March 01, 1998

There's No Beauty in Beauty Xontests

Alexander Shilov, 54, is one of those few, lucky artists who has enjoyed recognition during his lifetime. In 1983, just four years after his first personal exhibition in Moscow made a big splash, he received the honorary title of People’s Artist of Russia. In 1985 he became a People’s Artist of the USSR. Last year, Shilov told the State Duma that he would donate some 400 of his paintings to the state if a special building were allocated to house the collection. In uncharacteristic style, the Duma acted swiftly and unanimously to approve the resolution. Soon thereafter, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov acted with characteristic efficiency and allocated a nice, 19th century mansion at 5 Znamenka street. In May 1997, the gallery opened its doors.

Of course, official endorsement of an artist can be a double-edged sword. But it certainly has not stopped Shilov from voicing his views on today’s state ideology – he is not the type to mince words. Accordingly, the artist has both fervent admirers, who like his “living” portraits, and vociferous critics, who reject his “artificial photographic style.” But the facts speak for themselves. This past January, on a cold, Saturday night – eight (!) months after the opening of the gallery – there was a one hour wait outside in the cold to gain entrance.

In pursuing this month’s story on Russian Beauty, Mikhail Ivanov sat down with the artist to hear his views on the subject.Photos by Vladimir Popov unless noted.

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