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Janna Bullock: ’Allegories And Experiences’ - Russia In New York

Originally Posted: March 19, 2012

Lee Fryd

Artwork from Janna Bullock's "Allegories and Experiences." (Lee Fryd)

Artist Janna Bullock and R. Couri Hay. (Lee Fryd)

New York City - "She's very brave," whispered one of Janna Bullock's friends, at the opening of her political art installation "Allegories and Experiences," a wry recrimination of Putin's corrupt reign. "Really, I'm afraid for her." Was this Russian expat - whose rise from Russian teacher to International jet setter is the stuff of romance novels - also afraid?

"A few days ago I received an email that African Burial Ground is following me on twitter," Bullock replied. "Did I take it seriously? Yes. I've been in construction in Russia. It's a pretty tough business so I was worried then and I'm worried now."

But Bullock forges her life through passion not fear. She has built infrastructure for a city in Russia, remodeled some of Manhattan's priciest townhouses, launched European businesses, brought American artists to Russia, and Russian artists to America. Invitations to her Meadow Lane or St. Tropez homes are coveted status markers - this woman turns vision into reality.

Maryam Azarm, Robin Cofer and Regina Kravitz. (Lee Fryd)

Take this show. Conceived during a family ski trip in France during Christmas, it opened two months later. "I was passionate about it," she said. "It really came spontaneously," while watching Russians protesting the parliamentary elections on the streets. "When I left Russia three-and-a-half years ago, none of that was possible. It was a very repressed society. There was no other opinion that could have been expressed, unless you wanted to end up in jail or in a coffin, as two of my characters (in her art installation) are.

"I said to myself this is the least I can do to support them." What followed was "a month of intense effort." She installed "Allegories and Experiences" on the first two floors of the Beaux Arts mansion at 14 East 82nd Street she owns. Against the backdrop of raw interior space, swathed in filmy fabric, Bullock presented 24 found images (representing the 24 frames per second in standard movie film), telling tales of the Russian power elite and their victims. Her sardonic take are detailed in English and Russian. For example, the last image, of her husband, Alexey Kuznetsov, the recently deposed state finance minister who fled Russia for Europe, is labeled "Catch of the Day."

Bullock said she left Russia in 1989, because, "it was really falling apart, and I couldn't figure how a little woman with a magna cum laude could survive there. I was teaching Russian as a second language to Vietnamese students and couldn't make ends meet."

Rene Rodriguez, Montgomery Frazier, Yaz Hernandez and Stanislaw Sokolov. (Lee Fryd)

The press loves to say she started out working in a deli in Brooklyn's Little Russia, she said, neglecting to mention her Masters degree (magna cum laude) and background. Her mother was a music teacher who instilled an appreciation of a "high level of aesthetics and standards."

Bullock will once again bring those standards to her next installation. "I like the idea of political art," she explained, "because it could be well or badly received, but it is always received. I have a few ideas. One project is with my daughter, on obesity in America. The second is about Cyprus which became a Russian colony. Russians park their money and totally controlled it."

But, America is Janna's home, because, she says, "You should end up where your heart is."

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