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Bulldozer and Izmailovsky Park – outdoor exhibitions

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Date: Bulldozer Show – 15 September 1974; Izmailovsky Park – 29 September 1974

Participants: Oskar Rabin, Evgeny Rukhin, Vladimir Nemukhin, Lydia Masterkova, Nadezhda Elskaya, Yuri Zharkikh, Aleksandr Rabin, Alexander Melamid, Vitaly Komar, Viktor Tupitsyn, and others

Organized by: Oskar Rabin and Aleksandr Glezer

Location: Bulldozer Exhibition – Profsoyuznaya Street and Ostrovityanova Street, Beliaevo, Moscow; Izmailovsky Park Exihibition – Izmailovsky Park, Moscow

The Bulldozer and Izmailovsky Park exhibitions were pivotal episodes in the history of unofficial Soviet art. A small group of artists, led by painter Oskar Rabin and poet and collector of underground art, Aleksandr Glezer, attempted to stage the First Fall Outdoor Exhibition of Paintings on an empty site on the outskirts of Moscow. Several participants were detained on the way to the show, and the rest were met by militia with dump trucks, bulldozers, and “volunteer workers” who announced that they were building a park on the site. The spectators–around 400 artists, local residents, as well as Western journalists and diplomats–were asked to leave, and the scene turned violent when the “workers” charged at the artists, knocking their works to the ground to be destroyed. Several foreign journalists were beaten; police arrested Oskar and Aleksandr Rabin, Rukhin, Elskaia, and Tupitsyn; and twelve spectators were taken for interrogations. While the Soviet press called the show a “provocation” intended to harbor anti-Soviet sentiment, front-page coverage in the foreign press highlighting the violence and objections from the US embassy in Moscow put pressure on the Moscow authorities to ease their stance. As a result, the Second Fall Outdoor Exhibition of Paintings was allowed to take place two weeks later on 29 September 1974 in Izmailovsky Park, for which the show takes its more common name. It lasted for four hours, was seen by hundreds of spectators, and was the first uninterrupted public display of unofficial art in the Soviet Union, albeit not without repercussions. Many of the original participants of the Bulldozer show were persecuted or exiled, and several died under mysterious circumstances. Exhibitions of unofficial art began to be mounted through the new Painting Section of the Graphic Arts Union, which was soon established as a means to bring nonconformist art under the management of the official art bureaucracy.

Document: Invitation to the Bulldozer Exhibition (1974)

 


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Exhibition of Works by Moscow Artists at DK VDNKh

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Date: 20–30 September 1975

Participants: A total of 122 Moscow artists

Location: DK VDNKh (Dom Kultury, Vystavka Dostizhenii Narodnogo Khoziaistva; Hall of Culture pavilion at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy), Moscow

Organized by: The organizing group at various points in time included Aleksandr Rabin (b. 1951), Larisa Pyatnitskaya, Igor Sinyavin (b. 1933), Eduard Zelenin (1938–2002), Koryun Nahapetyan (1926–1999), Aleksandr Kurkin, Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945), Mikhail Odnoralov (b. 1944), Maksim Dubakh, Borukh (Boris Shteinberg, 1938-2003), Lev Bruni (1950–2011), Vyacheslav Koleichuk (b. 1941), Vitaly Linitsky (b. 1934), Yakov Levinshtein (b. 1923), E. Kovaikina, Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Leonid Talochkin (1936–2002).

After the Bulldozer and Izmailovsky Park exhibitions that took place in the autumn of 1974, some unofficial artists were emboldened to seek more opportunities to show their work in public. Their efforts resulted in a series of significant exhibitions the following year that included an exhibition of painting at the Beekeeping Pavilion, DK VDNKh on February 19–22, 1975, by twenty Moscow-based artists. A two-part apartment exhibition series titled “Apartment Previews in Advance of the All-Union Exhibition” also took place at private addresses in the hope of convincing the Ministry of Culture to mount a union-wide exhibition. (First exhibition: March 29–April 5, 1975, eight apartments, 132 artists, 741 works; Second exhibition: April 23–27, 1975, six apartments, 163 artists, 726 works). Finally, the “Exhibition of Works by Moscow Artists” at DK VDNKh took place September 20–30, 1975. Each exhibition was not without difficulty. Local authorities used many tactics to intimidate artists and limit participation including the exclusion of artists not based in Moscow, threats to participants (i.e., Nadezhda Elskaia was threatened with the removal of her daughter; others with loss of work or living space; threat of psychiatric intervention), delays with the hanging of the show or difficulty installing the works, and obstacles created for the public audience members such as long queues, closed cafes and toilets. A total of 145 unofficial artists submitted artworks for the exhibition, but after much back-and-forth between the group of organizers and the administration, only 122 Moscow artists were allowed to participate. The exhibition at the DK VDNKh attracted huge crowds who were forced to wait in line for hours to gain entry. Two of the more controversial works exhibited were Hippie Flag by the group Volosy [Hair], and the action Hatch Eggs! by the collaborative trio of Mikhail Roshal (1956–2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956) who were later called the Nest. The latter work consisted of a pile of branches and leaves in the shape of a nest, two meters in diameter, and was installed directly on the floor of the exhibition hall. Viewers were invited to sit in the structure in order to “hatch eggs”; signs nearby stated: “Quiet! Experiment in progress!” According to Roshal, the Ministry of Culture had threatened to remove Hatch Eggs!, but the other exhibitors refused to help and it remained in place, becoming a place where people would sit, eat, drink, and socialize. Eventually, the work was destroyed when the authorities declared it a fire hazard and soaked it with a fire extinguisher.

See I. Alpatova, L. Talochkin, and N. Tamruchi, eds., “Drugoe iskusstvo”: Moskva, 19561988 (Moscow: Galart, 2005).


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Event Harku ’75 – Objects, Concepts

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Date: 6 – 14 December 1975

Initiators and organizers: Artists Leonhard Lapin (1947), Sirje Runge (1950, at that time Sirje Lapin), Raul Meel (1941), and physicist Tõnu Karu

Participants: Silvi Allik-Virkepuu, Villu Järmut, Toomas Kall, Kaarel Kurismaa, Leonhard Lapin, Raul Meel, Jaan Ollik, Jüri Okas, Illimar Paul, Sirje Runge, Silver Vahtre

Location: The Institute of Experimental Biology in Harku, near Tallinn

Scientific institutions often offered spaces for alternative art exhibitions. Two years earlier, in 1973, another exhibition was held at the Agricultural Research Center in Saku, near Tallinn.

This exhibition is considered to have been the last unofficial show in Soviet Estonia. The exhibition itself, like unofficial shows in general, was eclectic and presented such diverse trends as Pop Art along with the most influential developments in Estonian alternative art since the late 1960s—kinetic objects, concrete poetry, and geometric abstraction. The few surviving photographs documenting the exhibition show a lively, slightly chaotic environment: oversized packets of Georgian tea hang from the ceiling (Jaan Ollik and Villu Järmut); in the middle of the space Sirje Runge’s Altar displays a colorful geometric pattern; nearby is Kaarel Kurismaa “chamber fountain”—a round side table with a cubic basin mounted on its top: etc. At the opening, Mess performed—the first Estonian progressive-rock group, famous for their interdisciplinary approach and collaboration with the artist Kurismaa.

Although the Artists’ Union gave permission for Leonhard Lapin and Raul Meel to present and discuss their work with young scientists—the event was officially announced as a meeting of young artists and junior researchers—the show created a scandal as more artists, mainly graduates of the State Art Institute, were invited.[1]

On the last day of the exhibition a seminar was held with participating artists, physicists, and writers. Being the most relevant tendency in contemporary art, the main topic of discussion was Conceptualism. More generally, issues were raised concerning the role and function of art and artists in society. The significance of this exhibition differentiates it from previous unofficial art shows: rather than being simply the typical compilation of progressive works of varying focus, it aimed to relate art, the role of art, and the changing context of art production.

In his speech, Lapin presented the notion of “objective art” as the future of art practice. Lapin called for a new art of forms based on, and developed in accordance with, contemporary industrial reality and technological progress. For Lapin, changes in the environment (particularly industrialization) and developments in technology would introduce completely new environments and means of production and communication, and had fundamentally changed the concept of art and the role of the artist. The main goal of this new objective art was to create an integrated aesthetic environment. Art was to overcome the boundaries between the various disciplines of painting, sculpture, and architecture, and would encompass a variety of techniques, notably in multimedia and electronics. A year later a compilation of the exhibition presentations was edited and independently published in a typewritten manuscript by Meel titled Let a Man Be.

Only one review of the show was published, in the University of Tartu’s newspaper. The announcement of the opening was published in the weekly cultural newspaper Sirp ja Vasar, causing resentment from the Artists’ Union.


[1] See the records of the session of the Board of the Artists’ Union and the Communist Party unit.  Estonian State Archives (ERA), f 2477, n 15, s 17,1.83.


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Appearance – action by the Collective Actions Group

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Date: 13 March 1976

Organizer-Participants: Andrei Monastyrski (b. 1949), Lev Rubinstein (b. 1947), Nikita Alekseev (b. 1953), and George Kiesewalter (b. 1955)

Location: Izmailovsky Field, Moscow

Appearance was the first action organized by the group of artists and poets who would later become the Moscow Conceptualist performance art group Collective Actions.[1] A group of around thirty fellow artists and friends received invitations to attend Appearance. These viewer–participants included: A. Abramov, M. Saponov, I. Golovinskaia, V. Chinaev, N. Panitkov, N. Nedbailo, R. Gerlovina, V. Gerlovin, N. Lepin, and twenty other people. As instructed, they traveled just outside of the city and gathered on the edge of a field to wait for the action to start. After a short time two figures—Lev Rubinstein and Nikita Alekseev—appeared from the forest on the opposite side of the field. Crossing the field to meet the audience, they distributed documents for viewers to sign as testimony that they were present at Appearance. In the following years, other actions were staged where viewers were invited to listen to a bell ringing in the snow (Lieblich, April 2, 1976), to pull a rope out of the forest for hours (Time of Action, October 15, 1978), or to have their pictures taken as they crossed a field (Place of Action, October 7, 1979). Inspired by the work and writings of John Cage, by Zen Buddhism, and by the philosophies of Kant and Heidegger, these actions explored the limits of viewer perception, while also serving as social meeting places for the Collective Actions group and the circle of Moscow Conceptual artists. Over time, hand-bound volumes documenting the actions were produced and called Poezdki za gorod (Trips Out of the City). The representational and aesthetic qualities of photographic and textual documentation themselves became subjects of the group’s further investigations.

[1] Rubinstein did not participate in in organizing actions following Appearance. Subsequent members of the group included Nikolai Panitkov (b. 1952), Igor Makarevich (b. 1943), Elena Elagina (b. 1949), Sergei Romashko (b. 1952), and Sabine Hänsgen (b. 1955).

Document:

Irina Pivovarova, viewer recollection from Lieblich (1976), The Lantern (1977), and Time of Action (1978), November 1980.


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Reconstruction. Idea. Project. Object. – Jüri Okas’s solo show

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Date: 18­–29 March 1976

Participant: Jüri Okas (1950)

Location: Tallinn Art Hall, exhibition space on the third floor of the Artists’ Union

In the late 1960s, the Artists’ Union set up a small room on the third floor of the Tallinn Art Hall to enable artists whose works had been rejected from official exhibitions to show their work. Access to these exhibitions was technically open to all, but since one could enter the space only through the premises of the Artists’ Union, the wider public was automatically excluded. The exhibitions were approved by a board of Artists’ Union functionaries and a poster was produced for each exhibition.

The walls of the exhibition space displayed black-and-white photographs and print works—what were called “reconstructions”—dealing with structural analyses of concrete, mostly urban, environments. With the additional use of black-painted wooden staves and mirrors, Okas created an all-encompassing perceptual environment, and with this installation he made one of the first attempts in Estonia to redefine the exhibition genre and also the art object.
Perhaps referencing Minimalist art practices as well as El Lissitzky’s Proun Room (1923), Okas fully engaged the viewer with the exhibition space—distorted and deformed by mirrors, it was a deconstructive space that confused and disoriented viewers as they moved about. Following the exhibition, Okas shot the 8 mm film Environment (1976, black and white, 5 min.). The film combines exhibition views with exterior views of the city. Like Reconstruction, the film is characterized by bustling montage, jumpy rhythm, and sharp cuts; it provides an analysis of the space and perceptions of it.

Later, Okas preferred the title “Environment” for the exhibition as well as the film.


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Performances at unofficial avant-garde music festivals in Riga

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Date : April 1976–October 1977

Location: Latvian Art Academy hall and the student club of the Polytechnic Institute in Anglican Church, in Riga

Participants and organizers: Alexei Lubimov, et. al.

The first significant experience of contemporary music for musically conservative Riga was the concert series “Twentieth-Century Music” by Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov during the 1975/76 season. Although the series was banned, architecture student Hardijs Lediņš and violinist Boriss Avramecs encouraged Lubimov to play his intended program at an unofficial festival. Its culmination was a concert at the Art Academy, where Riga and Moscow musicians performed works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and others. There were also performance elements presented by the musicians and selected audience members, as well as a happening after the second part of the concert with spontaneous improvisations, provocative acts, and absurdity. “It was fun but it ended in scandal, because it broke all the rules and notions about high-minded art,” recalled Avramecs[1].

The festival also took place the following year, officially sanctioned as “The Days of Music” dedicated to music by contemporary Soviet composers and the sixtieth anniversary of the Great October Revolution. But hidden under the acceptable name were works by avant-garde Soviet composers, including Vladimir Martinov’s Easter Cantata, which was not part of the approved program. Deemed to be “religious propaganda,” this work served to justify the state’s repression of the musicians and organizers and a complete ban on playing similar music, either officially or unofficially.


[1] An interview with B. Avramecs in May, 2011.


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Estonian Monumental Art 1902–1975 – a show of historical and experimental works

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Date: 17 May – 28 June 1976

Participants of the experimental section: Villu Jōgeva (1940), Tiit Kaljundi (1946-2008), Vilen Künnapu (1948), Leonhard  Lapin (1947), Jüri Okas (1950), Toomas Rein (1940), Sirje Runge (1950),  Harry Šein (1947), Aili Vint (1941), Tõnis Vint (1942)

Organizers: The Ministry of Culture, designed and curated by Leonhard Lapin (assisted by art historian Viivi Viilmann)

Location: Tallinn Art Hall

The main exhibition was a retrospective of twentieth-century Estonian monumental sculpture. In the main hall were photographs of monuments from the Soviet period with a bust of Lenin in the center. In smaller halls were decorative sculpture and some constructivist forms from the 1920s, and in the farthest room from the entrance was the small show of experimental works. The latter featured designs and models by architects, as well as abstract paintings, prints, and kinetic objects, and a separate brochure was provided in addition to the main catalog.

The abstract artwork might be considered as way to camouflage monumental designs—a tactic often ascribed to unofficial art, enabling works to be exhibited that did not conform to official standards. However, this show was different in that it included architects, designers, and artists equally, without differentiation. The goal of this intervention was not merely camouflage, but the transformation of the official genre, to re-shape it into an extensive design of public space.

An anonymous review (actually written by Lapin), published in the local arts magazine Kunst, explained that the new monumental art was moving away from the design of single monuments and towards the organization of total environments. Architecture as well as street lighting systems would be the field for this new art.

The idea for the exhibition was related to discussions on monumentality and monumental art in the Soviet Union and also to the crises that had arisen since the 1960s concerning the new modern industrially constructed city—itself in need of a new kind of monument. Representational monumentality was confronted with a new kind of synthesis based on art, architecture, and new technologies. It was about the creation of new city structures and, as result, a different kind of public space.

Lapin used the exhibition format to make a statement and to open dialogue with official art. His exhibition design used the colors of the French national flag— blue, red, and white—to refer to ideas of freedom, brotherhood, and equality.


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The Old House – happening by Andris Grīnbergs

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Date: 1977

Participants: Irakly Avaliani, Džonītis (Jānis Silenieks), Laima Eglīte, Mudīte Gaiševska with son Dāvids, Andris Grīnbergs, Inta Grīnberga, Anita Kreituse, Māra Ķimele, Leonards Laganovskis, Ingvars Leitis, Po (Juris Brīniņš), Eižens Valpēters, and Māra Zirnīte

Organizer: Andris Grīnbergs

Photographers: Māra Brašmane and Jānis Kreicbergs

Location: House at 21 Elizabetes (formerly Kirova) Street, Riga

The actions organized by Andris Grīnbergs mainly took place in private locations and had no connection to the institutional art scene or Soviet reality. They were almost always collective, involving Grīnbergs’s friends, associates, and occasionally strangers, who turned the initial idea or impulse into situational spontaneity and made the narrative (characters, atmosphere) into a living fact. The actions were both provocative and romantic, with frequent displays of nudity as a manifestation of personal freedom.

The happening “The Old House” was held in a once-grand but now-abandoned house and served as both a farewell to the place and as a celebration of changing times. The participants, either naked or in clothes, visualizing the emotional narrative, enlivened the abandoned interiors with improvisations, music and poetry. These activities seemingly merged bygone times and existence outside of time through interpretations of various emotional stages and ambiguous identities.


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Group Exhibition of Painting

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Date: 22 December 1977

Participants: Valentinas Antanavičius (1936), Eugenijus Cukermanas (1935), Kostas Dereškevičius (1937), Silvestras Džiaukštas (1928), Leonardas Gutauskas (1938), Leonas Katinas (1907-1984), Linas Katinas (1941), Vincas Kisarauskas (1934-1988), Algimantas Kuras (1940), Igoris Piekuras (1935-2006), Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė (1933-2007), Leopoldas Surgailis (1928), Arvydas Šaltenis (1944), Vytautas Šerys (1931-2006), Algirdas Šiekštelė (1931-2008), Ričardas Vaitiekūnas (1953), Nijolė Valadkevičiūtė (1944), and Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933-1999).

Location: LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Art Workers’ Palace, Vilnius

The “Group Exhibition of Painting” was only open for a few days. A public presentation with the artists on the occasion of the exhibition at the LSSR Art Workers’ Palace was held on December 22, 1977. The event was moderated by the art critic Alfonsas Andriuškevičius (1940).

He recalls, “During a discussion of the exhibition, I simply moved from the work of one artist to the work of another, and interpreted them, giving slight hints at an evaluation. Again, I tried to show how the more innovative means of expression worked. Yet it was mostly artists who participated in the discussion, and so there did not seem to be any very skeptical reactions to these means of expression. Nevertheless, the participating painters were interested in hearing interpretations of their work, and in receiving a few critical insights, although I was by no means an authoritative figure.” Later, “during discussions of Valentinas Antanavičius’s and Eugenijus Antanas Cukermanas’s exhibitions at the Conservatory [in 1981 and 1982, respectively], I mostly had to explain to the public their unconventional means [assemblage and abstract art] of expression (for us), and to prove their legitimacy and functionality. Part of the audience was clearly averse to such art. Besides, I tried to demonstrate that those means of expression produced important meanings, and I tried to counteract the idea that they were just empty, formalist games.”[1]


[1] Alfonsas Andriuškevičius, excerpt from e-mail response, March 2011.


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Architecture Exhibition `78

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Date: 22 May­–08 June 1978

Participants: Veljo Kaasik (1938), Tiit Kaljundi (1946-2008), Vilen Künnapu (1948), Leonhard Lapin (1947), Avo-Himm Looveer (1941-2002), Jüri Okas (1950), Jaan Ollik (1951), Matti Õunapuu (1945), Ain Padrik (1947), Toomas Rein (1940), Andres Ringo (1938), Harry Šein (1947), Tõnis Vint (1942)

Organizers: The Youth Section of the Union of Estonian Architects, initiated by Tiit Kaljundi and Leonhard Lapin

Location: Foyer of the Academy of Sciences Library in Tallinn

The foyer of the Academy of Sciences Library, situated in the center of Tallinn opposite the local Communist Party Central Committee building, was generally a site for exhibitions on the lives of important scientists. Many scientific institutions in the Soviet Union were already offering space for progressive art exhibitions, and the Academy of Sciences Library had also hosted shows in the past: for example, in 1966, an exhibition of art and photography.

The idea of the exhibition originated with the 1972 manifesto “Program for an Exhibition of New Architecture,” signed by Tiit Kaljundi, Leonhard Lapin, Vilen Künnapu, Avo-Himm Looveer, and Ülevi Eljand. The manifesto marked the beginning of a process of rethinking architectural practice in Estonia instigated by a group of friends and colleagues who later became known as the Tallinn School.

The exhibition format was utilized as an effective medium for communicating ideas about architecture, and for engaging the wider public in a discussion about the practice and goals of architecture. The exhibition was critical of Soviet mass construction, standardization, and modernist urban planning. At the same time, it posed questions about the institution of architecture and about architectural representation.

The exhibition was divided into two parts: black-and-white photographs showing examples of built works and—the sensational part of the show—pieces drawn on cardboard panels, each one meter squared, which lined the large glazed wall of the foyer. These pieces presented critical and ironic commentary on architecture and the modern city, and they adopted the standard format used by the state architecture offices for exhibiting architectural designs. Their unusual execution and content were new and surprising.

One of the crucial works in the exhibition was Lapin’s The City of the Living—The City of the Dead. The design proposed the creation of cemeteries in the green public spaces between the panel houses of the new housing districts. The cemeteries would include garage-tombs, in which bodies could be buried inside cars. The gravestones would function simultaneously as a children’s playground. This ironic proposal was intended to “complete” the micro housing districts, so that “inhabitants could remain in their neighborhoods forever without ever having to traverse a single highway.” In addition, the design made direct reference to official architectural institutions: it included a communal grave for the Architects’ Union and a grave for the union head, Mart Port, with the epigraph, “M. Saddamm—the leader—1922–1979” (indicating that Port was expected to die the following year—in reality he was to resign as head of the Architects’ Union). The design also included graves for Lapin himself and his fellow architects. It can be understood as a political statement.

Many of the exhibited works used irony as a tool for criticizing and questioning the ways in which we think about architecture. The exhibition prompted many responses in the visitors’ book as well as in the media, where nonprofessionals commented on the exhibition. Reviews were also published in Finland and the GDR.

Document: Program for an Exhibition of New Architecture


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Models – Māris Ārgalis’s solo exhibition

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Date: November–December 1978

Participant: Māris Ārgalis

Location: Exhibition hall of the Republican House of Science, Riga

This was the first solo exhibition for 25-year-old Māris Ārgalis. At the time he was one of the most creative artists, who openly provoked the authorities both through his work and personal attitude.

Ārgalis came to the attention of the art world thanks to his surrealist and hyperrealist graphics. His visionary urban-environment plans, photo collages, and spatial objects were just as original, breaking boundaries and pointing towards collaborative art practices. In the “Models” exhibition, the artist playfully turned the surrounding environment into an equal partner in the artwork, involving the viewers and provoking spontaneous actions.

The various segments of the exhibition synthesized into a whole and the artworks “stepped out” from the illusionary world into the physical space. For instance, the graphic works were complemented by spatial-cube modules that the viewers could shift around, thus becoming coauthors of the work. The city landscape visible through the glass of the windows that the graphics were displayed on also became part of the artwork. The photomontage series Bizarred Riga by Ārgalis’s informal Emissionist Group was a rare example of unambiguously critical, ironic commentaries and interpretations of the urban environment in 1970s Latvian art.


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Form. Color. Dynamics – kinetic-art exhibition

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Date: December 1978

Participants and Organizers: Valdis Celms, Andulis Krūmiņš, and Artūrs Riņķis

Location: Architecture Center in St. Peter’s Church, Riga

Six years after the first kinetic-art exhibition “Celebrations,” designers Valdis Celms, Artūrs Riņķis, and Andulis Krūmiņš organized the most conceptually sophisticated exposition of kinetic art in Latvia. Lights, mechanics, optical and aquatic kinetic objects, installations, and utopian environmental proposals made for a broad and surprising range of works. They revealed visionary poetic thought expressed through extraordinary technical experiments. This aesthetically unusual exhibition did not fit neatly into either the Soviet art or design categories and was a practical affirmation of debates in local art circles about going beyond artistic boundaries and contemporary definitions.



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Conceptual Games

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Date: Autumn 1978

Participants: Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė (1933 – 1999), Gediminas Karalius (1942), Petras Mazūras (1949), and Vladas Vildžiūnas (1932)

Organizers: Vladas Vildžiūnas and Marija Ladigaitė (1931)

Location: Vladas Vildžiūnas and Marija Ladigaitė’s studio and the Jeruzalė sculpture garden, Vilnius

In the late 1970s, the house and the studio of the graphic artist Marija Ladigaitė and the sculptor Vladas Vildžiūnas, as well as the adjacent sculpture garden they had founded in the Vilnius suburb of Jeruzalė (Lithuanian for “Jerusalem”), were popular meeting spots for art and culture personalities, who enjoyed the experimental atmosphere of the place. Ladigaitė and Vildžiūnas hosted informal get-togethers and discussions, during which the guests shared the latest news about the trends in Western modern art and new sculpture-casting technologies, exchanged books, and discussed the exhibitions on display in the studio. The core of the Jeruzalė garden consisted of young sculptors who were interested in avant-garde art trends and flocked around the Vildžiūnas couple; on various occasions, representatives of other spheres of culture visited as well. Several actions, known to their participants and viewers as “Conceptual Games,” were organized in the Jeruzalė garden in 1978. During one event, the textile artist Kazimiera (Kazė) Zimblytė and the sculptors Gediminas Karalius, Petras Mazūras, and Vildžiūnas created site-specific installations and presented them to their friends. “Kazė wrapped the old garden in strips of rice paper, Mazūras inflated a giant intestine, Karalius welded an impromptu constructivist figure, while Vladas weaved rope webs in the crotches of the trees,” recalls Ladigaitė.[1] The processes that took place in the Jeruzalė sculpture garden provided an impetus for the emergence of new artistic forms and ideas—primarily in sculpture—but also in other art fields.


[1] “Marija Ladigaitė, grafikė, Vladas Vildžiūnas, skulptorius. Pokalbis” [Conversation with Marija Ladigaitė, the graphic artist, and Vladas Vildžiūnas, the sculptor], in Quiet Modernism in Lithuania, 1962–1982, ed. Elona Lubytė (Vilnius: Lithuanian Art Museum, Contemporary Art Centre), 201-209.


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We Buy and Sell Souls – art action by Komar & Melamid and the Nest Group

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Date: 19 May 1979

Participants: Vitaly Komar (b. 1943), Alexander Melamid (b. 1945) in New York; The Nest Group – Mikhail Roshal (1956-2007), Victor Skersis (b. 1956), and Gennady Donskoi (b. 1956)

Locations: The action took place simultaneously in the studio of Mikhail Odnoralov on Dmitrievskogo Street, Moscow and at the Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

The event was initiated by Komar and Melamid, the founders of Sots Art in the early 1970s and teachers of a number younger Moscow Conceptualists, including members of the Nest, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1977. One of the newly emigrated artists’ first projects was to establish a company that would buy and sell human souls. They launched an advertising campaign which included posters and print ads. They also took out an advertisement on the Times Square video display, sponsored by the Public Art Fund of New York. Komar & Melamid, Inc. purchased several hundred American souls, including that of American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–1987), who donated his soul for free. An advertisement in the New York Times announced “the first auction of un-official American art in the Soviet Union simultaneously in New York and Moscow on Saturday, May 19, 1979, 12:00 p.m. New York Time.” A heated auction took place in Mikhail Odnoralov’s apartment, where the soul of American collector of nonconformist Soviet art Norton T. Dodge (1927–2011) drew particularly heated bids; Warhol’s soul sold for thirty rubles. The customers who attended included the poet Genrikh Sapgir (1928–1999), art historian and collector Tatiana Kolodzei (b. 1947), and Anatoly Lepin (b. 1944). Artists who attended included Alena Kirtsova (b. 1954), Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959), and Yuri Albert (b. 1959).


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Kosmoss Disco-Lectures

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Date: Late 1970s–early 1980s

Organizer: Hardijs Lediņš

Location: “Oktobris”, the Construction Workers’ House of Culture, Riga

In the mid 1970s, architecture student Hardijs Lediņš organized a series of disco-lectures in the Polytechnical Institute’s student club. At the time, the discotheque was a new entertainment phenomenon in Soviet Latvia, a “sociocultural product” from the West that introduced people to popular Western music. Lediņš occasionally spiced up his discos by sharing his views on contemporary music—during the first half of each event he gave a lecture, then played recordings.

In collaboration with stage designer Leonards Laganovskis and musician Mārtiņš Rutkis, Lediņš continued the disco-lectures at the “Kosmoss” experimental discos held in the Construction Workers’ House of Culture, Oktobris. In between educational and entertaining repertoire he presented various subjects, such as architecture, or readings of his own poetry. Avant-garde soloists and bands from Riga improvised on stage. Important for the experience were the visual effects and use of multimedia, which featured slide projections with texts and photographs and special stage and room decorations.

The discos signaled Lediņš’s movement towards sound and multimedia experiments and his creation of the Restoration Workshop of Unfelt Feelings, one of the most interesting phenomena in avant-garde art in 1980s Latvia.


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