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Crossing the border: international exlibris exhibitions via mail

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Date: 1967 – 1985

The phenomenon of artistic communication via mail emerged in Lithuania as a form of resistance to the ideologisation and isolation of art. In the late 1960s, Lithuanian artists became interested in a small form of graphic art – exlibris (bookplate). Such small forms were seen as marginal at the time, yet it was precisely this status that helped them to circumvent strict Soviet censorship and secure a special place among other art forms in the context of Soviet art. Exlibris was a mobile genre that could represent Lithuanian modern art abroad, as small-format bookplates could be sent to international exhibitions without the knowledge of the state institutions.

In addition to the graphic artists, the sculptors and the painters began to work in the genre of exlibris too: about 200 Lithuanian artists engaged in communication via mail in the Soviet times. Thanks to the connections of the artist Vincas Kisarauskas, four Lithuanian artists took part in an international exhibition abroad – the International Biennial Exhibition of Modern Exlibris in Malbork – for the first time in 1967. As the circle of foreign contacts expanded, artists sent their bookplates to exhibitions in Poland, Italy, Denmark, the USA, Australia, and elsewhere. The genre of exlibris and communication via mail provided Lithuanian artists with a possibility to present their work on the international level and receive due acclaim for it.


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Gatherings in Ilya Kabakov’s Studio

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Dates: 1967–1987

Organized by: Ilya Kabakov (b. 1933)

Location: Attic studio, 6/1 Sretensky Boulevard, Moscow

Soon after Ilya Kabakov built his sixth-floor attic studio on Sretensky Boulevard and until his emigration in 1987, the space became a meeting place for Moscow’s unofficial artists, particularly for those who would eventually be associated with Moscow Conceptualism. Artists, poets, philosophers, critics, gathered there to discuss new work or for festive occasions.[1] Starting in the mid-1970s, Kabakov began to “perform” a series of conceptual albums. He used his training as a book illustrator to create metaphysical or conceptual narratives on sheets of gray or white paper. The readings would consist of Kabakov slowly turning the pages and reading the texts of these albums before a seated audience for periods that could last hours. In a short text from the time, entitled “…the point is in the turning of the pages,” Kabakov attempts to describe the sense of pure time that occurs in these durational performances, a concern that is echoed in the work of other Moscow Conceptualists such as the poet Lev Rubinstein with his index card poems, or the Collective Actions group with their actions for Trips Out of the City.

See also Matthew Jesse Jackson, The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[1] Many members of Moscow’s artistic underground who gathered at the studio included: Yuri Kuper (b. 1940), Erik Bulatov (b. 1933), Eduard Steinberg (1937–2012), Vladimir Yankilevsky (b. 1938), Oleg Vasiliev (1931–2013), Viktor Pivovarov (b. 1937), Pavel Pepperstein (b. 1966), Andrei Monastyrski (b. 1949), Dmitri Prigov (1940–2007), Boris Groys (b. 1947), Joseph Backstein (b. 1945), Ivan Chuikov (b. 1935), Vladimir Sorokin (b. 1955), Lev Rubinstein (b. 1947), Vsevolod Nekrasov (1934-2009), Nikita Alekseev (b. 1953), Elena Elagina (b. 1949), George Kiesewalter (b. 1955), Igor Makarevich (b. 1943), Nikolai Panitkov (b. 1952), Sergei Romashko (b. 1952), Sabine Hänsgen (b. 1955), Viktoria Mochalova, Irina Nakhova (b. 1955), and others

 

Documents:

Ilya Kabakov – “…the point is in the turning of the pages” – artist’s text (1970s)

Ilya Kabakov – excerpt 60-e – 70-e… Zapiski o neofitsial’noi zhizni v Moskve [1960s-1970s… Notes on unofficial life in Moscow – memoirs (1982)


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Image Architecture – exhibition by Lajos Kassák

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Date: 03 March 1967

Participant: Lajos Kassák (1887-1967)

Opening by: Máté Major (1904-1986, architect, editor)

Location: Adolf Fényes Hall, Budapest

The occasion for this exhibition was the 80th birthday of the artist,who since 1949, was hardly able to get official permission to exhibit his abstract works in Hungary. The Adolf Fényes Hall was an exhibition space offered for self-financed shows that were not funded by the state – as all other public exhibitions – but by the artists themselves. The author of the text, Ferenc Csaplár (1940-2007), was the director of the Kassák Múzeum from its foundation in 1976 until 2007. This article was written on the occasionof an exhibition with the same title.

Documents:

Ferenc Csaplár: From Prohibition to Tolerance, Kassák’s Work and the Cultural Politics of the 1960s (2006)

Victor Vasarely’s letter to Lajos Kassák (1966)


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Exhibitions in the apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys

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Date: 1967–75

Participants: Valentinas Antanavičius (1936), Linas Katinas (1941), Vincas Kisarauskas (1934-1988), Vytautas Šerys (1931-2006), Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933-1999), Vladislovas Žilius (1939), and others

Organizers: Judita and Vytautas Šerys

Location: The apartment of Judita and Vytautas Šerys, Vilnius

Exhibitions were held at the home of the museum worker Judita Šerienė and the artist Vytautas Šerys between 1967 and 1975. This was the first private, unofficial, and unsanctioned exhibition space in Soviet Lithuania. Šerienė worked in the exhibition department of the Art Exhibition Hall[1] at the time, and had access to avant-garde works that were inconsistent with the dominant communist ideology and consequently were not included in official exhibitions. These works were exhibited in solo and group exhibitions organized at the home of Šerys, which were open to a circle of like-minded visitors who exchanged information about unofficial cultural phenomena by word of mouth. The exhibitions at the Šerys home featured works by Valentinas Antanavičius, Linas Katinas, Vincas Kisarauskas, Vytautas Šerys, Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė, Vladislovas Žilius, and others, which were stylistically close to the language of Abstract, Op, and Pop art, or explored other modern ideas and forms of expression. In addition to the exhibitions, the Šerys home hosted improvised poetry readings. It attracted students and intellectuals of the time—artists, writers, and theater people.


[1] The Art Exhibition Hall, opened in 1967, was the most modern and important space for rotating exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1992 it was renamed the Contemporary Art Centre.


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