Cut off Your Head for Victor Pivovarov: Moscow Gothic-Style

Victor Pivovarov prague

by Anastasiia Sokolenko – Anglo American University

In the rush of day-to-day life, it is easy to forget to cut your head off. The shapes and forms of learned reality leave little space for observation of non-physical variables, such as moments and emotions.

However, for those willing to connect with a feeling of complete integrity from the familiar lay of the land, the artist Victor Pivovarov offers such an opportunity.

His exhibition “Moscow Gothic” curated by Julia T. Bailey covers all periods of Pivovarov’s life starting from his childhood in Moscow (born in 1937) till the present. He could be considered a local artist since in 1982, Pivovarov moved to Prague, where he still resides with his wife.

Pivovarov is one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism – a trend in Russian modern art that attempted to avoid Soviet Socialistic ideology – and his Moscow Conceptualism paintings are the main feature of the exhibition. In these works, he catches and reproduces the long-gone moment using installations and texts (in Russian) on his canvases. Sections are dedicated to Pivovarov’s childhood, spent in a communal apartment. Each tells a story of a certain moment, spent in the company of his mother, or a noisy neighbor, or an aquarium fish. 

Further into the exhibit, Moscow Gothic moves on to more symbolic, metaphysical realms. For example, one of the sections is dedicated to scientific observation, made by a dramatically shrinking man, who attempts to describe the changes in the world around him. Viewers follow his path till he disappears into a matchbox. A gigantic matchbox sits in the middle of the section, inviting visitors to get inside and listen to the man’s story. Section by section, Moscow Gothic gets more symbolic and elusive, eventually leading to paintings and text with only colored shapes.

“There is a terrific passage in Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Human, All Too Human, which says that we see all things through the medium of the human head, and it would be interesting to cut off this head and see things in a different way,” says Pivovarov to the National Gallery of Prague NGP in a short video about the exhibition. “This idea fascinates me. I would love to cut off my head and see all the things, people, nature, and everything through something else.”

Section by section in the exhibition, conventional shapes and forms become more subtle. Pivovarov successfully ‘cuts viewer’s head off’ by allowing metaphysical realms projected through his interpretation of the world to superimpose on viewer’s reality, memories and emotions. Viewers get stuck in different, sometimes unexpected sections, absorbing the promised something else.

“Moscow Gothic” requires full immersion. It is an immersion into ‘something else’ indeed, since it is hard to catch and describe later. For those willing to try – the doors of “Moscow Gothic” and Pivovarov’s art are widely open. “Moscow Gothic” certainly leaves visitors deeply impressed.

Victor Pivovarov prague

In our modern rush and life of disposability, absorbing moments and decrypting complex puzzles of art could feel like a breath of fresh air. When you cut your head off to observe and absorb the familiar concepts from a new perspective – a new head can grow on an old place, or even something else. “Moscow Gothic” invites everyone to experiment and shows that it could be even vital – to cut your head off.

“Moscow Gothic” in Veletržní palác is open till November 21. For more information see the National Gallery website. Národní galerie Praha (


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