The curved walls that spiral inside the Norman Foster RA-designed City Hall on the bank of the Thames form a suitable stage for a photography exhibition that examines the avant-garde architectural environment of Russia.
Running until 22 March as part of the city’s annual Maslenitsa festival of Russian culture, 'Abstraction/Constructivism: British and Russian Responses to the City’
sees two celebrated architectural photographers from the two countries, Richard Pare and Dmitri Konradt, turn their lens to the urban environment of Moscow and St Petersburg. These cities and their buildings have long fascinated both photographers – Konradt being born in St Petersburg – and it is interesting to compare the artists’ styles.
Richard Pare, Melnikov House, Moscow, 1998. Konstantin Melnikov, 1927-31. Digital print. 624mm x 450mm. Image courtesy of the artist.
Pare’s works were central to the RA’s recent overview of Soviet architecture, ‘Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture, 1915–1935’
– his conversation with critic Jay Merrick is archived here.
Pare masterfully captures the bold geometric forms of his Constructivist-inspired subjects; his images of famous Soviet-era works such as the Shabolovka Radio Tower and the Melnikov House in Moscow bring to life the visionary qualities of the structures, making the Utopian aspirations of their radical forms seem less farfetched.
Dmitri Konradt, St Petersburg, 2004. Digital print, 624mm x 450mm. Image courtesy of the artist.
In contrast, it is Kondradt’s camera-work, rather than the buildings themselves, that gives rise to his abstract aesthetic. Instead of overviews of Modernist masterpieces, he focuses on fragments of overlooked buildings in his native city, creating pictorial tension by their tight composition within the frame. Sometimes the angles he attends to might catch the eye of any passerby, but often they are highly personal to the artist. One work from 2004, for example, juxtaposes a neo-classical archway above a door with the weathered exterior wall of a nearby building, the rich textures of their surfaces to the fore.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine