The Russian American Cultural Center (RACC) in New York provides permanent cultural representation to the more than 700,000 Russian-speaking residents in the New York City Metropolitan area. In addition to supporting cultural awareness and understanding of Russian-American emerging artists, Russian history and culture, the RACC also aims to promote cultural exchange and cultural diversity among all of New York City’s cultural communities through shared experiences and mutual values. The RACC is a place where New York’s Russian-speaking immigrants may become culturally integrated into mainstream America, and where the American public may become more culturally aware and educated about Russian culture, history and art. The RACC is celebrating 20 years of spreading cultural awareness and understanding of Russian art, history and culture. The executive director and founder of the RACC, Dr. Regina Khidekel has graciously agreed to speak with the RA Gallery and answer some questions about the center, its current projects and future plans.
RAG: RA Gallery
RK: Regina Khidekel
RAG: The RACC was founded by you in 1998, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where this passion for Russian art and culture comes from, and how did the idea for the Center come about?
RK: I continued my work as an art historian and curator, in New York, in 1993 immediately after we moved here. We first moved to NYC in 1992 due to the exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum “The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915–1932” — one of the greatest exhibitions of Russian avant-garde. We loaned our works, especially the Lazar Khidekel works.
When we moved here in 1993, we immediately became involved in a few projects. The first was the promotion of Lazar Khidekel heritage, my father in law. And this was extremely important and interesting, because he was a Suprematist artist, architect and designer, so it was a broad range of subjects which could be explored, discussed and researched. In 1995 we published the first catalogue which included a few of my articles, including the ones about the educational system in Vitebsk Art School and another about the role of Lazar Khidekelin making the transition from two-dimensional to three-dimensional volumetric Suprematism and how he addressed the key questions about the development of Suprematism. While working on this exhibition I was also very much involved in the cultural life of New York because I knew many artists and met many whom I didn’t personally know from before.
I understood how Russian avant-garde, especially Suprematism, was important as a basis for a new language in Art. And I realized that there were two ways to promote Russian art. One was to continue to show the achievements of the Russian avant-garde and in parallel to show how the principles were developed in post-war European, American and contemporary art. The other way was comparative studies between Russian and American Art.
So this way, even before I established the RACC, I already had curated a few important exhibitions. I curated “5+5” which was an exhibition of five Russian and five American contemporary artists. I also advised to one new gallery, which wanted to specialize in Russian art, to show the Sterligov group from St Petersburg and a group of Moscow Conceptualists, showing many of these artists for the first time in New York.
In 1998, I curated, probably, the most important exhibition of my career, and of post-war Russian art in the USA, ”It's the Real Thing", Soviet & Post-Soviet Sots Art & American Pop Art”. This exhibition was held in the striking, newly opened Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis,designed by the architect Frank Gehry. The exhibition occupied the entire space of this spacious modern museum and was the first of its kind to compare the very important American pop artists such as Andy Warhol,Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist,Tom Wesselmann, to the major figures of Russian sots art, including Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who founded the movement, Alexander Kosolapov, Leonid Sokov, Grisha Bruskin, Boris Orlov, Rostislav Lebedev, and predecessors such as Oscar Rabin, Mikhail Roginsky, Ilya Kabakov, Mikhail Roshal-Fedorovand the group Nest, and others,since I wanted to show that the social art movement can be crucial for the international recognition of Soviet non-conformist art.There were about 30 artists featured altogether. The exhibition was spectacular andthe book was also very well designed was considered so important that it was acquired by the art colleges as reading material for the students — not only in the United States but also across Europe. And this is how my name as an art historian became known in the West, especially to the younger generation.
The exhibition was such a huge success that I decided to establish my own organization, here in New York. Partly, with the hope of continuing my curatorial work, as well as creating a physical space in New York, which, unfortunately, has not happened to this day, as there is no other permanent place for Russian culture in New York.This was my mission for many years, and there were many attempts!
However, I wasn’t too hung up on finding a space for the center. I did not waste time and was working with temporary spaces such as educational centers, universities, museums and so on. And this has resulted in about 50 exhibitions to this day, featuring the work of Russian, Russian-American and American artists because my task was to pull Russian art out of isolation and to invite American artists and the American public to learn from each other.
City over Water, 1925
The Center has since held several successful art exhibitions, literature readings, performance arts events, film screenings, and symposiums.
The RACC works closely with the Lazar Khidekel Society, a nonprofit organization established by the family of Lazar Khidekel and a group of distinguished art historians, museum specialists, and art enthusiasts.