Valera and Natasha Cherkashin have been instigators, pranksters, iconoclasts, and stars of the evolving Russian underground art movement in Moscow since the early 1980s. The husband-and-wife team is seemingly tireless, as they have held more than 80 individual exhibits and more than 40 “happenings” or performances since their beginnings as talented, rebellious art students with attitude.

In addition to exploring the changing cultures of the USSR and Russia, they have also traveled extensively and created work in, and about, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Japan and Mongolia. Wherever they go, they capture attention and create a buzz. They’ve been the subjects of more than 30 documentary films and television programs.

Their work is often very large, mural-like, photo-collages and mixed media. It often depicts everyday people in contemporary societies dwarfed by heroic public imagery (imposing Soviet architecture, or the visual cacophony of Times Square neon billboards, for instance).

Their style has evolved dramatically over the years, and they have been acknowledged and embraced by the mainstream art world. In very recent years, they have been commissioned to create installations and artwork for the Olympics and even Motorola mobile phones.

Their earlier work was crowded, rough and handmade, infused with the gestural quality of a Robert Rauschenberg silkscreen. Today they work primarily with digital imagery and computers to manipulate and combine their images. Smudgy photos, paste, paint and ink on photo paper and newsprint, have given way to sensuous and fluid three dimensional spaces — still packed densely with imagery — printed digitally on shiny smooth metallic paper.

We have examples of two recent series here. The first is a series called Ballet, which was created in 2004 as an homage to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. Each image has been created as a negative and a positive print. The second series presented here, Sports in the USSR, is actually earlier work, showing ordinary people relaxing at the bases of monumental works depicting the ideals of perfectly toned bodies engaged in competitive sports. You can see that the techniques used in Sports in the USSR, were refined further in the Ballet series, which retains and echoes many of the Sports images.

Perhaps the one constant theme that stretches throughout all of the Cherkashin’s work is the struggle of individual identity when living in environments crowded with imagery, ideals and propaganda designed to make the ordinary seem inferior. If you get the opportunity, try to see this work in person — the scale, detail and sumptuous beauty will stick with you a long time.

— Jim Casper