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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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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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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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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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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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