Contemporary art in Georgia

Article published on Feb. 13, 2014
Article published on Feb. 13, 2014

The pulse of con­tem­po­rary art in every city is mea­sured by the num­ber of gal­leries and their char­ac­ter­is­tics. Both space and am­biance con­tribute to form­ing an artist. There­fore, it is im­por­tant to in­quire into all of the pub­lic/pri­vate spaces where an artist can per­form and ex­hibit his or her art in Tbil­isi.

In a coun­try of 4.5 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants of which 1.5 million live in the cap­i­tal, it often seems there is a lack of space for artists. But the prob­lem is not a lack of space at all. The real trou­ble lies in the wide­spread be­lief that “every­thing hap­pens in Tbil­isi”. Due to this be­lief, artists from Ba­tumi, Zug­didi or Ku­taisi are mov­ing to Tbil­isi en masse and trans­form­ing their art and their lifestyles in search of new muses and fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Space as a defin­ing fac­tor

Some of the most promi­nent gal­leries which welcome con­tem­po­rary artists are: Baia, Gala, Shard­eni, Vache, Vernis­age, Acad­emy Hall and Kamea.  But while we can cher­ish those spaces, there is no mu­seum of con­tem­po­rary art in Geor­gia. Yes, we do have the newly opened MoMa in Tbil­isi , but this is a per­sonal ex­hi­bi­tion hall for Zurab Tsereteli’s art­work alone. Other than that, Geor­gian con­tem­po­rary artists can boast about the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art-Tbil­isi on D. Abashidze Street. The Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Art is a highly func­tional, in­de­pen­dent re­gional hub for artists, stu­dents and re­searchers –re­defin­ing and ex­plor­ing the art of the So­viet era that was re­pressed dur­ing that time.  There is also an Artis­terium- an an­nual con­tem­po­rary arts fes­ti­val in Tbil­isi that is held with the sup­port of the Min­istry of Cul­ture. But the list ends there and now artists are mov­ing into the streets.  

Spaces de­fine artists and vice versa, as art re­flects re­al­ity as it is. Whether we like their art or not, the raw re­al­ity by which we are nour­ished is over­whelm­ingly pre­sent there. In Geor­gia, as in typ­i­cal post-so­viet so­ci­ety, every­day life is full of pol­i­tics and re­li­gion - two things which were pri­va­tized after the collapse of the So­viet Union. In such a state there is an im­mi­nent need for con­tem­po­rary art to awaken so­ci­ety and give it a mir­ror in which to see its re­flec­tion. Most artists blame the gov­ern­ment for not fi­nanc­ing enough art pro­jects. Mean­while, pri­vate ini­tia­tives are so rare that the huge lack of in­vest­ment in the arts can­not be ex­plained only by the coun­try’s eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties. One just sim­ply waits for the in­vis­i­ble hand to act in­stead of doing what is nec­es­sary to build a mu­seum of con­tem­po­rary art. Geor­gia has some pearls to show vis­i­tors from both the re­gion and from around the world, and so we need such a mu­seum.

Rad­i­cal con­tem­po­rary artists in Geor­gia

Rad­i­cal is the word most often used in Geor­gian pol­i­tics, but be­cause our re­al­ity is so full of pol­i­tics there is no space for any­thing else that is rad­i­cal. Oc­ca­sion­ally we see per­for­mances, but they are few and non­sys­tem­atic. Nonethe­less, this sec­tion will at­tempt to enu­mer­ate the va­ri­ety of rad­i­cal artists cur­rently work­ing in Geor­gia.

When speak­ing about con­tem­po­rary art we must al­ways men­tion the Tbil­isi State Acad­emy of Arts and its off­spring - the new gen­er­a­tion of artists who are cre­at­ing their own wave of con­tem­po­rary art in Geor­gia. This move­ment gave birth to the most im­pres­sive per­for­mance of today, which was the grad­u­a­tion pro­ject of a group of uni­ver­sity stu­dents in late 2007. The per­for­mance was sup­posed to be held in the state art gallery, which would have made it even more im­pres­sive, but due to some dif­fi­cul­ties they were forced to move to the chil­dren’s art gallery. Imag­ine a cir­cle of seven peo­ple, sit­ting up­right with neat white shirts, per­fectly calm and in an or­ga­nized man­ner, spit­ting at each other. This was protest merg­ing with art. It was cul­ture being used to op­pose the vi­o­lence of a closed so­ci­ety.  As they ex­pected, how­ever, re­ac­tions to the per­for­mance were mostly neg­a­tive. It seems that very few peo­ple re­ally un­der­stood the true mean­ing of this per­for­mance.

Zaza Burchu­ladze, the ac­claimed Geor­gian au­thor, is the next in line to be called a rad­i­cal, al­ter­na­tive artist. Whether it is the pre­sen­ta­tion of his new book or just an­other pub­lic ap­pear­ance, he al­ways star­tles the spec­ta­tor through his nar­ra­tives and ac­tions. “In­stant Kafka”, “Adibas”, “Con­formist Es­says”, “Min­eral Jazz” and “In­flat­able Angel” are sym­bols of post­mod­ern lit­er­a­ture in Geor­gia. The au­thor touches upon tabooed themes such as sex­u­al­ity, con­formism, war and vi­o­lence. As a re­viewer once said, in ZaZa’s texts there are hid­den bombs and there is a high prob­a­bil­ity that you will blow your­self up with them.

Guram Tsi­bakhashvili is the most ac­tive and promi­nent pho­tog­ra­pher in Geor­gia. With his lat­est pro­ject called “IX-Block” a.k.a “Meckhre Bloki/მეცხრე ბლოკი” he rep­re­sents mo­ments of Geor­gian his­tory in the 1990s. This time was char­ac­ter­ized by a lack of elec­tric­ity, food and a func­tion­ing state, but things were hap­pen­ing. His en­ergy power sta­tion with the num­ber nine was a myth­i­cal thing, as il­lu­sory as the whole re­al­ity of the early 90s.

Out­sider is a band formed in Ku­taisi in 1989  by Robi Kukhi­an­idze. This group be­longs to the punk rock/ al­ter­na­tive genre. They held their most suc­cess­ful con­cert in 1999 called “Live in Ku­taisi”. In 2000 the band moved from Ku­taisi to the cap­i­tal, where they began per­form­ing in small bars for a small au­di­ence. Out­sider’s music is al­ways pre­sent when a protest against the es­tab­lish­ment is planned, and their ex­is­tence is an in­spi­ra­tion to younger gen­er­a­tions.

'Dzudzu' by Georgian punk-rock group 'Outisder'

The street is an al­ter­na­tive space for artists to pre­sent their work and to speak up. Street art in Geor­gia is increasingly important today, as it calls at­ten­tion to so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and gen­der is­sues.