Time Is Out of Joint
Boris Mikhailov in the Berlinische Galerie
||Bathers have been a popular motif in art for centuries. It’s not usually a subject that celebrates harmony between humans and nature, however, but one that provides an excellent alibi to stage the naked female body. Boris Mikhailov’s series Salzsee (Salt Lake) is the diametrical opposite to every erotically charged idyllic wellness image: cheerful mamas whose ample figures look like they’re about to burst the seams of their bathing suits, splashing around in a lake surrounded by smoking factories and polluted by industrial residue draining off through huge sewage pipes. It’s precisely the run-off from the plants that produces the water’s high salt content, which is purported to have healing qualities. The Ukrainian artist’s photographs, made in 1986 and part of the Deutsche Bank Collection, might have a nostalgic sepia hue, but they portray the tragicomic reality of the Soviet Union in its dying days.
Now, the series Salzsee is on view in the impressive Mikhailov show in the Berlinische Galerie, the first major German exhibition of the work of the 1938-born artist. Time Is Out of Joint is the retrospective’s apt title, for Mikhailov portrays a society in the process of falling apart. His photographs of the Soviet Union’s last decades come across as subversive commentaries on the official images the system used to celebrate itself. There’s not the slightest trace of Socialism’s "new humans" here. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhailov made what is probably his best known work, Case History, in his hometown of Charkow. His photographs ruthlessly record the losers of social change—homeless people who began to populate the streets and parks in growing numbers. His latest series was made in Berlin, where he’s been living for the most part since 2000. Mikhailov’s Berlin is neither hip nor happening—in place of Mitte glamour, one finds cranky pensioner couples ambling through featureless shopping districts. Thus, the artist paints a contrary image to the officially propagated picture of the German capital, which likes to style itself as in, cool, and young.
Time Is Out of Joint. Photographs 1966 – 2011
through May 28, 2012
Berlinische Galerie, Berlin