Moscow City Government
Moscow City Department of Culture
Russian Academy of Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Max Sher. Commentary on the Landscape
Ulan-Ude. April 15, 2014
Toropets. September 28, 2013
Nakhodka. May 18, 2014
Moscow. February 13, 2013
Voronezh. July 1, 2013
Date: May 26 — July 11, 2021

Curator: Sergey Babkin

The Moscow Museum of Modern Art presents Commentary on the Landscape is a retrospective exhibition of Max Sher. The exhibition will be based on his three series: Palimpsests (2010–2017), Dictatorship of the Seven Seas (2018) and Archipelago (2019).

In this project, however, they intermingle with each other, and are complemented by previously unpublished and unexhibited photographs. This project will be the first in the long-term Photography/Commentary Program.

Max Sher is a Russian photographer and artist primarily interested in the representation of the post-Soviet cultural landscape and local histories. Sher works not only with archives and history of visual representation, but also uses photography to explore whether an image can capture manifestations of political and economic conditions in the formation of landscapes and infrastructures. His photographs typically depict everyday landscapes, they are uneventful and intentionally undramatic. This approach stems from the US conceptual and politically engaged photography and yet demonstrates the close connection between the artist and his fellow landscape photographers in Russia today. At the same time, Sher’s interest in the politics and economics of space, and the tangential, rather than direct, thematization inherent in his projects, render his work unique in Russia, where a combination of political engagement and openness to interpretation is not often found in photography.

Sher’s research has key political objectives that determine the structures of his series, the content of his photographs, and their qualities as images. One such objective is to create knowledge about how landscapes and infrastructures are shaped by certain political and economic decisions. These can be either concentrated in a particular space or be diffused—taking the form of laws, conventions, programs, assumptions, types of rationality, and other ideological modalities. They all aim to create spaces capable of reproducing certain relations, anchoring power structures, and suppressing differences in the pursuit of homogenization.

The exhibition does not have any explicit textual explanation, and the works are almost randomly arranged throughout the rooms. This could both create an obstacle for the viewers, but also give them the freedom to move around triggering the mechanisms of recognition and interpretation. Nevertheless, there is a commentary on the photographs, but it applies to all of them at once. The commentary is presented in the form of a glossary guide, which is available in hard copy or digitally. The glossary contains brief entries on key terms relevant to Max Sher’s practice and to the exhibition as a whole. The intention behind the glossary is to suggest to viewers the possible types of relationships that might result from their encounter with photography.

About the Photography/Commentary Program

The Photography/Commentary program of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art aims to ultimately reduce the need for such programs on the territory of art institutions. A direct reference to photography as a specific medium seems somewhat untimely in the general context of art history, but in Russia photographers still find themselves at an ill-defined distance from institutional art production—with a few exceptions, both among artists and institutions. The program, which begins in 2021 with Max Sher’s project Commentary on the Landscape, will be followed by several solo exhibitions by photographers/artists from Russia whose diverse approaches to using photography as a key instrument of artistic expression reveal different ways of reflecting on current social and political processes with the help of photography. Together with the issue of the critique and commentary on reality through photography, the program raises the opposite question: how can we talk about photography, in what ways can we identify and explore its contradictions and limitations as well as its place in contemporary art in Russia.