Theories of Art/Theories of Terror


A public lecture by Professor Anatoly Rykov, St Petersburg State University

In this talk Professor Anatoly Rykov addressed the convergence between totalitarian (proto-fascist) discourses and early avant-garde theories. He then traced the destiny of the avant-garde utopian heritage in contemporary Western humanities, their rhetorical systems and political premises.  In his provocative talk, Professor Rykov developed the claim that leftist projects in art and culture often employ repressive and totalitarian concepts and metaphors. He introduced the notion of “radical conservatism” in order to explain this phenomenon in the theoretical matrix of the avant-garde and its postmodern interpretation. For Professor Rykov, the essence of “radical conservativism” is the postmodern theoretical strategy of self-exclusion - “critical loneliness”, which he sees as a combination of the Romantic myth of the genius with the modernist “hygienic” discourse of ideological purity. 

Anatoly Rykov, Professor at St Petersburg State University, is the one of the most prolific and eclectic art historians of the new generation in Russia. An expert on both Russian and Western art history and theory, he has written on a range of subjects in the Renaissance, 18th, 19th and 20th Century art. In his award-winning book, Postmodernism as radical conservatism (2007), he analyses the connotations of right-wing politics and philosophy in the work of eminent representatives of American art theory. His other books include Foundations of Art Theory (2007), Origins of the avant-garde (2016), and Formalism: Sociology of art (2016). His current research project Russian Art Theory: between Fascism and Shamanism concerns the issues of convergence between different political and sacral discourses in Russian twentieth-century theories of art.

Professor Rykov is a 2016 Institute of Advanced Studies Short Stay Visiting Fellow.