Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow | Exhibitions | Yuriy Ribchinskiy - New realism in Russian photography. 1970-1990s

Yuriy Ribchinskiy
New realism in Russian photography. 1970-1990s

Moscow, 6.03.2020—30.07.2020

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As part of the Photobiennale 2020
As part of the Photobiennale 2020



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Yuri Rybchinsky

New Realism in Russian Photography. 1970s–1990s

As part of the ‘Photobiennale-2020’, the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow presents an exhibition by the outstanding photographer Yuri Rybchinsky, ‘New Realism in Russian Photography. 1970s–1990s’.

The timeline of Yuri Rybchinsky’s exhibitions came late in his career, during the wake of Perestroika in the 1980s. From the late 1980s to early 1990s he participated in the first exhibitions of Soviet underground photography to be held abroad: ‘Contemporary Soviet Photography’ (Zurich, Düsseldorf, 1988), ‘Seeing Differently’ (Helsinki, 1989) and ‘Changing Reality’ (Washington, 1991). In 2008 MAMM unveiled a large-scale retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre, including images that have now become classics of Russian photography.

‘New Realism in Russian Photography. 1970s–1990s’ showcases the photographer’s better known, iconic series, and also works never before exhibited. Several of the series were specially printed for this MAMM exhibition from negatives: ‘August Coup’ (1991), ‘National-Patriotic Front Pamyat’ (1991), ‘Ilya Kabakov’s Studio’ (1988), ‘Congress of Healers: “Miracle Workers of Russia”’ (1990), photographs of the legendary exhibition-action by the Avant-Gardists’ Club organised by Joseph Backstein and the World Champions group in 1988 at the Sanduny Baths with participators including Dmitri Prigov, Konstantin Zvezdochotov, Sergei Borisov, Vladimir and Sergei Mironenko, Boris Matrosov, etc., as well as a portrait gallery of luminaries from official and unofficial culture like Vladimir Sorokin, Ivan Chuikov, Gennady Aygi and Jeanne Moreau, Vsevolod Nekrasov, etc.

Yuri Rybchinsky came to photography from a literary background, and this is important in understanding his work. Looking at Rybchinsky’s images, we have the impression he never saw Soviet photography and was unfamiliar with the canons of Socialist Realism. When he turned to photography in the 1970s he had already benefitted from the ‘Khrushchev Thaw jab in the arm’ that allowed Soviet artists to experience contemporary world art and the opportunity to speak in a fundamentally different language with their audience.

In his creative search Rybchinsky intuitively followed the same path as underground artists who understood that real life did not resemble the canons taught in Soviet art colleges. He chose different scenes and different subjects; his lens reflects layers of reality that official visual culture ignored.

There was a veritable flowering of amateur photography in the 1970s. Clubs and formations had emerged in the wake of the Khrushchev Thaw, based at the Houses of Culture of various enterprises that often provided equipment and supplies. These contributed to an unprecedented surge of enthusiasm for photography, which became an important means of self-expression. Individuality moved to the foreground. Optics became dramatic, rather than romanticised or staged. This is equally typical of Yuri Rybchinsky and, for example, photographers of the Novokuznetsk school such as Vladimir Sokolaev, Vladimir Vorobyov and Nikolai Bakharev, whose work was exhibited at our museum in 2016.

Yuri Rybchinsky is a strikingly ‘non-Soviet’ photographer and a great humanist. He is equally interested in the character of legendary artists from Soviet unofficial culture, celebrated doctors, politicians and musicians, or prisoners in a correctional colony and the inhabitants of an ordinary detoxification centre. His famous ‘crooked camera’ shows the essence of people and objects. Often people only divulge their true ‘ego’ in a borderline situation that drives them outside their ‘normal’, facile way of life, and Rybchinsky always succeeds in capturing and recording moments of heightened emotional tension, from the exaltation felt during public performances by acclaimed psychics of the 1990s to the hopelessness of convicts in a penal colony. Taking photographs from extraordinary angles in his signature style, the artist ‘forces reality up against the wall’, compelling it to disclose and reveal all that lies within, the beauty and the horror.


Yuri Rybchinsky was born on 23 July 1935 in Berdyansk (Ukraine). In 1959 he graduated from the Geology Prospecting Faculty of the Moscow Institute of Non-Ferrous Metals and Gold. From 1960 to 1962 he was freelance literary correspondent of APN (RIA Novosti), ‘Komsomolskaya Pravda’ newspaper and ‘Smena’ magazine. Between 1962 and 1976 he worked as literary contributor and then photojournalist of ‘Sovyetsky Soyuz’ magazine.

He created his own portfolio of photographs that were deemed ‘unsuitable’ for the Soviet press but shown in exhibitions at the Moscow City Committee of Graphic Artists. In 1985 there was a solo exhibition of Yuri Rybchinsky’s work in the Humanities Faculty House of Culture at Lomonosov Moscow State University.

In the mid-1980s Rybchinsky left journalism and found employment as a boiler room stoker, devoting his spare time to photography and literary work.

In 1993 Yuri Rybchinsky and photographer Eduard Gladkov created the Museum of Photographic Collections, a non-government foundation that has begun dedicated work to collect, preserve and publicise Russia’s photographic legacy. Rybchinsky is author and compiler of the catalogue ‘Photo Relay: From Rodchenko to the Present’ (published by the Moscow House of Photography Museum). Yuri Rybchinsky has also donated more than 2000 items to our museum from the Museum of Photographic Collections foundation.

Works by Yuri Rybchinsky are included in many Russian and foreign museum collections: the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow; the Russian Union of Art Photographers; the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington); the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas (Austin, USA); and the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, USA), as well as galleries and private collections in Russia, France, Finland and the USA.

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