27.07.2009 – 17.09.2009


We are city-dwellers. We live in a space where the sky is separated from the earth by stone. Under our feet are concrete, asphalt, paving stones, and granite. Over our heads and on all sides are concrete, brick, iron, and steel. We walk not on springy earth but on hard surfaces. Even Moscow’s boulevards have been paved with multicolored granite – no puddles and dirt there.

Earth, normal earth, soft or hard, damp and cold, or conversely, dry and hot, and bare feet walking on it are only memories of a remote childhood (village, dacha, or countryside).

Half of the world’s population already lives in cities, and this proportion will only increase. Ten percent of Russians live in Moscow. The city has become second nature to us. A nature that is artificially created but naturally aging.

Cities, especially modern ones, may differ less from one another – in feeling and in details – than the landscapes surrounding them. If we lower our gaze to the sidewalk and take a good look at the surface, we won’t be able to tell which city this asphalt belongs to – Moscow or New York. It’s almost the same with traffic lights, street signs, and urban green spaces.

A few years ago, my studio was located on the top floor of a nine-story building, which also stood on a high hill (Rostovskaya Naberezhnaya). Moscow was visible to the horizon, and this jagged line of the Moscow horizon was an element of several of my reliefs. Sometimes, as if for authenticity, I wanted to add the word “Moscow” to a relief.

Some works portray in abstract form the part of the city called the outskirts, with its vacant lots, garbage dumps, shells of unfinished buildings, and odd structures. In painting the reliefs, I limited myself to three colors – white, red, and black – which I think are more laconic and expressive.

Igor Chelkovski


The harmony of height and weight is observed.

Daniil Kharms

The creative work of Igor Chelkovski is endlessly evolving, changing its strategy and inventing relevant new forms. In recent years, the artist’s traditional theme of the relief has been filled with constructivist meanings, especially energetic tension transforming into a flowing “text”. The “letters” of this text freely change their volumes, spatial coordinates, and perspective geometry. They escape their internal dimensions and supermatic hieroglyphics, or, conversely, reveal the power of contour, its linear organisation, and vector ability to form the foreground space.

The artist reveals the structure of the city, “reading” it like a projection of instantaneous perception and “scanning” its phrases and manifestos. In his creative gesture, the architecture of a composition takes on the character of paradoxical equilibrium, absolute observance of harmonic oppositions, the magic of symmetry – heavy and weightless, material and conceptual, solid and void, dynamic and contemplative. The expanse of an artwork in these constructivist optics is transmitted by proportional series and cyclic progression connecting the beginning and end into an organic whole.

These austere, but at the same time romantic constructions obey a universal canon: they live in their cultural memory, and their forms permeate our history, incised into it with their squares, triangles, and cubes. But at the same time, they amaze us with their unexpected architectonics, clarity of representation, and spontaneity of expression, wherein deep introspection is hidden. Their forms melt into festive illumination on elongated silhouettes of buildings, as if floating along Moscow’s embankments. Abandoning functional architecture, the images strive for the self-forgetfulness of shadow, to its platonic significance, compelling our conscience to recall the very phenomenon of the birth of art.

The city in all the fullness of its rationality, the mysterious Metropolis, the ship of civilization fulfilling hopes of escaping the Deluge, appears before us in all its solemn grandeur. Its outlines strive for the ideal, stretching to the left and right like wings, its silhouette focusing energy centers where space can resonate, revealing a musical score. It is pulled together by contours, uniting figured substance with voids and gaps, recounting the ancient history of the existence of zero and unity, of the duality that defines human destiny and history within the bounds of all constancies and changes.

For all its absolute significance, Igor Chelkovski’s “City” is situated in the zone of traditional feeling, compelling one to experience the strict “shadow” structure as true reality and as a living body. It is filled with the nostalgic thirties, the great “chill streaming beyond the gates”, marches, sports parades, and the melodies of Dunaevsky and Shostakovich. The “radiant” silhouette sheds the illusion of rigidity, filling itself with the breath of the future and its immutable clarity. The outlines of this clarity shine through the rush of modernity and through our “nonlinear” world, offering purity not only of artistic thought, but also of crafts.

Plastically precisely regulated, closed in an integral of logos and spiritual matter, Igor Chelkovski’s “City” affirms lofty human dignity in the aceticism of courageous modesty.

Vitaly Patsyukov


Before he emigrated in 1977, Igor Chelkovski was a mature, very vivid artist, but unlike most of his friends and colleagues in unofficial art, he was not drawn to social themes and literariness in his creative works, nor was he especially attracted to complex conceptual structures. In essence, Chelkovski was one of our few deliberate adherents of the formalistic tradition: in his sculptures and drawings, he worked primarily on space, material, light and texture, and his works, striking in their elegant minimalism, were what they were and did not assume any outward interpretations.

At the same time, while refining his art to full formal transparency, Chelkovski was always a very socially engaged man, and social responsibility was more important for him than personal artistic ambitions.

After settling in Paris, in 1979, he began publishing A-Ya, the first independent publication devoted to contemporary native art (the magazine was issued until 1985). This demanded colossal efforts: Chelkovski searched for money here and there; he did collection and layout himself, and found ways of exchanging correspondence with authors living in the USSR and getting at least a few copies behind the Iron Curtain. In order to keep the magazine going, the artist virtually abandoned his own art for many years, while the Soviet authorities branded A-Ya as ideological subversion and its publisher as a malicious anti-Soviet. But Chelkovski’s selflessness was not in vain. For artists, writers, and art critics living in the USSR, his creation was a window on the international world of contemporary art and a means of self-awareness; and for modern-day researchers of Russian art of the 70s and 80s, A-Ya is an invaluable source of information.

Today, Igor Chelkovski is once again living and working mainly in Moscow, his hometown; and sculptures from the “City” cycle, created in recent years, are presented at an exhibition in the State Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA).

The sculptures are small painted wood reliefs reminiscent of scale models. The primary colors are white, red, and black.

Are these sculptures about Moscow? Today’s Moscow, with its new developments, wildly overgrown turrets, and deafening barrage of advertising, is hardly minimalist. It’s not white- red-black; with its shrill iridescence and absurd imitations, it looks more like a cross between Disneyland and Las Vegas.

On the other hand, if you take a good look at this city, you get the feeling that if you blow, the whole shaky phantasmagoria will vanish into thin air, and the vertical lines of factory chimneys, endless rows of panel parallelepipeds, and extra-wide streets with a few rare trolleybuses and robotlike pedestrians indistinguishable from one another moving along them will be sucked into a void.

But these are somewhat literary, and even political interpretations, and they aren’t really applicable to Shelkovsky’s art.

What’s important in his works is not what they might illustrate but how they act in and of themselves on the viewer. And they act wonderfully, because Shelkovsky is sure of himself, a virtuoso.

It’s all so very simple; but behind this simplicity is an intricate, refined work of space and material.

But there’s one more, very important quality in the art of Igor Shelkovsky. It’s extremely difficult to analyze it, since we’re faced with an eternal, and probably insoluble problem: what is the connection between the ethical and the esthetic in art? Is it possible to praise an artist by saying that his works are very worthy and honest – especially when we’re talking about art that is formalistic and seemingly cold, like Shelkovky’s art?

Any sane art critic would probably refrain from openly answering this question. But he can say without any liability that what makes Shelkovsky’s works so elegant is not only their formal esthetic perfection, but also the artist’s chivalrous dignity.

Nikita Alekseev

first published in the «Vremya Novostey» newspaper №215 on 23.11.2007