Maxim Kantor is born in 1957 in Moscow. He starts to paint in 1973, and in 1975 he is accepted into the Polygraphic Institute in Moscow where he has his first studio. He finishes his studies in 1980. While he works as an illustrator of books, he also pursues other artistic projects. He first participates in an exhibition in 1982. In 1983 Kantor, who is not drafted into the army for health reasons, begins his novel »Stacionar«.
Oil paintings in small format and drawings emerge at an early time, among them studies of persons, self-portraits, street scenes of Moscow, and pictures of his family. Only few works survive a fire in his studio in 1975. Kantor ascribes the expressive drawings that evoke Delacroix and van Gogh, but also the densely colored oil paintings (Man in Red, 1977) to a first »romantic period« (Kantor 1992). In the following years he paints pictures of façades, prison and army barracks which he wants to be read as symbols of a totalitarian state. Kantor also connects these works to the concept of the »red house.« For his work of the 1980s he thus uses the name of a group he co-founded in 1984, together with Šèerbinin, Tasenjuk, Sundukov: »Karskyj dom« (»The Red House«) The group wants to position itself against the conceptual approaches that succeeded Kabakov’s work.
Another segment of his work, also created in the 1980s, entirely focuses on the theme of totalitarianism and traces the repressiveness of the system in the traits of the individual portrait. Kantor sees the series of family pictures as the expression of a conflict between »a personality, a figure that has a life history, a face of his own, and a fate« and »a faceless, totalitarian model of society that tries to crush this individuality« (Kantor 1992). The system as a determining and a relativizing factor is always behind the pictures’ themes This is how one may also read the streetcar and bistro paintings (Underground Train 1984) with their observations of transitional stations of social life, his paintings of hospitals and camps where extreme situations are superimposed with Christian iconography. Other paintings that lend themselves for such a reading are his grim visions of totalitarianism, his basic analyses of Soviet society and its system: »all my pictures – although they have very different sujets – form a single cycle and are connected to each other. These are not only images of life, a chronicle of everyday life, even if this aspect is part of it« (Kantor 1992). With his expressive way of painting the artist focuses on the places where totalitarian structures become visible as well as – in close-up – on the inner condition of the human being.
In 1985 Kantor writes his first theatre play, yet next to his literary writing he keeps pursuing his visual art and participates in the first exhibition of the group »Karskyj dom« in Moscow. Kantor meets the German publisher Henri Nannen and visits him during his first travels in Europe in 1988. This travel is followed by a stipend in Düsseldorf and a visit to the United States.
Kantor’s works have been shown in exhibits in the U.S., Denmark, and Germany. In 1992 the Museum Bochum organizes a first retrospective. In 1995 and 1996 further exhibitions in Luxemburg, Berlin, and Moscow follow. In 1997 Kantor participates in the Biennale in Venice.
Since 1990, Maxim Kantor has lived and worked in Moscow, Amsterdam, Boston, Frankfurt, and Berlin.
Maxim Kantor: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Bochum 1992
Maxim Kantor, Gemälde und Radierungen: Ausst.-Kat. Schirn-Kunsthalle, Crossman Gallery, Whitewater/Wis. u.a., Frankfurt/M. 1998
Schrecken und Hoffnung, Künstler sehen Frieden und Krieg: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Hamburg, Stadtmuseum München, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie Moskau, Erimitage Leningrad, Hamburg u.a. 1987