I was born on April 1. When they told my father he had a son, he thought it was a prank.
Three months later the war began and I was in the thick of it. My mother was holding me when a fascist pilot opened fire on us. We were saved by an old oak tree that my mother hid behind. She later showed me the oak: it was scarred with bullets. It was eventually chopped down.
I started drawing on everything I could.
The window was boarded up after a bombing because only a bit at the top didn‘t shatter. Finally it was repaired by an elderly glass cutter. It was a miracle. Light filled the house. All year I drew three figures: Lenin, Stalin, and the glass cutter.
I started drawing portraits with live models. They say the resemblance was remarkable.
Stunned by celebrations of the 800 th anniversary of Moscow’s founding.
Beams of light created an incredibly huge portrait of Stalin in the sky, and I shouted for the whole square to hear: “Mama, look how they hanged Stalin!” Mama clapped a hand over my mouth in horror.
I started classes at the painting studio of the Moscow city House of Pioneers. Showed my works in some exhibitions, won some prizes. My father took my to an air show at the Tushino Aerodrome on aviation day. The impression was grand. I drew airplanes non-stop.
Stalin died. I remember the days of mourning in great detail. Our school was on the road to the cemetery where they buried the people who were crushed to death during Stalin’s wake. Coffins went past for days. It was my first social trauma.
I got into sculpture. I went to the sculpture studio at the House of Pioneers, where I met Dmitry Prigov. He was already a poet. We wrote poems together, taking turns writing lines. Our friendship lasted 40 years.
I enrolled at the Stroganov Art Institute, in the monumental sculp- ture department, along with Prigov.
Very strong teachers trained us in the sculptor’s craft: Georgy Ivanovich Motovilov, the main monumental sculptor of the Rus- sian Empire, and Gavriil Aleksandrovich Shults, a neoclassicist. Motovilov was a “Greek,” and I learned architectural order from him. Shults was good at “tying knots.” Thanks to his lessons I truly appre- ciated Lehmbruck, and spent years studying his work.
There was a grandiose exhibition of French art, “from Rodin to today,” in Sokolniki Park. Besides the exhibition there was a cinema and little screens with programs, where you could watch film biographies of all the great French artists. Furthermore, there was also an audio room. I never left it and listened to all sorts of music from Debussy to Messiaen.
I read Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. The book became very important to me. I realized who I was and never doubted again. I decided that I was a priest of Apollo, and I seem to have remained one for my whole life.
Next came Thus Spake Zarathustra, the lion, the camel, the child. I armed myself with laughter. After that came Thomas Mann‘s Magic Mountain. The best book of my youth. And I stayed on that mountain for ten years. I read, I led an ascetic lifestyle, I tormented myself with daily labor. It was true happiness.
The thirtieth-anniversary exhibition of the Moscow Artists‘ Union was removed from the Manezh. Art split into official and underground. I was on the borderline and chose the latter. I already knew what I was going to do.
I studied two programs at the Strogranov:
1. Academic, in classes and at museums.
2. Modernist, from books at home and in the library.
I finished school, rented a basement as a studio, and spent a few years working there with Leonid Sokov and Alexander Kosolapov, who were also students at the Stroganov. Prigov often came to read poems.
I met Igor Shelkovsky and Rostislav Lebedev. It was getting to be a big circle of like-minded artists.
Shelkovsky, Lebedev and I lived and worked at a dacha in Abramtsevo from May to October. Prigov and Kosolapov often come to visit. The level of intellectual discourse was very high. It was our own Magic Mountain. A very productive season. I made forty works, including spherical objects.
I shared a studio with Prigov at ulitsa Rogova, 13.
My «magic mountain» period ended. I returned to the world. I had my first one-night exhibition at the House of Artists with Prigov, Sokov, and Shelkovsky. I made Bust in the Spirit of Rastrelli, the first and the biggest. I called it Emperor. It was the end of metaphysics and the beginning of the big imperial style. But I didn‘t know it yet. And finally, I got married.
A sharp turn from the «mountain» vertical to the horizontal of everyday life. I spent the year experimenting, escaping from the existentialist climate of throught. I was struck by an iconostasis with masks of Caesar. Prigov and I spent a lot of time conversing and developing a platform: polylanguage and the rehabilitation of the «profane sphere.»
Next came Alley of Heroes, Sailor in the Imperial Style, lots of drawings and designs. I started to take part in apartment exhibitions.
The first loss in our circle was Kosolapov‘s departure for America. He left for NOWHERE.
Odnoralov had an apartment show in the spring. I was a member of the organizing committee, and I started the cycle of parsunas.
Another big loss was when Igor Shelkovsky left, or rather, fled. I met Bulatov, Vasiliev, and Nekrasov. Talking to them was very productive.
1977 - 1979
I worked intensively on the series Parsunas and my first Totems.
In May, Prigov, Lebedev and I hosted a weeklong open studio. It was our first big exhibition and attracted a lot of people.
In the fall there was a cataclysm. While I was on vacation in Georgia, the heat was turned on in Moscow, and my hot water pipe burst. All my drawings, paintings, and photographs were destoryed. The wooden works and assemblages suffered damage. I spent the whole winter on restoration. A-Ya magazine came out and I was featured in the first issue.
Sokov, the Gerlovins, Komar and Melamid emigrated to America. Our sphere was falling apart.
Health problems. I had a complex operation to remove a tumor in my right brachial plexus. So I couldn‘t work on sculpture for a long time. But I drew a lot and had a lot of new ideas. The idea about the «grand imperial style» began to take shape.
My second Bust in the Spirit of Rastrelli. The start of a series of imperial busts. Brezhnev died. An anticipation of change.
Change did not come. Andropov introduced a regime of thrift and tightened the screws. The first to suffer was culture, the sphere where I earned money. Commissions to design health resorts, houses of culture, parks, and pioneer camps vanished. There was nowhere to work. Money was very tight at home. We barely ate.
1984 - 1985
No money, no hope. The studio was full of works, and I was 43 years old.
The KGB came calling again because of A-Ya. I had an hour-long talk. Gorbachev. New beginnings.
The beginning of my legalization. My first solo exhibition in the Kashirka district gallery. Fourteen sculptures.
I took up active public work. It seemed like we could reform the Artists‘ Union and use its exhibition spaces. My comrades and I organized the exhibition «The Artist and Contemporaneity,» where we tried to legalize the underground. Officials were strongly against it, but the exhibition made it through after all. It was a grandiose success, with wide resonance. This exhibition was the beginning of perestroika in art.
The first exhibition of the Russian underground in the West («I live — I see» in Bern). I organized exhibitions in Moscow, took part in a number of projects. It was a very productive year. In the fall I participated in the World Olympiad of Art in Seoul. It was my first trip abroad.
«Moscow — Third Rome» was held in Rome. I spent 20 days in Italy, then went to Switzerland. In the fall I traveled to New York. I rented a studio not far from the Twin Towers and prepared an exhibition for Struve Gallery in Chicago.
I had a solo exhibition at Struve in Chicago. It was the first edition of the triptich «Flaming Empire.» I showed work at the Chicago fair. A very productive time. Lots of exhibitions. I made a series of strange objects. The project was called Conversion.
In May I returned to Moscow. I prepared the exhibition «Gotterdammerung» (the second part of the «triptich») at Regina Gallery. The putsch was in August. I opened the exhibition during the collapse of the Soviet empire.
«Sots Art» was held in the former Lenin Museum. The museum was being taken apart, and the exhibition occupied the empty spaces. It looked very sharp.
Changes. Worrisome. I worked on a new project. Time seemed to have stopped, replaced by emptiness. But above, and within, something was growing, something painfully familiar.
By the beginning of the year everything was ready, and I put the large installation Parade of Astral Bodies in Regina Gallery. In the sky — that is, beneath the ceiling — figures with attributes of past empires fly out of a black Nothing. The politicized press responded to the project with bewilderment. «Who are you with, Boris Orlov? What side of the barricades are you on?»
It seemed that the period of putting the author outside the brackets of the text was over. I thought about a new project. Chronos again. Now it was just me and time.
A large solo exhibition at Velta Gallery: «Architecture with Excesses» (Stalinist Empire). Only photocollages.
I continued working with photography, this time with documentary. Again the theme was time, or what happens in the absence of time. Ornament as «prima materia.»
In parallel I began another project. The theme was the collision of utopia with concrete reality. It was provoked by Malevich‘s theory about the additional element.
I continued the series with ornament. More than twenty large objects.
A big installation in Regina Gallery, Victory over the Sun. Everything was black and white and very geometric.
I prepared a continuation. After the heroic conflict, I prepared a conflict of another sort. The same black-and-white gallery, with ornament creeping over the whole black ceiling and floor, the white walls and objects with embodied photographs. I made a big model, planned everything down to the millimeter, but Regina Gallery rejected the project for some reason.
2003 - 2004
I began working with XL Gallery. «Moscow-Berlin, Berlin-Moscow.» In Berlin everything went great for me. An enormous gallery by the grand staircase. Lots of press. My Pantocrator and Icarus were published everywhere.
In the fall, another project, continuing the theme about myself: «Retrospection.» About me and time.
«Russia!» at the Guggenheim in New York. A thousand years of Russian art. I showed Large Imperial Totem.
2006 - 2007
A large number of exhibitons in Moscow and abroad. With XL Gallery I prepared an exhibition for the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.
A major exhibition/installation, «The Host of Earth and the Host of Heaven,» with 110 major works from Moscow collections and museums.
«Circle of Heroes» was an exhibition in the galleries of antiquities at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, supported by the Stella Art Foundation. I did it with great enthusiasm. It was a big installation, spanning ancient times to our days.
I live and work in Moscow.