Gallery: Opera Gallery, New Bond Street

I won't lumber you with what an idiot I was at school, but there was one module in History that always kept my attention: Stalinist Russia. It was as fascinatingly brutal as it was brutally fascinating.

Exactly sixty years on from his death, British artist Joe Black is showing a new piece, Star, at Opera Gallery, London (see below). I went to check it out.

First of all, the image is pretty cool. From far away, it looks a bit like a grainy old photograph of the man himself.

But it's nothing like that in person. Made up of hundreds of chess pieces, it physically jumps out at you (if you want unnerving, try seeing Joseph Stalin 'jump out at you'... Yeah. The stuff of nightmares). For reasons of Communist symbolism, I wondered why the artist hadn't chosen to make all the chess pieces the same - all pawns, for instance - but the varying sizes give the piece more movement.

As an artist, or 'image-maker' as he calls himself, Joe Black is more at home with a bag of Lego than a palette of paints. Make of it what you will, but I reckon his use of chess pieces here goes a little beyond thinking "oh, that'd look pretty cool". Like chess, politics in twentieth century Russia was a game of tactics, starting with the struggle for power between Stalin and Trotsky. Stalin took out his opponents, knocking 'kings' off the board left, right and centre until March 6th, 1953. And he actually was a proud chess player himself.

I like the name as well: 'Star'. A lot of the political unrest in the early twentieth century came after the fall of Nicholas 2nd, the last Tsar. The political leaders that followed, the Bolsheviks, promised change and a better life for Russians, but many of the country's problems prevailed. Under the guise of a wholly different political set up, there was only a slight rearrangement of approaches. Star. Tsar. Star. Tsar.

Anywho, interesting piece and definitely worth a look. There are stunning pieces throughout the gallery, from big names like Keith Haring, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor, to lesser known artists. The Opera Gallery is basically my dream living room.


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