effect.
Partly covered and partly bare, their colors garish and unnatural, the mannequins look sickly and awkward. Usova said they were "infected with the disease of fashion." While the message that women fall victim to trends and labels may not seem especially fresh, Usova's delivery is original, and the placement of the boldly colored mannequins in the gray and white space enhances the spiritual emptiness of fashion slaves.
"JL" is displayed at Stella Art Gallery's second branch, a space devoted to emerging artists. The gallery's centrally located flagship branch showcases the old guard of Moscow Conceptualist artists, like Andrei Monastyrsky and Yury Avvakumov, who continue to analyze and excavate Soviet culture. Usova, who was barely in kindergarten when the Soviet Union broke up, is indifferent to these issues.
"It's important to think internationally," she said, "to make art that anyone can understand."
"JL" runs to July 6 at Stella Art Gallery, located at 62 Mytnaya Ulitsa. Metro Tulskaya. Tel. 954-0253.