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Boris Mikhailov

Before Sleep / After Drinking

It is winter. Two men are standing on the edge of a street. The snow on the asphalt behind them has been trampled through. Their faces are worn, and they are holding what appears to be the massive rib cage of a freshly butchered animal. This image from Boris Mikhailov’s Case Histories series (1997–98) depicts individuals transformed by political, cultural, and social revolutions in Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Eastern Bloc. Mikhailov reveals the poverty, naked bodies, and sexuality of such antiheroes in his photographs. His unmediated approach to his environment and his merciless, brutally honest and near-voyeuristic visual language have made him one of the most important artists in his field. Mikhailov’s take on his homeland and its people is unique. The topics he has treated and his aesthetic have broken all taboos and influenced many of his contemporaries— even though his work was seldom shown until the 1990s. A grant took Mikhailov to New York in 1994 and to Berlin in 1996. From then on, he began to achieve international recognition. With a virtuosic oeuvre spanning almost 50 years, Boris Mikhailov is one of the leading figures in contemporary photography and represents, both politically and artistically, a new post-Soviet generation.

In celebration of Boris Mikhailov’s eightieth birthday, C/O Berlin will be showing more than 400 photographs that provide an overview of his oeuvre in its entirety. Themes like the body, system critique, mortality, and humor are interwoven with Mikhailov’s own biographical history. Projected images, framed pictures on the wall, and table display cases underscore the diversity of forms his work taken as well as the materiality of photography as object. Their interplay gives rise to a dense formalistic, ideological, and emotional dialog with Mikhailov’s life’s work. 

Boris Mikhailov (b. 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine) is one of the most important chroniclers of everyday life in a (post-) Soviet society. Mikhailov studied electrical engineering at a technical university and began work as an engineer. He taught himself photography in the late 1960s. Mikhailov’s early series from the 1960s and 70s most frequently depicted personal images of the artist’s friends, acquaintances, and female partners. The world he captures— scenes from everyday life, poverty, sexuality, despair, resignation, and the decline of a forgotten Eastern Europe—is consistently unvarnished and raw. Mikhailov has always focused on society’s outsiders. His works have been shown around the world in countless solo and group exhibitions, at institutions including Sprengel Museum, Hanover (2013), Berlinische Galerie, Berlin (2012), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011), Tate Modern, London (2010), Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2010) and in the Ukrainian Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia (2007). Boris Mikhailov lives and works in Kharkiv and Berlin.