soviet nonconfomism. 1960 - 1980
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|Ralph Croizier. The Avant-garde and the Democracy Movement: Reflections on
Late Communism in the USSR and China. - Europe-Asia Studies, May, 1999|
But there is one more prerequisite for a successful avant-garde on the
historical Western European model: some source of patronage. To a limited extent
this came from the new Soviet intelligentsia and even apparatchiki bored with
the stereotypes of official art. Perhaps more significant, under detente there
were curious Western visitors, and buyers. This started on a modest scale in the
1960s with usually American Sovietologists dodging the KGB for furtive visits to
underground art studios. Eventually these surreptitious contacts broadened into
an active Western market for Soviet underground art further aided by the
Brezhnev regime's willingness to let troublesome dissidents, including artists,
emigrate to the West. In the Soviet case this opening to the West, and to
Western market forces, climaxed only after the inauguration of Gorbachev's
reforms in the mid-1980s.
The role of that art in the collapse of the Soviet Union is debatable. The
earlier generation of Soviet unofficial artists, under Khrushchev and Brezhnev,
had dwelled on subversive stylistic references or grim exposes of tyranny. By
the 1970s, perhaps in touch with Western post-modernist irony, a new generation
of unofficial artists started to subvert the code of official socialist realist
art through ironic or satiric expropriation of its forms and symbols. The
growing importance of the Western art market and its expectation that Russian
art should refer to politics encouraged this trend.
True, its artists did not seek to destroy the distinction between art and
political life as Burger claimed was the goal of Europe's historical avant-garde.
In both China and Russia artists sought more, not less, autonomy after decades
of 'society' smothering art. But, at least at the height of the 'new tide art',
they saw a purpose for art that transcended private concerns. For a w hile it
was possible to imagine the artist as being in the van of emancipating social,
cultural and even political change.
|Thomas Strauss. Have You Heard the One About
Achilles and the Tortoise? - Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung 2000, Jan. 11, 2001|
With their humiliating homage to Generalissimo Stalin, the
Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid gave precise expression to a new
stylistic form, that of ironic and skeptical SOTS Art. Admittedly, the point in
time played a crucial role. What may have been meant sincerely at the end of the
1930s became a distorting mirror and caricature in the late 1970s and early
1980s, when Komar and Melamid -- along with Ilya Kabakov and others -- appeared
on the international art scene. Either way, a portion of hidden, or black,
humor, belongs to the necessary equipment of every significant fighter against
Zeno of Elea's paradox in the story of Achilles and the tortoise generalizes the
concept of the convergent and infinite series. The discovery of the
wave/particle dualism of light made it necessary to reexamine the deterministic
causality of the actual foundations of scientific philosophy, and led to modern
Contemporary art, especially the "conceptual" movements, thus
joins forces with classical paradoxes and warns us to be wary of any thoughtless
pronouncement of truth. According to contemporary critics, the old concept of
"truth," stemming from the Enlightenment and on which the demagoguery
surrounding all eastern artists was based, is a mere illusion.
Of course, the question of the preconditions for examining each statement of
reality is not restricted to a certain domain, and was therefore asked in both
East and West within the conceptual tendencies of the 1970s. In "western
art," this was basically only one of an infinite number of contemporary art
strategies -- a modern and innovative by-product, one might say. In the east, by
contrast, the intensity with which the authors from what was then the dark side
of the globe devoted themselves to the problem of visual paradoxes shows that
they were concerned with the complex, fundamental question of each individual
statement, with "the examination of truth." How is good or true art to
flourish under the false or deformed linguistic rulings and thought patterns
imposed from outside?
Meanwhile, it seems that not only dictators, but also their critics, have grown
weary. In the latter days of communism, there are no more historical puzzles
that need solving even today. That is the realization of almost all artists
working to the east of the Spree or Oder rivers. Gone is the age of great
paradoxes, and thus also the vital necessity of "East European art,"
which reveals by means of visual illogic. There are no questions and no answers.
All that remains is a general, indiscriminate grayness. Since the end of the
1980s, there is an urgent need for a few new strategies.
Soviet painting: in Stalin's debt. (Joseph Stalin, who banned western art in
the Soviet Union) (Books and Art) The Economist (US), Jan 28, 1989 v310
n7587 p89(1) text
Much of the power of Soviet avantgarde painting stems from the
fact that "unofficial" artists such as Mr Kabakov have not been
allowed to show their work publicly in the Soviet Union since, 1932, much less
sell it. As a result, artists have preoccupied themselves with znachenye - the
"meaning" of art - rather than with developing marketable styles. The
store of contemplative and well-made modern paintings in the Soviet Union owes
its existence, ironically enough, to the cultural isolationism of Stalin and his
Western galleries clearly see the Russian art world as an
untapped gold mine; and Mr Gorbachev's government too has woken up to the fact
that znachenye can be a synonym for valyuta - hard currency.
The six-figure prices were made by the likes of Grisha Bruskin,
whose pretty, figurative work was preferred by western buyers to the
intellectually demanding pictures of more established masters.
|Frances Stonor Saunders. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of
Arts and Letters|
Today, the idea that the CIA would found a literary and cultural
journal (Encounter) and would fund touring art exhibits (mostly through the New
York Museum Of Modern Art, which was intimately linked to the agency) seems
absurdist. The belief that this might foster a general freedom of thought, which
would somehow magically evolve into anti-Communist thinking, could almost be the
basis for a Pynchonesque satire, were it not for the knowledge that many readers
of this book will already likely possess about just how insane things really got
in the Fifties and Sixties.
| Renee Baigell - A Celebration of the Forbidden: Rebel Artists and
Their Work from the Soviet Union) - "Politics as Art/Art as Politics".
Budapest Conference Lecture|
I began to interview dissident artists in 1991 for the book that
was published in 1995, called Soviet Dissident Artist: Interviews After
Perestroika, which I coauthored with my husband, Matthew Baigell.
Or how they handled the inevitable conflict with the KGB before too much
time had passed, before the artists had rewritten their own histories beyond
Before mentioning individual responses to my questions, I do want to say
that most artists communicated both elation and depression as they reminisced.
On the one hand it was a magic time. They were, for the most part, united in
their dissidence, supportive of each other, knowing that they were trying to
keep the spark of artistic morality alive as well as the absolute necessity of
retaining their independent voice in the face of Soviet authority.
Some were even official artists by day and dissidents at night. A few
artists even told me that despite the hard times and the threat both
psychological and physical from the authorities, they missed the old days and
the sense of camaraderie their underground status gave them.
The generation of the 1960s, born largely in the 1930s, is generally
considered the largest and most powerful of the dissident generations, the one
which really established the dissidence as a movement. But it is clear that each
generation responded differently to the idea of dissidence, had different kinds
of opportunities to reveal their dissidence, and endured different kinds of
punishment for their dissidence.
Despite the files kept by the FBI in the United States, and that
organization's use of intimidation, nothing remotely similar to the Soviet
situation existed in the United States. So it is difficult for Americans to
fully grasp the kind of quiet heroism, or desperate heroism, that characterizes
the dissident movement. The politics of the dissident position was that the
artists lived under a siege mentality.
Some artists have shed to a greater or lesser degree the subject matter
they explored in pre-perestroika days, others have not, some remain Russian
artists, others have not. The situation is volatile, and the moment in history
which defined the dissident movement is now, essentially, at an end.
|Alla Rosenfeld. A Celebration of the Forbidden: Rebel Artists and Their Work
from the Soviet Union. "Politics as Art/Art as Politics". Budapest
And, as some artists have said, "the quality of political
art does not matter, since anyway no one knows anything about Russia and
therefore a political artist can easily pass for a hero-martyr."
This type of "attention" from Western buyers often
produced in nonconformists a "Cinderella complex" that manifested
itself in the representation of the West (in their consciousness) as a
fairy-tale Prince who is capable of appreciating their devotion to the ideals of
high art. This was probably a cause for the severe disillusionment which many of
the former nonconformist painters suffered after immigrating, having
overestimated the interest of Western art dealers, curators and critics in their
Referring to his Toilet installation, Kabakov said: " his is
only a metaphor, one which should work equally well in America or France or
South America. We live in shit, but this is our normal place. Because the
installation was done by a Russian artist, however, the Western visitor
immediately asks: 'How many Russians live in the bathroom? Why do they live in
the bathroom?' We live in houses, but Russians seem to be living in
|Konstantin Akinsha. "Painting the Way to Perestroika," October
1997, Transitions magazine.|
Bulldozers mauling paintings became a symbol of Leonid Brezhnev's
cultural policy after the Cheryomushki attack provoked a wave of international
protests. In the wake of the "bulldozer exhibition," the authorities
changed their tactics, and a few displays of underground, nonconformist
art‹any works that did not adhere to the state-approved style of Socialist
Realism‹were permitted. But for the most part, the state war against
unofficial artists continued unabated for the better part of the next two
decades and ended only with Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost.
Yet they continued their partisan war for freedom of artistic
expression, the only war of such scale in the history of art in this century.
The war has ended, but its history remains unwritten. Only now
can emotions begin to be separated from reality, mythology from facts. To
understand what happened to art in both the East and the West, and to begin to
write the history of that period, we have to revisit the time of bulldozers
crushing abstract paintings on that muddy Moscow plot.
|Andrei Erfoeev. The Art of the Nonconformists. - A Celebration of the
Forbidden: Rebel Artists and Their Work from the Soviet Union|
The social space was only abandoned by those who fully felt that
they were artists. For such artists their physical imperative to move a pencil
across a piece of paper was eclipsed and smothered by their endeavour to find
their way in a hostile surrounding. For them, art always meant more than the
simple ability to represent things. They saw it as an instrument in building up
personality and developing an ethical, philosophical and aesthetic program. Most
of all, though, it was a psycho-therapeutic tool, a way of maintaining distance
from, and avoiding the enemy.
The pre-Stalinist generation of avantgardists had died, and every
living picture of past art was shattered. The feeling of inescapable loneliness
took over these artists, and penetrated them so deeply, that when freedom
finally did arrive (first for those in the West, later in Russia too) and they
were finally able to communicate with the world, they were unable to escape this
psychological complex according to which they saw themselves as bastard children
who had been given absolutely no support from any of the great traditions of
twentieth century art.
They want to preserve that distance which enables them to -
curiously and with aesthetic pleasure -- dissect the other people's mentality
and psyche from a standpoint outside of the reach of societal stimuli, or at the
other extreme: in the midst of society's decay. It's just that Russians do not
want to see themselves in a mirror, they are not curious about the far from
attractive collective unconscious. Every voice that mentioned the atonement of
the end of the Gorbachov-age has fallen silent.
|Letter to the editor. Highly regarded comrade Editor! -
Kultura, 1974. September 20. [Translation of document from Russian into English.
Source: Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Fonds 300): Research
Institute (Munich): Information Resources Department: Slavic, Baltic and
Eurasian Archives: Soviet "Red" Archives (Subfonds 80), Old Code
Subject Files (Series 1) - (A Celebration of the Forbidden: Rebel Artists
and Their Work from the Soviet Union)|
But the strangest thing was that together with the so-called
"artists" v or even earlier than them -- foreigners arrived at the
scene. They came by embassy cars which bore license plates of foreign capitalist
countries. Some of the pictures were even delivered to the site by these cars.
Among the foreigners, as it was discovered later, there were many correspondents
from foreign newspapers, and the purpose of their visit was by means to cover
this "artistic event." They took pictures of this riot and actively
participated in it. Moreover, the correspondent of the Norwegian newspaper
"Aftenposten" Udgord Nils Morten even allowed himself to slap a
worker, who tried to humble him. There were also other cases like that.
|Boris Groys. Kabakov, Or Private Museums.- A Celebration of the Forbidden:
Rebel Artists and Their Work from the Soviet Union. "Politics as Art/Art as
Politics", Budapest Conference Lecture|
But even if a certain work of Russian unofficial art will be accepted by
the neutral art historical, curatorial gaze, some crucial dimension of it
disappears, gets lost. The central point is that for Kabakov unofficial art--and
also his own art--is much more interesting, and relevant and exciting as garbage
than as art.
The main problem of Russian unofficial art, was, as I said, on the
contrary, the absence of the museum. So to be able to show what it means to be
an unofficial artist, Kabakov needs somehow to destroy the museum, to bring it
ostensibly to ruin, to demonstrate how the museum, how the exhibition space
collapses, instead of just bringing the products of his artistic activity into
the museum as it already is.
At the same time Kabakov has by no means an illusion that he can abolish
the museum by a kind of a heroic, romantic, avantgarde gesture like, let`s say,
Malevich`s proclamation that he was creating his art for an imaginary,
suprematist, new mankind and not for the existing museum curators and
spectators. Rather, Kabakov tries to find in the Soviet system itself, as it de
facto existed, structures, or institutions, or life forms which, if not being
precisely museums, were functioning in a way comparable to the museums, so that
they were able to keep personal memories on the verge of their complete
And we cannot escape communality because we are always initially exposed
and exhibited, initially subjected to the violence of the communal gaze, on the
level of our bodily, material existence. So we can abolish communism--but we
cannot abolish being communal.
The museum can be seen as a kind of the eternal communal apartment, in
which artist is enclosed with the others. Jean-Paul Sartre has already said that
Hell is the Others. And Hell is like a museum, something between the Paradise of
Divine Memory and the garbage can of total oblivion.
|Boris Groys. - Artforum -
"The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde,
1915-1932" (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1992)|
Ilya Kabakov If the last decade was for many a time of weighing the
various experiences of the twentieth century, Ilya Kabakov's work in the '90s
has carried out the task of remembrance most impressively and without
compromise. Not just a reflection on the Communist experiment in Russia, his
installations meditate to a much greater degree on the history of modern art,
here told as a story of personal trauma, insecurity, and lonely dreams. One is
reminded that this century is replete with intelligent modem artists who were
unsuccessful and went unrecognized.
|Margarita Tupitsyn. Shaping Soviet art.
(two German exhibitions; various artists; Doucumenta-Halle, Kassel, and
Kunsthalle, Cologne) (Report From Germany) Art in America, Sept 1994 v82 n9
They were all considered "unofficial artists," but their
presence together in this exhibition testified primarily to the distortions
created by Soviet cultural structures rather than to any shared ideological or
esthetic affinities. Had these artists' careers developed under more normal
conditions, most of them would never have ended up on the same exhibition
By including Sots art works, whose deconstructive strategies were
directed toward many of the art works seen in both exhibitions, these shows in
effect raised the question of whether Socialist Realism actually belongs on
the walls of 20th-century museums, since it was conceived and intended for
communal rather than individual reception. Perhaps Socialist Realist works
should be viewed primarily as a source text for postmodernist refraction.
Perhaps this is the moment when Sots artists should be given due credit
for their ability to keep us at a distance from and yet aware of the power
once wielded by the icons of totalitarian culture.
One explanation of what might otherwise seem an awkward position lies in
the fact that were it not for Western money and Western scholars' interest,
Soviet art history would scarcely be known. This is due to the prolonged
absence in the former Soviet Union of independent, professional museums of
modern art, publications, galleries and critics. If such mechanisms existed in
adequate numbers they would have taken on the task of examining their native
culture. Western curators would thus be spared the confusion they experience
when confronted with an undigested mass of raw material from a culture whose
signs are difficult for them to read.
|SANDE CHEN. ICA offers rare look at Soviet
avant-garde art. THE NEW SOVIET ART (Between Spring and Summer: Soviet
Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism. Institute of Contemporary Art.),
Nov. 1 to Jan. 6. - November 6, 1990., Volume 110, Number 48 Text|
In conceptualism, the idea behind the work is more important than the
physical object representing the idea. Thus Soviet conceptual art is a
reflection of the Russian mentality and a representation of contemporary Russian
problems. Moscow remains the center for this deeply operated movement.
One of Kabakov's followers is the leader of Collective Actions, Andrei
Monastrysky. Collective Actions is a group of performance artists who believe
that art is continuous, rather than a discrete object or event. They stage
"country walks" in which participants have no idea what they're
meeting for, and go about doing individualist things. There is no audience.
Their ideas emphasize randomness and emptiness and are based on Zen, minimalism,
and a study by John Cage.
Between Spring and Summer is an entertaining tryst through Soviet
culture, but it is important not to place Western biases upon this work. These
artists are aware of Western influences, but choose instead to base their work
on everyday Russian life, and the political and social climate there. Their
views provide us with new insights, and enrich the new feeling of openness
between the United States and the USSR.
|Stephen Kupper. Praprintium. A Berlin
Exhibition of Moscow Samizdat Books - Other Voices, v.1, n.2 (September 1998)
(May 14th - June 27th, 1998 at the Staatsbibliothek, Potsdamer Strasse,
Berlin, and from November 7th, 1998 to March 7th, 1999 at Neues Museum
Weserburg, Bremen, Germany.) - text|
This use of everyday speech would eventually lead to the complex play of
ideologies in Moscow Conceptualism, probably the most influential, and at any
rate, the most visible form of samizdat art.
Moreover, the CD-ROM that accompanies the exhibition catalogue contains
two booklets, Divan-Kartina (Sofa- Painting, 1979) and Avtomat i cyplyata
(Submachine Gun and Chicks, 1979), which describe fictitious exhibitions of
Kabakov's eponymous pictures, painted in the 1960's. The descriptions of these
virtual shows, complete with spectators' reactions, turn the unofficial artist's
inability to exhibit his works into a new art form which would eventually lead
to Kabakov's later installations.
In between the pre-Gutenberg exhibits and the post-Gutenberg virtual
representation, there is the Book. The catalogue may serve as a metonymy for the
vast theoretical commentary that has grown around the original works in the last
decade, after the underground began to appear in public, i.e. in print.
The step into the Gutenberg galaxy that the underground scene took after
perestroika has led to the objectification in history of their original efforts
-- the vast literature on them has all but overgrown the actual texts.
|Eleanor Heartney. "Moscow: The Group" at Neuhoff. (Russian and
Soviet art, various artists)(New York, New York)(Review of Exhibitions)(Brief
Article) Art in America, Feb 1996 v84 n2 p92(1) - text|
As a result, much of the work has an innocuous, decorative quality.
Curiously, the artists who have fared best in the transition are those who are
based in a realist esthetic.
Vladimir Nemuchin's collage paintings seem to have lost their edge. He continues
to use his trademark playing cards, whose invocation of the powers of chance and
fate quietly challenged the determinism of Soviet ideology. However, with one
exception, the works here abandon the messy gestural quality of his earlier work
for a tidy, lifeless precision.
The dilemmas faced by post-Soviet artists mirror those confronted by postmodern
artists generally: the loss of the sense that history has a logic and the
disappearance of a clear-cut adversary. In such circumstances, art begins to
lose its moorings. Can it find a way to be anything more than a decorative
accent or a self-indulgent cry for attention?
Margarita Tupitsyn. After and Double After - THE MODERN SOVIET CITY:
(Abstract of a paper to be presented at the Conference, Russia at the End of the
Twentieth Century (Stanford University, November 5-7, 1998).
"The Moscow photographs demonstrate an expanse of collective energy and
no alienation. In its comprehensive survey of a variety of city locations and
everyday routines, Rodchenko's city images convey a sophisticated modern life
determined by a concrete time and place rather than adhere to a utopian vision
of a future Soviet city. As a result, we observe the physiognomy of the city
which no longer exists; Moscow had been transformed several times since then.
Dissertation's pictures (by Mikhailov) are of a reality that can be defined
post-utopian with respect to the factography of the 1920s, and post-mythographic
with respect to the photo-staging of the subsequent decades. Here the plus/minus
dichotomy of "before" and "after" is supplemented by
minus-utopia of the "double after."