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Art in non-art institutions

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Date: Since 1962

In the period the art historian Elona Lubytė termed ‘silent modernism’ (1962–1982), unofficial exhibitions were held not only in artists’ studios or residences, but also in various non-art institutions that were home to patrons of modern art and exhibition-initiators. Among the most significant institutions were the club of the LSSR (Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic) Writers’ Union, the LSSR State Conservatory, the Urban Planning Institute, the Vaga publishing house (all based in Vilnius), and the Panevėžys Drama Theater, led by the acclaimed director Juozas Miltinis, who cultivated avant-garde ideas in his stage productions. According to contemporaries, the control of the art events that took place inside these institutions was less strict, yet these exhibitions were not advertised by official posters or covered by the press; in other words, they did not receive public attention or official evaluation. Artists’ works were exhibited in lobbies, hallways, offices, and sports and concert halls. Sometimes the unusual exhibition spaces spawned alternative approaches to displaying works of art.


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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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Iparterv actions and exhibitions

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Dates: 29 November 1968 (Do You See What I See) , 22 December 1968 (Iparterv I), 24  October 1969 (Iparterv II)

Participants: Imre Bak, András Baranyay, Miklós Erdély, Krisztián Frey, Tamás Hencze, György Jovánovics, Ilona Keserü, Gyula Konkoly, László Lakner, János Major, László Méhes, Sándor Molnár, István Nádler, Ludmil Siskov, Tamás Szentjóby, Endre Tót

Organizer: Péter Sinkovits (1943)

Opening by: János Tölgyesi (Iparterv I)

Location: Iparterv State Architectural Office, meeting hall, Budapest

Tamás Szentjóby planned an exhibition entitled “Donor” in July 1968, in the Iparterv State Architectural Office, but it was cancelled after the invitation leaflet was printed and distributed. Three months later and three weeks before the famous first Iparterv exhibition he organized actions entitled  “Do You See What I See”  in the same location with Miklós Erdély and László Méhes. In the “Iparterv 68-80″ catalog issued in 1980 Erdély described these actions as his connection to the Iparterv group.

The hall of the Iparterv Office was not used regularly for exhibitions and the shows were open only for a few days. The first famous group show presenting the “first generation of the neo-avantgarde” in 1968  was accompanied by a small catalog containing a short introduction by the curator, Péter Sinkovits and the reproduction of the works and the CVs of the participants.

In 1969 four more artists, András Baranyay, László Méhes, János Major, and Tamás Szentjóby accepted Sinkovits’ invitation.  A year later a catalog was printed illegally in the printing house of the Iparterv Office with a slightly different list of artists (Tamás Szentjóby and Sándor Molnár was left out, Miklós Erdély and Attila Pálfalusi included).

In 1980 a commemorating exhibition was initiated by art historian László Beke (1944) and Lóránd Hegyi (1954). On this occasion a comprehensive English-Hungarian publication was issued containing several studies and also documents of the previous exhibitions in addition to the works of the participants.  Finally, shortly before the Regime Change, in December 1988 a three-part “Hommage à Iparterv” series was organized in the Fészek Gallery by Lóránd Hegyi.

Documents:

Péter Sinkovits: Introduction of the publication Document 69–70 (1970)

Miklós Erdély describing the actions performed by him (1980)


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Today You Open the Exhibition – responsibility-taking action

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Date: 28 July 1972

Participants: György Galántai (1941), István Haraszty (1934)

Location: Chapel Studio of György Galántai, Balatonboglár

The action took place during the exhibition of the Pécs Workshop (Ferenc Ficzek, Károly Halász, Károly Kismányoki, Ferenc Lantos, Sándor Pinczehelyi, Kálmán Szíjártó, Katalin Nádor) and István Haraszty’s kinetic sculptures.

Documents:

István Harasztÿ – interview (1998)

György Galántai – manuscript (1998)

Source: Törvénytelen avantgárd. Galántai György balatonboglári kápolnaműterme 1970–1973 [Illegal Avant-garde, the Balatonboglár Chapel Studio of György Galántai 1970–1973], eds. Júlia Klaniczay and Edit Sasvári  (Artpool–Balassi, Budapest, 2003): 138.


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Exhibition of independent works by Romualds Geikins, Piotr Severin, and Jānis Strupulis (Latvian Art Academy students)

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Date: 1972

Participants: Romualds Geikins, Jānis Strupulis, and Piotr Severin

Location: Latvian Art Academy, Riga

There were a series of  exhibitions organized by students themselves through the student club and the Communist Youth Committee, but entry to them was restricted to students and staff of the academy. The official justification for the events was the need for the academy’s faculty to be informed about the extracurricular explorations of their students.

The students produced a number of freethinking events that broke artistic taboos and caused controversy, scandal, and the closure of several exhibitions. These exhibitions were not controlled by any approval (censorship) committee and did not respect thematic or ideological boundaries, and hence works with eccentric styles and content could be displayed.

For example, in 1972 three students from the painting and sculpture departments—Romualds Geikins, Jānis Strupulis, and Piotr Severin—organized an exhibition/action with abstract, Op-art and Pop-art works arranged in an unusual set-up. Some of the works were displayed on the floor, which was strewn with papers, while elements such as chairs and easels were stacked in installation-like piles, disturbing the space. The exhibition was banned the next day, deemed artistically unsuitable and to be propagating politically dissident notions.

Several other exhibitions of independent works were also shut down in a similar manner.


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Exhibition by painters Līga Purmale and Miervaldis Polis

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Date: August 1974

Participants: Līga Purmale and Miervaldis Polis

Location: Riga Photo Club in the Central Printing Workers’ Club

This exhibition of photorealist works by fourth year Art Academy students Miervaldis Polis and Līga Purmale was the first serious manifestation of its kind not just in Soviet Latvia, but also in the wider region. It was unprecedented for students to organize an exhibition on their own initiative open to all outside the academy. To make it happen, the artists had to collect recommendations and permits from almost ten different institutions. The artists vividly recall[1] an episode in which members of the Central Committee suddenly turned up at the exhibition, apparently on the basis of an anonymous report that one of the paintings made a mockery of Lenin. But while the painting Brass Band (1974) did have a figure of a little trumpet player in a peaked cap in the foreground, it bore no resemblance to the proletariat leader.

At one of the exhibition’s public discussions, the artists were approached by Estonian art enthusiast Matti Miliuss, who subsequently arranged for the exhibition to be presented at the Deaf Persons’ Society in Tartu and the Tallinn Art Institute in Estonia.

The exhibition gained a lot of public attention despite receiving no press coverage. This resonance was connected with the unabashedly photorealist and hyperrealist manner of painting. The exhibited works formally complied with the official line of Soviet art—realism—but in reality they were much closer to contemporary trends in Western art. The professional art scene greeted the young artists with a mixture of genuine admiration and resigned or harsh criticism, but in time Purmale and Polis would come to be regarded as masters of the genre.


[1] An interview with M. Polis in May, 2011.



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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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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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1+1+1+1+1=6 – exhibition

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Date: 12 February 1985

Participants: Adam Hlobus, Ludmila Rusava, Ihar Kashkurevich, Siarhei Malisheusky, Jauheniya Lis, Uladzislau Kufko

Organizers: Union of Writers

Location: House of Union Writers, Minsk

The exhibition was organized with support from the Union of Writers, thanks to the efforts of Viktar Karamazau, Mikhas Stratsou and Maksim Tank. Nevertheless, the authorities banned the exhibition even before it was opened. Union of Painters allowed using their premises for a day-long exhibition of paintings. Number of official painters, among which were well-known Mikhail Savitsky and Zair Azgur, subjected the exhibition to heavy-handed criticism blaming the participants in betrayal of socialist realism. The show was met with great appreciation in Belarus artistic circles and stands out as the first open attempt to show to the public new artistic forms and ideas.

Source: Volha Archipava. Belarusian Avant-garde of the 1980s. ‘pARTisan’s Collection’ series. Minsk 2012. http://partisanmag.by/

 


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On Kalektarnaya – exhibition

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Date: SeptemberNovember 1987

Participants: Aliaksej Zhdanau, Todar Kopsha, Artur Klinau, Andrej Pliasanau, Vital Razhkou

Organizer: Forma, the alternative artists collective

Location: Minskgramadzanproject Institute, Kalektarnaya street, Minsk

This exhibition introduced a non-conformist approach to space organization. It stirred up an official criticism resulted in several attempts to close down the show. A telegram asking for support was sent to Raisa Gorbacheva (the wife of the head of the USSR government). It read: “Dear Mrs. Raisa Gorbacheva! The first exhibition of young painters was opened in Minsk but the authorities are trying to shut it down. Please, protect our cultural endeavors!”

DocumentNataliya TATUR: Exhibition on Kalektarnaya, 4—Fragments From the Book of Remembrance (2004)

Source: Volha Archipava. Belarusian Avant-garde of the 1980s. ‘pARTisan’s Collection’ series. Minsk 2012. http://partisanmag.by/


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The Perspective – exhibition

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Date: 22 December, 1987

Participants: Andrej Bialou, Sirhej Voichanka, Aliaksej Zhdanau, Aliadsander Zabauchyk, Ihar Kashkurevich, Artur Klinau, Todar Kopsha, Valery Pesin, Andrej Pliasanau, Ludmila Rusava, Uladzimir Tsesler

Location: Belarusian Institute of Information Technology, Minsk

The big-scale exhibition has become a legend of the 1980s. It is believed to be a starting point in the history of Belarusian art. The opening of the exhibition was banned and the participants under the guidance of Andrej Pliasanau and Aliaksander Dabravolsky started a demonstration and protest action. They headed towards City’s Party Committee (Gorkom) carrying posters and paintings. As a result, they got permission to open the exhibition.


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