In 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union ceased to exist, Georgia declared independence.
What followed was a period of turmoil: a bloody coup, inter-ethnic violence and civil war and subsequent separation of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia causing ethnic cleansing and a wave of internal refugees. In the meantime, the country entered into a market economy as the breakdown of social support institutions and corruption caused a social crisis and widespread poverty.
Many artists emigrated and the work of the ones that stayed was characterised by an explosion of various media and styles (previously forbidden) along with formalist art still practised by many, however few artists initially engaged with or responded to the dreadfulness of the new reality.
Foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private cultural initiatives started emerging as well as the first commercial galleries and international cultural exchanges. The first (and last) Tbilisi International Biennial in Contemporary Art took place in 1996.
The Rose Revolution of 2003 reshaped cultural life as the government’s priorities and funding structures changed. Many galleries closed, including ‘N gallery’ (an important venue in the Museum of Fine Art) and organising exhibitions in state museums or other spaces, common in the 1990s, became complicated and expensive. The National Art Centre located in a building made available to artists through a business connection also closed down. This lack of contemporary art venues is currently worsened by the fact that many museums and galleries are closed for renovations which usually take years to complete.
In spite of this, there have been many initiatives to promote Georgian art and establish regional and international links. Art Caucasus Association organised the first art fair in the region in 2004: Caucasus Art Expo; Art Caucasus took place the subsequent year. In 2006 the same organisation organised Caucasus Biennale Declaration followed by Caucasus Biennale in 2007. Unfortunately many of those initiatives were still-born, often impeded by social and political instability. The tradition of large international annual exhibitions is being upheld, however, by Artisterium, now in its second year.
In the recent years Georgia also marked its presence on the international art scene by participating in the Istanbul Biennale and the Venice Biennale in 2007, and several high profile exhibitions of contemporary Georgian art in Western Europe.
The 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia brought another political and refugee crisis and prompted a new wave of contemporary critical art.