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Costakis Collection

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Date: 1950s-1977

Artists in the collection: Vasily Kandinsky, Ivan Kliun, Dmitri Krasnopevtsev, Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Ivan Puni, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Anatoly Zverev, among many others

Location: Costakis apartment, Prospekt Vernadskogo, Moscow

George Costakis (Georgii Dionisovich Kostaki, 1912-1990) began collecting Russian avant-garde art in 1946, when he discovered three paintings by Olga Rozanova in a Moscow studio, and was bitten by the collecting bug. He soon added 15th-17th century Russian icons and the work of young “nonconformist” artists, like Anatoly Zverev and Dmitri Krasnopevtsev, to his roster. Employed at the Canadian embassy as an administrative clerk, Costakis hunted for lost works by such artists as Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Ivan Puni, and Ivan Kliun anywhere he could find them, among remaining relatives and tucked away in private rooms and studios around the Soviet Union. At a time when modernist art was hidden from view in the storerooms of Soviet museums, Costakis’s private collection, which he displayed on the walls of his home, became Moscow’s unofficial museum of modern art and a meeting place for international art collectors and art lovers visiting the capital. Regular guests to Costakis’s apartment included nonconformist artists Anatoly Zverev (1931-1986), Oskar Rabin (b. 1928), Dmitri Krasnopevtsev (1924-1995), Dmitri Plavinsky (1937-2012), Vladimir Veisberg (1924-1985), and many others. Costakis’s friendship with the younger artists gave them access to the avant-garde legacy, to which many of their own works aspired and responded. Costakis left the Soviet Union for Greece in 1977, leaving a large portion of his collection as a gift to the Russian people to reside at the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Document: George COSTAKIS – excerpt from memoirs (1993)


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Sixth World Festival of Youth and Students

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Date: 28 July – 11 August 1957

Participants: the festival hosted over 30,000 foreign guests and 160,000 Soviet delegates; the International Workshop of Plastic Arts showed 4,500 works by contemporary foreign artists from 52 countries; the International Exhibition of Fine and Applied Arts showed 375 by 223 Soviet artists, including Erik Bulatov (b. 1933), Pavel Nikonov (b. 1930), Oskar Rabin (b. 1928), and Oleg Tselkov (b. 1934)

Organized by: Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and Communist Youth League (Komsomol)

Location: Moscow

The sixth World Festival of Youth and Students took place over two weeks in the summer of 1957, bringing over 30,000 foreign guests to the Soviet capital with the stated goal of promoting peace and friendship. After the isolation of the Stalin years, the Festival played a major role in opening up Soviet society to the West, as Soviet visitors encountered Western consumer goods, jazz music, and modernist art for the first time, and mingled with guests from abroad. For many young artists, the painting exhibitions, coming on the heels of the hugely successful Picasso retrospective at the Pushkin Museum the previous year, were a revelation. Many unofficial and nonconformist artists of the 1960s generation attribute their later bold explorations of modernist idioms to this formative experience.

The photographs presented here were shot by Igor Palmin, a recently-graduated geology student at the time, who had obtained a coveted ticket to the opening festivities at Luzhniki Stadium. He managed to document many of the Festival’s delegations and crowded cultural events, assembling the shots into a handmade annotated album, from which these pages are taken. In the following decades, Palmin would become one of the most prolific documentarians of the Soviet artistic underground as well as a distinguished photographer for such publications as Iskusstvo, Sovetskii khudozhnik, and Sovetskii pisatel. His portraits of unofficial artists in their studios and candid shots of special gatherings convey something of the warmth of underground social life in the last decades of the Soviet Union.


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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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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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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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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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First APTART Exhibition

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Dates: October – November 1982

Participants: Nikita Alekseev (b. 1953), TOTART – Natalia Abalakova (b. 1941) and Anatoly Zhigalov (b. 1941); SZ group – Vadim Zakharov (b. 1959) and Victor Skersis (b. 1956); Mukhomor group –  Sven Gundlakh (b. 1959), Konstantin Zvezdochetov (b. 1958), Aleksei Kamensky, Vladimir Mironenko (b. 1959), and Sergei Mironenko (b. 1959); Sergei Anufriev (b. 1964), Andrei Monastyrski (b. 1949), Nikolai Panitkov (b. 1952)

Organized by: Nikita Alekseev along with other unofficial Moscow artists

Location: Private apartment of Nikita Alekseev, Moscow

In the fall of 1982, the “APTART” exhibition was held in the apartment of artist and former member of Collective Actions Nikita Alekseev. The show included work by a younger generation of artist collectives who had recently appeared on the scene like the Mukhomor (Toadstool) group and SZ, as well as several established Moscow-based Conceptual artists such as husband-wife collaborators Natalia Abalakova and Anatoly Zhigalov (TOTART), Alekseev, and fellow Collective Actions members Andrei Monastyrski and Nikolai Panitkov. Visitors to the show were both friends and members of the public who had heard about the exhibition through word-of-mouth. Alekseev granted access to the apartment “gallery” anytime that he was home. For the two-week exhibition run, works were hung on every available space in the apartment, filling each room to create a cacophonous environment where viewers could interact with the artwork and each other. Both Zhigalov (in his artist’s statement) and Gundlakh (in his account of the event for A-Ya, the Paris-based journal on Russian contemporary art) described “APTART” as an attempt to break free from the habits and conventions that had set in among the artists of the Moscow Conceptualist circle during the 1970s, and gave the first indication of the colorful new art style that would come to be called the New-Wave in the 1980s.

Documents:

Sven Gundlakh, “APTART (Pictures from an Exhibition),” exhibition writeup (1982)

Anatoly Zhigalov, “Analysis – Action,” artist’s text (1982)


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