Boris Mikhaïlov, From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich, 1966-68 © Boris Mikhaïlov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany Bonn © Boris Mikhailov, by SIAE 2023 / Courtesy Boris and Vita Mikhailov
Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary
Oct 10, 2023 – Jan 28, 2024
Palazzo delle Esposizioni
Rome, Italy

Palazzo Esposizioni Rome presents the most important retrospective to date dedicated in Italy to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (Kharkiv, 1938). The exhibition at Palazzo Esposizioni, the result of a cultural policy that increases international collaborations between institutions, ideally continues that of the Maison Européen de la photographie de Paris curated by Laurie Hurwitz, in collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov, expanding it with a section dedicated to the work done by Mikhailov in Rome.

Today considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, Mikhailov has conceived, in more than fifty years, a body of experimental photographic work that explores social and political subjects. Since the 1960s, he has been committed to documenting the tumultuous changes in Ukraine linked to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution.

Over the years, his pioneering research has included documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images from the most important historical series to the most recent work. Mikhailov has mostly articulated his work in series, which vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. The exhibition brings together the images selected from about twenty series made between 1965 and the 2000s.

Mikhailov has challenged every categorisation by unravelling the established visual codes. He has created fruitful connections between photographs and texts, and between different images, often composing them in superimpositions and diptychs on which he has intervened with blurs, cut-outs or hand-colouring that accentuate their ironic, poetic or nostalgic character. He has created these images to the point of theorising the concept of “bad” photography: images deliberately conceived in low contrast, blurry, full of visible flaws, or on poor-quality paper, in order to subvert the glorified imagery of social realism and glossy photography.

[ . . . ]

Through his uncompromising approach to controversial subjects, Boris Mikhailov demonstrates the subversive power of art. For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative of Ukraine’s contemporary history that, in the light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

The exhibition is accompanied by the book Boris Mikhailov 1965–2022, Mörel / MEP, London-Paris 2023 (English language) and the bilingual publication (Italian and English), Saggi e Note. Essays and Notes, Mörel, London 2023, with texts by the artist and Simon Baker, director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris, Laurie Hurwitz, Leigh Ledare.

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