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Board of Honour

Mikhail Karasik
M. K. Publishers & Serge Piantureux;
Saint Petersburg & Paris
Edition: #14/25
Inscription: Signed by the artist

Board of Honour (2004) contains fifteen portraits which he presents in colour lithographs on primed canvas. Mikhail Karasik is a leading contemporary Russian artist who works in book form, graphic arts, posters and objects. He operates a publishing house and also curates exhibitions. Karasik has helped influence the world of the artist’s book as a leading author, key ideologist, organiser, publisher, promoter and propagandist. He is part of a vibrant contemporary artist’s book community in Russia and he describes vividly his experiences of official portraiture whilst growing up in the USSR. In the introduction to his work Board of Honour (Doska Pocheta in Russian). Karasik states:

I was born on 27 March 1953 – twenty-five days after the death of Stalin. I had the good fortune to avoid his reign of terror, arriving three weeks too late. By the end of the 1950s, his portrait had disappeared from children’s publications. The bewhiskered grandfather no longer adorned the opening pages of kindergarten and primary school books. I do recall a relief of Maxim Gorky, however, standing in our bookcase for many years. … But Stalin vanished into thin air. Whenever he did materialise, in some corner or cupboard, as a plaster bust or as a picture in a book or old magazine, he was hastily removed or hidden sealed over with the help of rectangular pieces of white paper – rather like he himself did to enemies of his regime. Other portraits soon began to appear and disappear in books and on the streets.

Board of Honour refers to the traditional board of honour, which was a “form of visual agitation intended to encourage increased productivity and participation in public activities” (Zemtsov 1991:32). Melanie Emerson (2008:62) states that, during the Soviet era, “artists could only produce work within established unions; thus much of their output was in the form of official portraits such as those decorating boards of honour”. Here, Karasik presents his own personal version of these boards divided into three sections: the first features the government officials Leonid Brezhnev, Joseph Stalin and Andrei Zhdanov; the second includes his mother, father, grandfather and a self-portrait as a child; and the third section is a dedication to Karasik’s favourite artists and writers, including Nathan Altman, Marc Chagall, Daniil Kharms, Vladimir Lebedev, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich and Boris Pasternak.

Karasik, like Cendrars, seems caught up in a project of identity construction.

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