Moscow City Government
Moscow City Department of Culture
Russian Academy of Arts
Moscow Museum of Modern Art
ArtIs Foundation
Labuart&co Amsterdam


Vanitas. Contemporary Reflections
Curated by: Sabina Orudjeva, Larissa Buwalda
Date: November 14 — December 9, 2012
Venue: Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 9 Tverskoy Boulevard

Participating artists:

Erwin Olaf – photography
Hans Op de Beeck – video-art, photography
Liet Heringa & Maarten van Kalsbeek – sculpture
Margriet Smulders - photography
Richard Kuiper - photography
Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács – video-art
Bouke de Vries – sculpture

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia Vanitas is Latin for Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Attributed to King Solomon, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Old Testament.

This verse often appears in the works of the Dutch and Flemish Old Masters of the 17th century, the Golden Age of the Dutch and Flemish culture. Human skulls, burnt candles, decaying flowers, broken chalices, fallen crowns, jewels and mirrors were typical features of their Vanitas still-lifes, one of the earliest examples of the still life genre in European painting. Each of the painted objects in such allegorical compositions was meant as a symbol carrying a hidden deeper meaning. Therefore, the symbolism of Vanitas paintings is often misread nowadays due to its Baroque appearance and commonly perceived by Russian audiences as apotheosis of the richness of life, hymn to the material achievements of self-made men. This is only partly true though as the early allegorical still lifes had a profound philosophic message: warning the viewers of the transience of human life, beauty, power and wealth, and insignificance of material achievements. Vanitas paintings created a vocabulary of their own: each object had its meaning enabling each painting to tell a story. And as before, contemporary Vanitas creations are not just about the objects we are facing, but also the similar thoughts they are recalling: the brevity of life and of all earthly pleasures.

The exhibition will present the modern day Vanitas message expressed in the works of internationally acclaimed contemporary Dutch and Belgian artists, so brilliantly reinterpreting the Vanitas symbols and metaphors of their predecessors into their modern visual multimedia language. Yet their Vanitas interpretations evoke the same, timeless questions which are so relevant to today’s Russia.