Kaiserring Goslar 2015 to Boris Mikhailov


This year’s Kaiserring of the City of Goslar, one of the most coveted prizes for contemporary art, is being awarded to Boris Mikhailov.

Award of the Kaiserring on 10 October 2015 at 11 am

Goslar Kaiserpfalz

Eulogy: Udo Kittelmann, Director of the Nationalgalerie Berlin.

Opening of the accompanying exhibition at the

im Mönchehaus Museum from 12:30 pm

Exhibition runs from 10 October 2015 to 30 January 2016.


On display at the exhibition are many of the important series of works by the artist, who was born in Kharkov (Ukraine) in 1938, and taught himself the art of photography. An engineer by training, in 1966 he was commissioned to make a short film about the factory where he worked. When he also used the camera for private work, taking nude photos of his wife, he was sacked. Thereupon he devoted himself exclusively to photography. Today he is one of the most celebrated ‘chroniclers of Soviet and post-Soviet society’ (Kaiserring jury).

The exhibition starts in the foyer of the Mönchehaus Museum with a large triptych from the series ‘Promzona’, the name of an industrial area in the Donetz basin which Boris Mikhailov photographed in 2011. In a way, the theme recalls the early days of the artist, who now spends his time between Berlin and Kharkov, and thus forms a biographical link between his past and present.

This is followed on the ground floor by two of Boris Mikhailov’s most important series. Firstly, the dark and dramatic photographs in the cycle ‘At Dusk’, dating from 1993, taken in Kharkov following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shots in horizontal format, toned blue, so that they come across as even colder. They link the artist’s memories of the Second World War with the scary and nightmarish doom-laden atmosphere which he perceived among many people in Kharkov at that time.

The social dystopias which were already manifesting themselves there take on apocalyptic dimensions in the pictures in the ‘Case History’ series (1997/98). These ‘medical histories’ made Boris Mikhailov famous worldwide. To create them, the artist took homeless people from his home city of Kharkov and photographed them in poses which were, in some cases, staged, making them protagonists in a Passion play with Christian overtones. Only there is nothing fictional or play-like about Mikhailov’s images, rather the bitter reality, which hits the beholder with full force, of people who have plunged from communism into chaos.

That the pictures not only document reality but also comment upon it and direct our gaze in a specific direction, is made clear by earlier series by Mikhailov. They are on show on the first floor of the museum.

In the film room can be seen the ‘Sandwich’ pictures dating from the late 1960s, in a video with accompanying music by Pink Floyd, in which the artist, through the double exposure of two slides – and two motifs – superimposes them in such a way that the communist reality is poetically enhanced or else surreally defamiliarized. Both strategies are subversive. Just like the red in the series of that name (1968–75) in the exhibition room on the second floor, in which Boris Mikhailov uses the colour of the communists to make his pictures radiate in conspicuous fashion, not least through colorization, so that they stand in spectacular contrast to the grey everyday uniformity.

Colorization as a subversive strategy is also used in the ‘Luriki’ pictures (1971–1985), only these are not ones he has taken himself. Rather, they are other people’s photographs which retouched and colorized during this period in order to earn a living. In the series ‘Sots-Art’ (1975–86), the artist took his own photographs once more, concentrating on political and ideological themes. Here too, colorization serves as a consciousness-expanding device, for example when, on one picture in the series, he confronts the state’s political propaganda chromaticvally with people’s private reality.

In one cabinet we can see the impressive black-and-white series ‘Salt Lake’ (1986), which most readily fulfils the criterion of documentary photography. Only that reality, even in the form of people bathing and seeking recreation in the midst of a murky industrial landscape comes across as so grotesque and contradictory that they are already socially explosive.

For the series ‘Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino’ (2000–2010), following the collapse of the Soviet empire Boris Mikhailov photographed in Kharkov once more to document the influx of Western lifestyles. That is the sense in which the title of the work is to be taken. Where the waiter under communism merely offered a choice between tea and coffee, under capitalism, mantra-like, he now offers cappuccino too. But the new age brings major problems. In 2013 at the protests on the Maidan in Kiev, Boris Mikhailov and his wife were among the demonstrators. They photographed the clashes with the forces of the state and published their pictures under the title ‘The Theatre of War’ (2013). A monumental image from the series concludes the exhibition in Goslar.

Supported by the city of Goslar, the Regionalverband Harz, and Volkswagen AG