VYACHESLAV AKHUNOV, Abandoned Pedestals (The Empty Pedestals intended for Monuments for Leaders ) #3, 1978–2000, pencil on paper, 41.5 × 30 cm each. Courtesy the artist. 


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On September 2, 2016, longtime strongman president of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov died suddenly and without an apparent political heir. Elections were scheduled for December 4; the winner was Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who won with 88.6 percent of the vote. While Uzbekistan boasts a rich cultural history, lingering Soviet-era authoritarian policies still hold sway over cultural and political spheres. Since late 2013, the country’s primary arts-funding body, the Forum of Culture and Art of Uzbekistan Foundation (Fund Forum) has been inactive. Its founder, Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the late president, fell from favor two years ago due to corruption charges and has been under house arrest since then. The 8th Tashkent Biennale, curated by Nigora Akhmedova, was scheduled for October 2016 but the Cabinet of Ministers canceled it at the last minute and replaced it with the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, held the same month in various venues in Tashkent with some of the same projects prepared for the Biennale. Tashkent Biennale is slated to return in May 2017 in Dubai.

In the capital, the country’s sole museum of contemporary art, the Art Gallery of Uzbekistan, promotes Uzbek and international art under the leadership of senior curator Gayane Umerova. “New Past: Contemporary Art from the UK” (10/28–12/29), featuring artwork of the last two decades from the British Council Collection, included works by Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas and was co-curated by Umerova and Fay Blanchard from the British Council Visual Arts team. 

The Ikuo Hirayama International Caravanserai of Culture at the Academy of Arts also mounted exhibitions throughout the year, such as “Passage to the Future: A New Generation of Japanese Art” (11/8–12/7) featuring 11 emerging Japanese artists. The Tashkent House of Photography hosted the “Magic of Shanghai” (9/28–10/6), an exhibition of Chinese photographers. Other Tashkent museums remain Soviet in structure and content. The State Museum of Arts of Uzbekistan has one of the largest holdings of applied arts in Central Asia. 

In the western city of Nukus is the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art (KSMA), which houses the well-regarded Savitsky collection of Russian avant-garde art. Leadership at the museum is contested, after longtime director Marinika Babanazarova was forced out in 2015 and then rescinded her resignation after the museum staff protested her decision. In 2016, KSMA hosted a photo exhibition by French photographer François Poche (1/21–4/20) and an exhibition of Tashkent painters (5/12–8/10).

On the commercial front, Bonum Factum (also known as Art and Fact Gallery) had an active exhibition schedule that included 28-year-old oil painter Saidbek Sabirbaev’s “Somebody With Me” (9/9–16), Evgeny Panov’s nostalgic watercolors of city scenes (10/29–11/12) and satirical takes on classical paintings by Akmal Ikramzhanova (11/2–13). The newly opened Autograph Art Gallery showcases art and applied design. Also new on the scene is Zero Line, a contemporary art gallery that opened in September. In Samarkand, Aysel Art Gallery and Art Studio hosts exhibitions of photography and painting. 

Independent art spaces in Uzbekistan are rare. The Ilkhom Theatre, a recipient of a 2011 Prince Claus Award, hosted a joint exhibition of paintings about daily beauty by Oksana Bedritskiy and Mary Melnikova (11/16–30).

Abroad, artist and writer Vyacheslav Akhunov showed graphic and video work at Luda Gallery in St. Petersburg, Russia (2/10–14). In Dubai, Andakulova Gallery (previously Alif Art Gallery) features Uzbek and Kazakh contemporary artists, including painter Timur Ernst Akhmedov. It will present works created for the canceled Tashkent Biennale in 2017.

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