digital arts & culture 1998

George Maevski and Leonid Borodkin

Russian Art of the 20th Century in Electronic Media

The development of WWW opens a new world of presentation and representation for art history, it is also a potent tool for new creative processes in the field of digital art. Different questions are now obvious: what should museums and galleries do in the current digital era, what are the problems that the viewer/user encounters while appreciating art remotely via communication network, what are the opportunities for an art historian now immersed in hypermedia, what are the implications for education with the availability of Internet and enormous online data.

Those questions are of primary concern to an art historian. The historians of Russian art are now trying to incorporate new methods, and some of them will be analyzed in this paper. Descriptions of various popular and most interesting sites on the web constitute a large part of this paper. Copyright issues in Russian electronic media, legislation in digital art representation in Russian Federation are important but minor issues that are covered by the lecturer.

Various types of information on Russian art can be found on WWW. There are several types of sites, dedicated to Russian art of the 20th century. Museums, galleries, personal sites, art history sites, listservs and conferences, e-zines, archives and projects incorporating lots of data. Sites mentioned above primarily can be found in Russian Internet, although a fair amount of sites dedicated to Russian art is available on the sites worldwide.

An attempt to have a better look at all types of available resources in Russian art on Internet is made in this work. There are different search engines available to researchers internationally, such as Yahoo or Infoseek. Russian Internet now boasts a number of its own search engines. Primarily two - Rambler ( and Russia on the Net ( A detailed description of the specifics of both search & indexing engines is accomplished in the work. Finding art resources with those search engines requires a number of tricks, which are disclosed in the lecture.

Here is a list of some resources analyzed:

1. ArtInfo (From Russia with Art) - huge database of artists and their works
2. Museums of Russia - multilingual resource dedicated to all available Russian museums
3. State Tretyakov Gallery
4. Roerich Museum in NYC
5. Roerich Museum in the city of Lipetzk
6. Gallery SovArt (Russian/Soviet art, art of social realism)
7. Marat Guelman Gallery
8. Nesterov Museum, city of Ufa
9. State Museum on Nizhnii Novgorod
10. Russian Museum of Photography
11. Art of Michael Vrubel
12. Sculptor Vadim Sidour
13. Russia Design (Art Gallery from the city of Irkutsk) A detailed description of the fine art on CD's, market tendencies in the field and perspectives are also given in this work. Statistical analysis of 100 Internet sites dedicated to Russian art of the 20th century constitutes one of the most interesting parts of this work.

100 sites were analyzed according to the following criteria:

1. Type of the resource
2. Country originator
3. Languages of representation
4. Business orientation of the site
5. Types of works represented (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.)
6. Timeline
7. Percentage of text in multimedia content
8. Educational content
9. Quality of images on the site
10. Interface - navigational and design concepts
11. Number of images on the site
12. Number of artists on the site

All information in this chapter is based on organizing data from the given 100 resources according to the 12 criteria listed and its further statistical interpretation. Some of the criteria are obvious (number of images or artists), others require expert notions (example: interface concepts, educational content, etc.). For each of the 100 Internet sites we assembled a table in Microsoft Excel, which allowed us to compute percentage of sites with a given criteria. We then made some further computations and came up with data on interrelations of different criteria. All types of computations are accompanied by a graphical representation. Here are some preliminary results. To use the resources to the full extent knowledge of Russian is desirable, although some resources are provided with English translation. Types of resources are various.

Personal sites and galleries are most popular types of resources. References online are also popular. Site coordinators usually originate from Russia. Almost 10 percent of the sites originate from former Soviet Republics (now independent countries) and USA. Up to 70 percent of the resources are non-commercial. Painting and graphic art constitute over 50 percent of resources available. Computer art constitutes a modest 8 percent. Up to 90 percent of the sites are dedicated to the most contemporary art. A quarter of resources have very high educational quality, almost half of the resources boast good image quality. Good hypermedia interface and sound navigational concepts are natural only to a quarter of resources being analyzed. 10, 20 and 50 images per site are the most popular numbers for images represented on the art sites listed.

One artist per site, that is personal sites are most popular, although gallery resources usually represent two to five artists. Further statistical analysis aimed at criteria interrelation gave us a number of noteworthy data. Thus architectural resources provide us with the highest educational quality. Computer graphics - a new competitor of traditional art media amazingly shows the lowest educational feasibility for a student/researcher. Architectural sites, sites dedicated to painting and decorative arts demonstrate good image quality.

Navigational concepts as noted above are a weak point for Russian art sites, though we can note, that sites dedicated to graphic art and painting show us a fair number of sites with acceptable hypermedia interface and overall navigation. Sites dedicated to traditional media tend to be more commercially oriented (especially painting), sites on computer graphics tend to be least commercial. Highest amount of virtual galleries is noted among resources on painting, graphic art and photography. Correlation between languages represented on a particular site and type of an art resources did show us a number of interesting facts. Resources dedicated to painting are adequately translated to English, while we can find a number of resources dedicated to various traditional media where English is the only language available - which is at once curious and laughable. Some site owners in their commercial rush to sell native art tend to forget their native language. Quantity of images and other information available is one of the most important criteria when determining site's characteristics. Resources on architecture, photography, decorative arts tend to exhibit up to 100 images, resources dedicated to painting usually exhibit up to 50 images.

Strangely enough sites dedicated to computer graphics usually exhibit no more than 10 images. Resources on architecture and sculpture as a rule incorporate up to 20 artists. Other types of resources are mostly individual. There are a number of galleries which are personal sites at the same time. Reference resources incorporate over 10 artists and over 50 images of their artwork.

Statistical analysis provides us with practical data on tendencies of Russian art of the 20th century on Internet. Presentation of this paper will be accompanied by aprx. 30 diagrams of statistical data and a number of site screen shots in order to give a better idea of current developments on Russian art and art history in electronic media. Attempt to understand criteria that rule the new digital artworld is another aspect which is important to the authors. Digital art being a new phenomenon for the western art is at the stage of rapid development in Russia. We can now state that there are some impressive attempts made in this field by contemporary Russian artists. A number of exhibitions in popular museums, galleries and exhibition halls is an obvious proof. In the paper authors generalize on recent tendencies in the field and give an overview of the most prominent personalia in the newborn Russian digital artworld.

George Maevski M.F.A., Leonid Borodkin Ph.D, prof. (Moscow Lomonosov State University, Russia / Department of Russian Art History)






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Last update: 26th of October 1998.