Given the almost impossible task of selecting a first prize winner from a plethora of contenders the judges finally settled on an arresting work by this member of the Union of Artists of Russia, since 1995 when he was only 21; Entitled ‘Criminal Code, Article 148’ a work that is a subtle but clever nod in various directions. Mikhaylov often takes his initial inspiration from the Old Masters and later successors, in this instance, the Dane, Carl Heinrich Bloch’s nineteenth century painting of Christ Casting Out The Money-Changers, supporting the religious context with a stained-glass effect in its execution and complemented by the dramatic use of light and shade achieved with exemplary brushwork.
However, not all is as it initially appears. To challenge further our interpretation, two characters are poised with guns, one aimed at the viewer and there is one large, pious-looking man in modern dress standing behind Christ; does this represent the Russian State and a commentary on its relationship with the church that many Russians regard as too close, in stark contrast to Soviet times when any form of religious practice was barely tolerated? The title refers to the Duma’s passing of Article 148, which made it illegal for any words or actions to offend religious sensibilities, which many regard as an infringement of the freedom of speech. The Biennale judges felt this whole subject is salient to current global issues concerning religious tolerance and harmony as well as what is done unto others in the name of religion. Are the gun-toting men in this work about to arrest Christ for his attack on religious corruption? The tension, uncertainty and palpable fear represented in this electrifying piece is chilling, making it all the more breath-taking in its execution and deserving of academic recognition.
Among the other 130 artists who were selected, all winners in effect given that applications for this event exceeded 2500, from the 40 different nations such as France, South Africa, South America and the Antipodes, the work of the Italian artist, Luigi Piccioni received considerable attention and commendations from visitors, and deservedly so. A highly original artist, specialising in mixed media such as steel and plaster (a graduate in fine art from the institute in Spoleto and the via Ripetta Academy, Rome), Piccioni’s maxim is that nothing is made, nothing is destroyed, all is but a transformation. This artist’s versatility in his use of materials is reflected in his diverse range and varying genres; with his sacred works encompassing echoes from Giotto to William Blake, to his post-impressionistic clowns and sensuous, other-worldly works, here is a man who takes risks, experiments, develops and explores new territory as well as new media retaining a youthfulness in his spontaneity and open-mindedness. An artist of our time and the future.
Left - ‘Criminal Code, Article 148’ by Deniz Mikhaylov
Right - 'Aurora' by Luigi Piccioni