Nathalie Karg Gallery is pleased to present Академия (Akademiya), a solo exhibition of twelve new paintings by Vera Iliatova. This will be Iliatova’s first presentation with the gallery since joining in early 2021.
Академия -- transliterated as akademiya -- translates to the English word academy, meaning an elite scholarly institution. Iliatova intentionally chose Cyrillic script for the exhibition’s title to emphasize the conceptual connection to a specifically Russian notion of this type of institution. With this in mind, one particular influence on Iliatova’s recent work, and the entry point into the world of Iliatova’s imagined academy, are the writings of the pre-revolutionary Russian novelist Lidia Charskaya (1875 – 1938). Typically set in boarding schools for elite girls, Charskaya’s novels told the tales of friendship among women and featured fiercely independent female characters on the hunt for adventure. The halls and grounds of these fictional academies provide the backdrop for the scenes that unfold in Iliatova’s psychically charged canvases.
Although time and place are not immediately obvious in Iliatova’s paintings, there is a more modern aspect to the style of dress and types of locations in Iliatova’s fantastical scenes. Iliatova grew up in Leningrad, Russia but left for the United States, first for South Brooklyn, then Silicon Valley, at the age of sixteen. The social effects of immigration can be felt in the works on view. Each painting contains many layered narratives and the subtle shifts in color require the viewer to take their time to adjust their eyes to the mise en scene. There is a kind of visual assimilation required to view, echoing Iliatova’s own experience as a young woman caught somewhere between a new American reality, her memories of Russia, and an anxious nostalgia for what her life might have been like had she remained.
Iliatova paints from life and poses her own body to inhabit the role of each young woman or girl that populates her paintings, giving them a theatrical effect. Each figure is provided with a found or thrifted wardrobe and props, like flowers or bolts of fabric, for their scene. American pop culture has also played a role in shaping the stories that unfold. Iliatova’s knack for depicting impending social drama is straight from the screens of American high school television series such as The OC, Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The angst and complex teenage interpersonal relationships between women that fuel these TV dramedies simmers just beneath Iliatova’s canvases, only bubbling to the surface long enough for us to glimpse a striking detail: a cigarette lit between classes, a clandestine gossiping session, a terrible fall. In Академия, Iliatova reimagines and recycles the melodramatic tropes that drive the lives and actions of Charskaya’s young women and reinterprets them through the lens of American teen television. The resulting paintings are a mix of high and low, of East and West, of real and imagined, mirroring the multitudes that exist within the artist as she finds herself caught between worlds.
Vera Iliatova (b. 1975, St. Petersburg, Russia) received a MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale University, CT and a BA from Brandeis University, MA. She has also undergone studies at Sorbonne University, Paris, France and completed a residency at Skowhegan School of Art, ME. Iliatova recently exhibited her work at the Katonah Museum of Art, NY in “LandsEcape: New Visions of the Landscape from the Early 20th and 21st Century”. Other recent group exhibitions include the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA; Monya Rowe Galley, NY and Tibor De Nagy, NY. Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, and many others. Iliatova works and lives in Brooklyn, NY.