Boris Orlov

1941, Khimki, Moscow Oblast

Boris Orlov studied in the sculpture department of the Stroganov Moscow Higher Industrial Art School in 1961-1966.  Other students there at this time were Francisco Infante, Komar and Melamid, Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov (a childhood friend of Orlov’s), and two or three years later Leonid Sokov, Alexander Kosolapov, and Sasha Sokolov enrolled. These artists belonged to a generation that could get access to contemporary movements in Western art by reading foreign magazines that were in some Soviet libraries, including the library of the Stroganov School.

Orlov shared a studio with Sokov and Kosolapov between 1966 and 1972. In 1969 he met Igor Shelkovsky (later editor of A-Ya magazine) and Rostislav Lebedev.  Between 1972 and 1988, Orlov had a studio on Rogov Street, where he invited Prigov and Lebedev to work; the studio was one of the centers of unofficial culture in Moscow, the site of philosophical debates, concerts, and viewings of works. Orlov took part in the apartment shows in Moscow in the 1970s. In 1975, he joined the Union of Artists RSFSR. Orlov is one of the major masters of Sots Art, a style based on the ironic juxtaposition of the language of propaganda and the language of fine art. Unlike most of the Sots artists, he did not emigrate to the West. He lives in Moscow. He was a finalist of the Kandinsky Prize in 2008.

Before the 1970s, he sought his own style in sculpture, creating what he called “existentialist” works. Then, together with Prigov, Komar and Melamid, he came to the idea of uniting the languages of “high” art and agitprop. Orlov is interested in the history of sculpture as the privileged language of power. In 1974-1975 he created “Iconostasis,” in which he dresses casts of Julius Caesar and the Venus de Milo in the clothing of revolutionary sailors and soldiers, achieving an organic effect of the unity of imperial languages of art, thereby proving that the Communist Party and the rulers of Ancient Rome used similar systems of representation.

Orlov prefers working in the Soviet “big style,” the formal side of Soviet reality, and absurdizing it. Thus in “Formal Portrait,” the bust of a hero is turned into the depiction of a chest covered in rows of military ribbons. But Orlov does not stop with irony in regards to the imperial language, he also reveals its eroticism, which the regime uses to manipulate the desires of the people—for example, in the series of generalized women’s portraits parodying the style of the Soviet such sports posters as “Dinamovka [Woman Athlete].” He has worked throughout his career using an absurd yet organic juxtaposition of dissimilar artistic systems or incompatible objects (“Cannon-Plow,” 1990).  His work evolved toward more complex iconography and larger scale in the 1990s-2000s.  His “house style” in the 2000s was “Khokhloma painting” on top of enlarged old photographs. At the same time, he also creates gigantic installations of objects that mock the myths of Russian culture, rather than Soviet symbols. Thus, the artist parodies not so much the language of imperial power but the very style of Sots Art in which he worked in the Soviet years.