Irina Nakhova: Museum on the Edge

Mar 30, 2019 - Oct 13, 2019
Dodge Wing Lower Level

Irina Nakhova: Museum on the Edge is the artist’s first museum retrospective in the United States. Nakhova (born 1955) began working in the 1970s as one of the youngest members of the now well-known “school” of Moscow conceptualism. From 1983 to 1985, she created a new approach to installation art by transforming one of the rooms in her apartment into a “total work of art” in which the viewer, located within the space, becomes an active participant in its realization. She played a prominent role in Moscow’s unofficial art world and was frequently involved in the actions and performances of the 1980s. Later, after moving to the United States in 1991, she established herself in the West through multiple exhibitions and installations, without, however, losing her connection to Russia, which she represented at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

This exhibition reflects Nakhova’s decades-long activities working in both worlds, beginning with her paintings of the late 1970s and documentation of her conceptual Rooms, through to her most recent interactive installations. Battle of the Invalids (2017) especially demonstrates the complexity of this trajectory: the artist’s constant engagement with global and local audiences, art history, and the ethics of visual arts practices today.

Nakhova stands apart both from the first generation of Moscow conceptualists and from her younger peers. Unlike many of her colleagues, in whose works the narrative or textual component plays a prominent role, Nakhova draws on the visual and cultural dimensions of her dialogue with art history for the conceptual content of her work. The present exhibition reveals the extent to which, as her oeuvre has expanded to include sound, video, and performative media, she remains committed to the process and purpose of painting. 

Nakhova’s lifelong study of artworks in museums has consistently motivated her own creative work and her responses to her environment. As her oeuvre suggests, the priceless objects that museums preserve are also witnesses of past eras. At the same time, any object in a museum’s collection also belongs to the future and will represent the past for future generations. Her highly mediated images connect artifacts from the past with materials grounded in the present to create a deeply ambivalent projection of the past–becoming future. Using the museum as a space to challenge our habitual perspective on the world outside, Nakhova expands its role in our lives. It becomes a space of freedom—one that allows us to take pleasure in the free contemplation of what she describes as the “edge of reality.”

Organized by Jane A. Sharp, Professor, Department of Art History, and Research Curator for Soviet Nonconformist Art; and Julia Tulovsky, Curator for Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art, with the assistance of graduate students in Rutgers University’s Department of Art History: Maria Garth, Dodge-Avenir Fellow and Sopio Gagoshidze, Dodge-Lawrence Fellow

The exhibition and publication are made possible by the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund and the Dodge Charitable Trust–Nancy Ruyle Dodge, Trustee. 


Room No. 1, 1983

Gelatin silver print on paper

9 1/16 x 12 15/16 in. (23 x 32.8 cm)

Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum                     


Photo Peter Jacobs