This thesis explores an underground art movement at the end of the Soviet Union. Moscow Conceptualism was a movement, or better described as a community, that reimagined a life on the periphery of the totalitarian state. By unmaking the utopian ideology of the failing Soviet state, the Moscow Conceptualists repurposed its material (or lack of material) to form their own utopia. The goal of this work is to show how these artists remade a world for themselves with the dying roots of Marxism. By looking at the work of Rimma and Valery Gerlovin(a), the Collective Actions Group, and Ilya Kabakov (with a few others sprinkled in), I propose that these conceptual artists did not dissolve the art object, but repurposed it, and gave it a new life under a Marxist agenda.
The first chapter of this thesis defines the terms of my argument by explaining how the history of Marx’s social object and conceptual performance art in the Soviet Union converge in the 1970s with the “Moscow Conceptual Object.” My second and third chapters explore different works of Moscow Conceptualist art that fit within the model I introduced. The second chapter uses works that deal with themes of emptiness and excess to dissect the Soviet semiotic system and re-materialize objects into “social objects.” The third chapter continues the deconstruction of the Soviet system and Marxism with themes of truth and collectivity, materializing a new system through a “scene” of artists who often practiced and wrote collectively. By focusing on the object- hood, materiality, and collectivity in each of these artists’ works, this thesis proposes, defines, and situates, what I call the “Moscow Conceptual Object” and its revolutionary potential.
Presented at BASEES Conference at Cambridge University