There are tens of thousands of the same building in Russia, each containing eighty apartments. They were designed by consensus – a committee of architects determined a standard of living and trimmed it down to its most essential pillars. These structures were referred to as K-7s or Khruchevki, after Nikita Khrushchev, who hastily commissioned them in response to a severe housing shortage. Built cheaply and quickly throughout Russia from pre-fabricated panels of cast concrete, they thrust their occupants, both physically and mentally, into an endlessly replicable, uniform space.
Kantarovsky’s exhibition unfolds in front of a painted image of a half demolished Khrushchyovka. Filling the Foundation’s austere minimalist space – designed by architect Claudio Silvestrin – the mural inadvertently measures a high form of contemporary architecture against the economy and violence of Soviet public housing. Kantarovsky’s paintings hang atop the housing block, their rectilinear frames echoing the building’s tiled slab façade.These paintings are themselves a geometric frame for brutality– full of painful, doubt-ridden and feeble experiences, bodies contorted in submission. Each is its own prefabricated arena for pushing, pulling, abrading, rinsing and erasing.
The presence of the Khrushchyovka, along with the steel playground turtles – cherepashki – that often accompanied them, gives the impression that these paintings could be windows into a claustrophobic home or tears in a social fabric. Are the figures within tenants of the building? A mother’s child, leaden and flush with rosacea, causes her to stoop to the point of falling as he reaches for the last drops of her milk. Her frame buckles; her scraped knees indicating that it isn’t the first time. This painting shares its title, “Letdown”, with the exhibition as a whole. At odds with itself, like many of its counterparts, ‘letdown’ refers to oppositional emotions: a letdown being both a disappointment and a release of breast milk in a nursing mother. This paradoxical simultaneity of dismay and fulfillment assembles as the central theme of the exhibition.