The Art of Russia (2009) s01e03 Episode Script

Smashing The Mould

Inside lot 36 of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Moscow lie the fragments of one of the most spectacular pieces of 20th-century Russian art.
It once stood astride the entrance to the Russian Pavilion at the 1937 World Fair Crafted by the same engineers who built Soviet warplanes 20 metres high, a worker and a woman, holding aloft the hammer and sickle.
A Soviet shout of defiance, aimed at the capitalist West.
Communism is healthy.
Communism works.
Throughout the 20th century, Russia's leaders used art like this to spread their political message.
They were acutely conscious of the power of images.
But during the years of Soviet rule it was also extremely dangerous to be an artist - you could be punished, even eliminated, for making the wrong kind of work.
Works of art weren't judged merely as things of beauty.
They were far more important than that.
They were the building blocks of an entirely new kind of society.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks seize power, as revolution erupts in Russia.
It shook the world and spawned a thousand fictions.
Sergei Eisenstein restaged the uprising in his epic film October.
This was art spreading the word of a new, radical creed - Communism.
With St Petersburg tainted by its imperial past, a new capital was chosen for the Revolutionary State - Moscow.
With all of Russia drunk on change, it must really have seemed that anything were possible.
And Russia's artists, so often at the margins of society, now found themselves projected to its very centre as the Bolsheviks sought out an art that would be radical and forward thinking as their politics.
Lenin even included artists on his list of the heroes of the Revolution.
That was a rallying cry and Russians painters, sculptors and architects responded with a great outpouring of creative energy.
It was driven by a group of artists who called themselves the Constructivists.
The voice of the movement was the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
But its dominant figure was his best friend, the artist Alexander Rodchenko.
His early paintings still pulse with the energies of an extraordinary time.
In a sense, Constructivism was built on a whole series of No-s.
No to beauty, no to artistic mystery no to the idea of creativity, even.
Definitely no to the idea of art you can buy and sell.
And he created this very simple language of form - it almost reminds me of the diagram a convict might put on his wall He pushes art also away from the language of representation, towards the language of mathematics.
This picture could almost be a Venn diagram or of electrical engineering.
It looks like it could be a diagram of some electrical circuitry.
He said, "We want to be constructors, engineers, not creators.
" It's anti-mystical, anti-mystery, so even when he draws a cross, you know very well that Rodchenko is not alluding to Christianity - he abhorred religion.
He said, "What could be more stupid than a church.
" And over here, perhaps the oddest, this almost nothing of a pictorial experiment.
This very, very strange little dot painting.
Damien Hirst eat your heart out.
But what is he trying to tell us here? I think, again, he is conceiving the canvas rather as if it were a society that could be remodelled and that perhaps these represent conglomerations of individuals that can be altered and moulded.
And to me, again, it's as if he's pushing the language of painting towards the language of social engineering.
Which, of course, is what Communism would become.
And the Constructivists would soon leave the art gallery behind.
Just four years after the Revolution, Rodchenko took his most radical step.
He announced the death of painting itself.
The future lay in posters, pamphlets, propaganda.
Agit-prop spread across Russia on special agit-trains.
You can still sense their idealism, in this beautiful poster designed to encourage workers to read.
Mayakovsky did the words, Rodchenko the images.
And the girl was Mayakovsky's lover, Lilya Brik.
This vibrant new graphic language turned the city into a carnival of colourful, sharp-edged forms.
Today, just a few examples survive like this for the state shop, Mossel'prom.
But I'd been told there was a place where you could still experience this lost world.
A great archive, rarely visited, in the back office of Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum.
Somehow, it didn't seem like the kind of place you'd want to keep a collection worth millions.
My guide was a rather inscrutable lady called Eugenie.
So is this where you keep your priceless Rodchenko? Oh, Wow.
Yes, of course.
It took Eugenie about five seconds to puncture my scepticism.
So what have we got? Oh, wow.
Rodchenko's Constructivist suit.
Rodchenko montage This exquisite paper cut-out.
That is beautiful.
Financial inspector.
The earliest experiments in photomontage.
Is it OK if I put this up here with the others? Of course.
Making my own little museum here.
Oh, wow.
That's fantastic.
For Mayakovsky poetry.
And that was just for starters.
They worked together on some state advertising, like posters? Like poster, of course.
You can see.
Mayakovsky and Rodchenko worked in advertisement.
And you can see.
I just can't believe you have this stuff in drawers here.
Such interesting things.
That's a priceless object so be careful.
That's one of the famous posters for bread.
That's tremendous.
What else have you got here? If you want I can show.
Could you have a look? Two minutes.
Two minutes.
Yeah, absolutely, I've got all the time in the world that's very kind.
Wait here.
I will wait.
No, no, no.
You're back.
With an armful, a cornucopia! Oh, how fantastic.
I much prefer seeing this kind of work in the chaos of an archive because its not all been sanitised by an exhibition.
Oh, isn't that fantastic?! This is a very famous one very beautiful.
Now what's this is beautiful.
Advertisement of cigarettes.
I love this just DANG! Exclamation mark.
Smoke cigarettes! If you look here there is a really nice little symbol of the closeness of their partnership - they put, not a signature - very important, it's an industrial stamp.
Isn't that great? Is this watches? Yes, yes.
It's like opening literally we are opening the Pandora's box of your archive.
But you can feel they were opening the Pandora's box of this new world of cultural possibilities, where suddenly to design a humble watch advertisement, that was far more worthwhile than what Cezanne had been doing when he painted the Mont Sainte Victoire 20 years earlier.
This was real art, because it was art for everybody.
Of course.
Look at that, look at this frowny face and the smiley face - Communist biscuits.
I love this graphic language - this Neville Brody obviously took all this for The Face - still kind of familiar to us now, but then that was from nowhere, this was just totally new to use words like this.
And that's one of the paradoxes that Rodchenko and Mayakovsky give to the West - the visual language of capitalism! Because they're inventing advertising - this becomes the origins of the McDonald's logo among other things lies there.
We keep going round in these revolutionary circles.
Oh, wow! Such simplicity of design.
One rouble.
I want that made into a T-shirt - what do you think? One rouble, not going to get you far in modern Russia.
SHE LAUGHS Listen, it's been fantastic - thank you so much.
You've completely My brain is pullulating with revolutionary ideas.
Let's take to the streets and forge a new world.
Come with me, Eugenie.
We're going, we're going to leave you.
A new society also needed a radical new architecture.
And the Constructivists competed with each other to invent it.
The most daring of these experiments was Vladimir Tatlin's monument to the 3rd International.
A giant revolving tower housing offices for the party.
Lenin didn't like it, so it never made it past the model stage.
But some great structures did.
This is a radio tower.
For me, it's the forgotten masterpiece of the Constructivist era.
It was designed by an engineer called Vladimir Shukhov in 1922.
Hardly anyone comes here any more.
But I had to make the pilgrimage, even though I do hate heights.
Hand-cranked technology.
I think the guy is winching us up manually.
This is one of the great monuments of the Constructivist post-Revolutionary period.
Shukhov is a really interesting character.
He was somebody from a much earlier generation.
Russian revolutionaries cottoned on to him - got him to build things.
Lenin got him to build this tower to broadcast the propaganda of the Soviet state.
But he himself was a political conservative who saw in the Revolution primarily an opportunity to build some of these designs that had been seething around in his head.
He's the first industrial designer to apply the principles of non-Euclidean geometry to tensile steel structures and he designed these extraordinary hyperboloid, as they are known, structures.
This amazing shape.
Its kind of the direct ancestor of a building like the Gherkin in London.
It's a long way up.
What I love about this is precisely the fact it hasn't been "heritaged".
Look, it's still rusty - this is probably the original cabin in which Lenin came up to inspect his great new radio tower! It's raw around the edges and its still a working tower today.
I just think it's Ah, vertigo! It is absolutely fantastic.
This is far more exciting, far more the real spirit of that early Soviet moment than Tatlin's never-constructed tower.
This is the real Tatlin tower, and it's by Shukhov, and it works.
It's still broadcasting today.
And so the word according to Lenin was transmitted via the radio waves, reaching across the vast Russian hinterland.
And that was just the beginning.
What if their message could be broadcast by moving pictures? For Lenin, cinema was the revolutionary art-form.
And so a home-grown film industry was born.
Welcome to the movie-set version of old Moscow - a backlot of Communism's very first film studio - Mosfilm.
Hollywood, but with a Soviet twist.
In the fantasy world of the film set you could create a perfectly edited version of the birth of the Communist state, an origin myth in which there is no such thing as a good aristocrat or a kind Cossack and every member of the working class is an heroic proletarian engaged in a struggle for freedom.
This was really a Communist version of the Bible's book of Genesis, a story in which, again and again, the forces of proletarian good triumph over Tsarist darkness.
Now Karl Marx had famously said that religion was the opium of the people but what was this, if not another form of religion? They might've got rid of the Church, but they'd replaced it with something equally beguiling - the cinema.
This is the Soviet Gospel, through the lens of Sergei Eisenstein.
His film October gave Russians the authorised version of their Revolution.
Eisenstein was a great manipulator, who used deeply emotive jump-cut editing to fire his message home.
Image follows image, like icon painting, but at 24 frames per second.
But by the time October was finished, in 1927, the Communist experiment itself was beginning to lose its lustre.
When Lenin died, the country was in economic and social meltdown.
Into the chaos stepped Josef Stalin.
Stalin wanted to fast-forward Russia into modernity.
Despite the Revolution it remained an almost feudal society, with a huge peasant population.
Stalin's solution was a series of brutal Five-Year Plans.
Millions were press-ganged into his new factories.
And forced to live like termites in vast communal blocks.
Those who stayed on the land were uprooted to industrial-scale collective farms.
If they refused to leave their homes, they were machine-gunned or starved to death.
At least five million people died.
Artists too were being forced to conform, their revolutionary energy snuffed out.
'And Rodchenko's great friend and collaborator Mayakovsky was one of the first victims.
' This barely furnished room is the place where Mayakovsky chose to end his life.
He shot himself, shot himself dead sitting at this chair.
His last years had been deeply troubled - he'd written highly critical satires of Soviet bureaucracy.
He'd been denounced by the Russian Proletarian Writers' Association.
Everyone had abandoned him - even his long-time lover Lilya Brik, who'd long ago modelled for that girl advertising books, for that beautiful Rodchenko poster.
The story is even she was denouncing him to Stalin's secret police.
Mayakovsky, like all of the early great revolutionaries, was a fantastic eccentric.
In those early days, everyone had their own idea of the Revolution.
But that precisely was what was going to be outlawed from now on.
That individual voice had to be suppressed in the expression of collectively enforced optimism.
Everyone from now on had to be super-positive about everything in the new Soviet regime.
The death of Mayakovsky was a real watershed in the history of the Russian avant-garde.
Stalin wanted art that depicted Russia as a fertile, pastoral idyll where healthy, happy peasants tilled the land.
The name given to this state-approved style was Socialist Realism.
And the most powerful examples are to be found deep beneath the streets of Moscow .
where a series of extraordinary time capsules take you right through the Stalin years.
My whirlwind tour of the metro system has to begin here at Revolution Square - it's one of the earliest stations, and it's one of the most spectacular, because here we've got the language of Renaissance Italian tomb art, think Michelangelo's Medici chapels, applied to a Moscow Communist situation.
And what we've got essentially is a kind of Communist typology - these are the sorts of people that Stalin and the party want in their society.
It's a kind of roll-call of desirables - the intrepid young sailor, the determined young airwoman, a lot of military types.
Here's a very important figure, the Stakhanovite miner.
Stakhanov was this heroic worker who hewed vast amounts of coal on one particular night, and the feat became legendary.
They wanted legions of these Stakhanovs to turn Russia into an industrial powerhouse and to fuel revolution, to push society on to a higher lever.
On this side, we've got, as it were, his intellectual counterpart - the engineer, the designer, the thinker - probably inspired by Rodin's The Thinker.
There are a lot of these references to classical academic art in this phase of Socialist Realism.
And over here, we've got - very important - we've got agriculture.
The contented peasant, and here's metaphorically or actually his wife.
These are the people you are supposed to be.
These are the shoes you've got to fill if you want to be part of Stalin's Russia.
Eventually the idea, I think, is that all of these figures will be running off the trains and going up the stairs, but you have to think about what's missing from this pantheon of people, and its of course, it's the creative melancholic, the dissident, the poet, that great Russian figure who has driven so much of Russian culture over the centuries.
That figure is absent because of course he doesn't fit the pattern, he doesn't fit the mould.
And people were disappearing for real.
No-one was above suspicion, not even loyal members of the party.
Stalin's police arrested and killed some 700,000 "undesirables" in two years of terror.
Many more disappeared in the night.
Altogether, 30 million would be sent to a network of prison camps known simply as the gulag.
But a threat from outside would briefly unite this troubled nation.
In 1939, the Second World War broke out.
Two years later, Hitler began his great assault on Russia and as bombs dropped on Moscow, it could have been the end for Stalin.
But it turned out to be his finest hour.
I'd like you to try and imagine it's the 7th of November 1941.
It's the height of the siege of Moscow - Hitler's army is encamped outside the city, and instead of commuters getting off these trains, you've got a very different scene.
Stalin is holding a rally - it's to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the October Revolution and in the centre of this hall they erect a great statue of Lenin on a podium and at the end of the meal, Stalin addresses all his generals, and he says, "We, the Soviets, we must stand strong against the Nazis - we will triumph.
" Now, what's remarkable about the decorations in Mayakovsky station is that they were created three years before, in 1938, before the war even broke out, and yet you sense that Deyneka, the artist responsible, felt very strongly that war was in the air, because he chose as his subject the Soviet skies.
But these are skies through which planes are flying in formation releasing parachutists - there's very much a sense of Russia gearing up for war.
They're very, very beautiful, full of a kind of energy and sense of threat and I wonder if it isn't a case of adversity even under such terrible a tyrant as Stalin, sparking a considerable artist into a truly great piece of work.
They famously called the underground system here in Moscow the "people's palaces" but I can't help thinking of them more like the "people's churches".
And here - what this makes me think of very much are the mosaics in the dome of a cathedral, except of course, here we are worshipping at the altar of Soviet military might.
But there is also something sort of semi-religious about the iconography because what are these planes and parachutists but Soviet angels, doing battle to save the Communist state? I particularly love this image of the heroic parachutist coming down towards us as if through a hole in the ceiling.
And his been depicted at the very moment when he pulls his rip-cord and it's actually fantastically skilfully done, this foreshortening, and if you look at the face of the parachutist, it's got this wonderful fresh-faced expression.
These really are, I think, probably among the very few genuine masterpieces of art produced under the tyranny of Stalin.
Russia would suffer crippling losses in World War Two.
But by its end, with Hitler defeated, Stalin was once more a hero to his long-suffering people.
For a moment, it seemed as if the Russian avant-garde might flourish once more.
During the conflict, Stalin had allowed even dissident artists to rouse the nation with their work.
Anna Akhmatova's poems in the newspapers, Shostakovich's symphonies on the radio.
But as soon as the war was over, the clampdown resumed, under Stalin's cultural apparatchik Zhdanov.
Now, I've travelled one stop.
But I've moved through a kind of chasm in time, because now we're in 1952.
And this is the era when the dead hand of Stalinism reasserted itself.
And what it's produced is a dead art.
Compared to those beautiful mosaics of Deyneka, look at these ossified images set in tile.
And what we've got here are images of a kind of fantasy Russia where peasants are forever happy and smiling.
They've got these smiles painted onto their face as they reap the tall corn and prepare to kill the fatted calf.
These are images that are being fed to a starving people.
Images of an imaginary happy land for people who are actually living lives of extreme misery and hardship.
Zhdanov even said that art must be optimistic, and you can feel that sense of enforced optimism here.
There's a kind of heaviness about it, too.
This barrel vault, it's like a Roman imperial vault, emblazoned with, again, images of things that the people didn't actually have.
Corn, plenty, abundance.
Of course, Stalin himself knew that this wonderfully happy Soviet state could only ever exist in the images of a fantasy art.
So, boy, did he commission a lot of it.
You won't find much of the art commissioned under Stalin on the walls of the New Tretyakov.
But it's still there.
You just have to look in the right place.
Certainly hidden away, the socialist room.
This is seriously idealised.
Is this Deyneka too? They've got a whole Stalin section.
I'm trying to see if I can find someone who isn't smiling in this picture.
And in this labyrinth, I was looking for one painting in particular.
Oh, we're here? This side.
This side? Oh, fantastic.
Here he is.
Uncle Joe.
So, yeah.
I bet he never imagined he'd be in the cupboard one day along with all the other unwanted lumber of history.
One of the things you immediately notice about the picture is how reactionary its style is.
I mean this painting Take the figure of Stalin out, this could be basically a 19th-century landscape painting.
I think that's part of the message of the picture.
What it's saying is, it's saying to everybody, yes, there's been this huge upheaval.
Yes, there's been revolution.
Yes, it might seem as though society's turned on its head, but actually, don't worry.
Everything's OK.
Everything is as it has always been except better.
Now we've got factories belching out smoke.
We've got these huge collective farms being ploughed by these new combine harvesters.
We've got pylons taking electricity and power to every corner of Russia.
You've got to remember, these pictures were not painted for the intellectuals.
These pictures were painted for the people.
Every good Communist family was supposed to have a painting of Stalin on the wall of their house.
And, again, to me, this is very much taking the language of old religious art and bringing it, using it for the Communist cause because Uncle Joe, standing there very much like a saint.
There's a sense of votive stasis about this image of him.
And he stands with the sunlight catching his face just as the sun catches the face of a Caravaggio saint.
But, just one little detail, that even in paradise, you're being watched.
Because look at that car, that little tell-tale black car.
That's the signature vehicle of the secret police.
So, yes, everything's fine in this new Russia but just remember, you're being watched.
All forms of dissidence were ruthlessly suppressed.
It was actually illegal to say anything negative about the perpetually positive art of the Stalinist era.
But one critic called Alexander Kamensky found a way.
He wrote an essay that was simply a list of titles.
And it went like this - 'Congratulations to the Heroine', 'The Cotton Growers' Award Ceremony', 'A Toast to the Hero of Socialist Labour', 'The Glorious Days of the Shipbuilders', 'Industrial Successes', 'Abundance of the Collective Farm'.
The list went on and at the end the critic added just one ironic word of his own.
The art of the Stalinist past still looms like a threat over the Moscow cityscape today.
You'd be forgiven for thinking those who created it were cynically going through the motions.
But not all of them were.
The sculptor who carved these heroic-looking figures is still alive today.
90-year-old Nikolas Nikogosyan's studio is full of models for unbuilt monuments.
I wondered whether he'd ever had any qualms about working for the regime.
Nikogosyan's the living embodiment of the betrayed Communist dream.
You can imagine his sculptures scowling in lofty disapproval of the new capitalist Russia.
And asking themselves the unanswerable question - "Where did it all go wrong?" Stalin died in 1953 and his successor, Nikita Krushchev, quickly signalled a change of direction.
While the West entered the swinging '60s, Soviet Russia experienced a more limited thaw.
The Space Programme opened fresh horizons.
And out of this new optimism emerged Socialist Realism's spectacular last gasp.
The most dynamic and extraordinary monument of Communist propaganda of the whole 1960s is, I think they call it, the Space Obelisk.
What we've got is this great image of a rocket thrust phallically into the sky on its own plume of energy, rendered in the form of this beautiful curve of aluminium-clad metal.
You've got a tremendous sense of abstract energy and of aspiration.
It's as if just for a brief moment they've somehow managed to recover the energy and idealism of the very, very earliest Revolutionary Communist art, the spirit of Constructivism, all over again.
Now, here at ground level, you've got this wonderful collective frieze, this kind of Parthenon frieze of Soviet space exploration.
Everybody's been included.
There's the wireless girl.
Here you've got the heroic engineers pulling levers, pushing buttons.
There's ground control talking to Major Yuri and it's all taking place under the tutelage of this Soviet deity.
This ancient Slavic mythological figure of Mother Russia.
Now, here at the end you've got the suited figure of Gagarin himself, the very first cosmonaut, ascending the ladder metaphorically into space.
I can't help wondering why it was that space exploration should have tapped into the Soviet psyche in this way, should have produced this last great exhalation of Communist propaganda art.
And I wonder if it wasn't because, really, they weren't just dreaming of exploring the great blue yonder.
They were dreaming of escaping the Communist collectivist present.
Despite its name, what Socialist Realism never showed was social reality - how people actually lived.
For decades, millions of Russians had co-existed in cramped communal flats.
State propaganda insisted that this was happy collectivism.
But it wasn't.
And there was one artist, a dissenter, who was prepared to expose the rot.
From the 1970s, Ilya Kabakov created haunting installations inspired by the communal flats.
He prepared them in secret.
He even made this one look like an archive so if the KGB came calling, they wouldn't know that it was art.
Every object stands for a different person or event in the overpopulated tenement.
This is the slipper of the old man who paced about at night.
These are the pots and pans we argue over.
Whose turn is it to boil the cabbage? This is a lapel badge.
It was worn by the man who reported our friends to the secret police.
It's a bleak inventory of unhappiness.
But it was also a blueprint for radical change.
Kabakov was part of a generation of underground artists who exhibited covertly in their homes.
I've come to see painter Tatiana Levitskaia, a veteran from those years, who still lives in Moscow.
She remembers the era of secret exhibitions and whispered dissent.
Tatiana! Hello.
Very nice to see you.
Was it difficult, the life of an artist? Yes, I can say it's difficult because you always see at the window, grey people.
You call them grey people? Yes.
Was that the KGB? Yes.
Really? Yeah.
So, you're looking out of the window to see if the KGB Because they all the same.
From the first glance, you can see that it's is KGB.
Some time they want to make us to be afraid.
Oh, I see.
So, they stand outside the flat? They say, "We see.
"We go there and".
We are not usual They think your art is irregular? Yes, very irregular.
In 1974, Tatiana was part of a clandestine exhibition staged in a forest.
It was bulldozed by the police and the art destroyed.
But public response was so strong that the state censors backed down for fear of provoking open rebellion.
Two weeks later, the same artists were allowed to show their work openly.
So much people come to this place.
They were really happy and they cried, they cried.
They said, "How wonderful you are!" because they didn't know that artists like us exist.
So for me, it was the happiest moment of my life.
Do you think that you were actually part of some kind revolution at that time? We understood that time was changed, because everybody started to think maybe I don't go there, maybe I don't make it, maybe I don't say so, and nothing will happen.
Freedom is coming and grass is growing, growing very quickly.
The time when Gorbachev came, the grass was very old, very tall.
For years, the two countries have been glowering at each other threatening nuclear destruction.
Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms signalled the beginning of the end.
In 1991, the seemingly impossible happened.
To universal astonishment, the Soviet Union simply dissolved.
Exhilarated by the freedom they'd fought so hard for, Russia's artists unleashed a tsunami of work.
They put two fingers up to the old world order.
Igor Markin is Russia's answer to Charles Saatchi.
In the past 15 years, he's snapped up pretty much every piece of post-perestroika art worth owning, and then some.
And he's crammed it all into his very own museum.
Like Lenin meets Giacometti.
Good space, this.
This is my favourite room, the best room in the museum.
LOW CHIME That's good.
Who made this piece? I forget! But you like it.
It feels to me like a museum about Russia.
In the sense that this generation of artists you are collecting, that's actually the question they are asking themselves.
What happens next? What are we going to do? What's in here? This is the toilet.
This is the toilet? Wow.
I think that's fantastic.
In the old Soviet times every office, every institution, had an official book where you could make comments and complaints.
And he decided to make instead of that book, the lavatory of his museum would be the space of complaint and free self-expression.
I think it's a great idea.
Write something.
I'll try and write something.
I'm just looking for a little bit of clear space.
That's my small contribution.
There's a lot of mockery and free expression here, but also uncertainty.
Art struggling to find an identity.
Russian artists today do face a difficult choice.
Communism may have gone, but it seems the old structures are still in place.
And if an artist really wants to be part of the system, he's got to toe the party line.
This is the work of Russia's most successful modern artist, Zurab Tsereteli.
It's a 200-foot-high statue of Peter the Great.
In one sense, it says Communism is over.
Russia acknowledges its Tsarist past.
But it hasn't exactly turned away from autocracy.
There's just one man at the helm, one all-powerful leader.
We arranged to meet Tsereteli at the Russian Academy of Arts, where he's president.
He's a man much in favour with Russia's leadership.
An entire wing of the State Academy is filled with his own work.
Do you know when he's going to get here? We've been waiting for two hours.
This is his family crest.
This is his self-portrait.
And here at last is the man himself.
Andrei is good.
In Georgian it would sound like "Andrik".
May we look round the work? I'm fascinated by this apple.
Can we go inside the apple? Wow This is extraordinary There is certainly quite a lot of sex going on in here.
You can see in the centre, avant-garde moments up here It wasn't the first thing that struck my attention, the avant-garde aspects.
TRANSLATOR: For me, the main thing is art for art's sake 'I was genuinely struck dumb by the Kama Sutra sex apple.
'So I asked him if he could show me some portraits' There's more It goes on through here, too.
Who's this figure? This is our mayor, Mr Luzhkov.
He's the mayor of Moscow? Mayor of Moscow The broom symbolises how he is sweeping bad things out of Moscow.
How he's making life in the city better.
Is Mr Tsereteli a friend of the mayor? Of course.
So Do I recognise this man? What's the title, then? Healthy spirit, healthy body.
So it's not called Portrait of Putin? TRANSLATOR: I've tried to look at people from an artistic viewpoint those whom I love, those whom I cherish, I try to create the images I haven't stopped yet If I liked you maybe I would make a sculpture of you.
'Tsereteli's world is certainly unique.
'I also find it hard to fathom.
'It's an odd mix of the old and the new, 'a strangely hollowed-out version of the old Soviet Socialist Realism.
'Communist art with the ideology removed.
'It's as if the only thing this art believes in is power itself.
' But there is another way.
This strange apparatus is the work of Andrei Molodkin.
His heroes are the Constructivists.
You can sense that in the grid-like forms, in his love of engineering and machines He's filling these structures of the past with new life and new substance So is that the smell of Russian oil? Yes, I think it smells of Russian oil and smell of Russia.
When you smell deeply you can feel the Russia I think, better than you can see the souls of Russia.
For me it's very important that people can come and can really touch this oil, they can really smell it and understand that oil is organic material and it's part of Russian identification.
In a sense, I suppose literally, this is the stuff of Russian history, isn't it? This is Russia's pre-history.
Yeah, of course, because as everyone knows that oil comes from organic material and we can imagine that all life, which kind of stains the territory of Russia, this is it here.
That's why, when we burn in car the oil, we burn our history, we burn our past.
I think it's very important ideas to think about.
Andrei Molodkin's work is dark and disillusioned, but there's hope there, too.
He's fascinated by the structures and ideas that once seemed to promise a Communist utopia, but he takes a carnival-esque pleasure in disrupting them.
So I feel like we are getting down into the basement of your thought.
This is like a mock-altar, everything's turned upside down.
Yeah, that's why it looks like life to oiland oil to life.
It's funny, I almost want to take one and turn it upside down Because when you see it It's really, ideally, like this works in this kind of way it's much more formal, starts to be.
Yeah I quite like it that way round If we make a revolution shall I help you? Yeah, because before, I was thinking, "Oh, it's a little bit too direct.
" I even can't sleep about it.
That's great.
So we're actually changing the work Poor old Karl Marx.
If you could change the world How? Yeah, like we do now.
Turn everything upside-down? Yeah, of course.
It's great things.
It was one work now it's starting to be other work I really love it.
You love it? So we've done some good work today! I like Molodkin's vision of history.
For him it's a story of revolution, and circulation.
It's as if, after all the failed experiments, he's drilling down to the essence of Russian reality - oil, the substance of pre-history, and the fuel of its economic future.
But when I think back through a thousand years of Russian history, there's surely another cycle at work here.
A seemingly eternal alternation between conformity and rebellion.
For centuries, one set of tyrants after another has tried to contain the population, to fuse the many, into one, using art as a tool.
But I wonder if Russia's people have finally had enough of being controlled and disciplined.
I can't say what lies ahead for Russia or for Russia's artists, but I know one thing for sure.
As the old Russian proverb says, "Life will never be just a walk through an open field".