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Hannelore Fobo

Timur Novikov's New Artists Lists

October 2018

page 1 • The New Artists: dating the group’s existence and defining its lineup

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to page 2 • New Artists documentation sources and references >>

page 1 • The New Artists: dating the group’s existence and defining its lineup

In recent years, a number of important international exhibitions have included artists from the Leningrad avant-garde group of the 1980s New Artists[1]. “Club of Friends” at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London (2014) more >>, “Notes from the Underground”, Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz (2016) more>> and Akademie der Künste Berlin (2018) more>>, “Kollektsia”, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017) more>>, and “Libres Figurations Années 80“, Fonds Héléne & Èdouard Leclerc pour la Culture, Landerneau (2018) more >>. The New Artists had already exhibited their works internationally during the perestroika period (USA, Sweden more>>, England, Denmark, Hungary, Germany, France), and they are now seen in their historical context.

The group is well-established in the Russian cultural landscape, and this is why international curators find information about the New Artists in the first place in Russian publications. The most comprehensive publications are Ekaterina Andreyeva’s exhibition catalogues “Brushstroke” (2010) and “The New Artists” (2012 more>>), both with texts in English and Russian, and Andrey Khlobystin’s book “Shizorevolutsiia” (2017). Mireille Besnard’s articles in “Ligeia” (Paris, 2017) provide an example of the rising interest about the New Artists in other countries.

The authors present manifold aspects of the group’s activities and turn their attention to common features in style and attitude. Yet their rich and detailed information notwithstanding, who belonged to the New Artists at what moment is not easily understood. In fact, with regard to individual members, the situation is all but clear: no formal membership documented the group’s dynamic evolution. Likewise, there exists neither an official founding date nor an official date of the group’s dissolution – they must be extrapolated from group members’ joint activities.

Looking at the group’s dissolution, we can make a statement: it happened around 1989, when Timur Novikov, the group’s founder, turned to his next project, “The New Academy of Fine Arts”. This process took some time. “Neoacademist” paintings were first publicly presented at a party organised at the Palace of the Communication Workers in the summer of 1990 more>>, while the first large exhibition took place in March 1991 at the Marble Palace, at that time the Leningrad branch of the Lenin Museum more>>. Andrey Khlobystin therefore sets the end of the New Artists to the year 1991 (Shizorevolutsiia, p. 99). Another argument supporting this dating is the project “Pirate Television” (Timur Novikov, Yuris Lesnik, and Vladislav Mamyshev-Monro). It lasted from 1989 to 1991 (for a different dating see chapter 5) and may be considered as a late New Artists project. If we opt for 1991, then Kozlov’s “Collection 2x3m” more>>, starting with New artists in early 1990 (Kotelnikov, Sotnikov, Mamyshev-Monro) and first exhibited in July 1990 on Palace Bridge, near the Hermitage, also fits the category of a New Artists collective project. Besides, Khlobystin generously includes the beginning of the Rave and club music scene in 1990 to the New Artists period (Ibid, p. 100).

Yet Khlobystin also stresses the fact that in 1995, upon preparing the edition of the New Artists Anthology, Novikov decided to limit the group’s existence to 1987, when he painted Guryanov’s nude portrait in what he considered to be a neo-classical style. Accordingly, the Anthology contains few texts from 1988 (or later). Novikov himself argued for such view in his text from around 1989: “By the end of 1988, the New Artists group had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist as a group.” (Brushstroke, 2010, pp. 34/35; text 8[3]). It is true that many activities appearing under the New Artists label after 1988, for instance the exhibition at Liverpool in 1989, were simply follow-up projects – Liverpool followed Stockholm and Aarhus –, but not a new group activity in the proper sense of the word.    

The question about the New Artists’ foundation is just as complex. It produces a circular argument: if we wish to establish the foundation date, we need to know who was a founding member. If we want to establish the names of the founding members, we need to define the first collective activity.

Ekaterina Andreyeva calls Timur Novikov’s and Ivan Sotnikov’s zero object from a large group exhibition in October 1982 “the New Artists first collective action” (New Artists, p. 7). The zero object was a rectangular opening “exhibited” in a partition wall used for displaying paintings. It created a big scandal. Thus the zero object can be considered as a Dadaist manifesto of sorts, representing, to some extent, the essence of the Novikov’s concept for the New Artists.

This definition of the foundation date may be questioned, since the “hole in the wall” was initiated by only two of the group’s early members – the others being (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov, Oleg Kotelnikov and Kirill Khazanovich (see texts 9 and 11). The first documented collective action of all five founding members was actually an exhibition at Novikov’s ASSA squat and gallery in summer 1984 more>>. There is another argument speaking against connecting the New Artists’ emergence to the zero object: Novikov and Sotnikov didn’t perform under the New Artists label, neither did such a label appear in the ensuing correspondence becoming part of the scandal. Because of the action’s repercussions on the Leningrad art scene, I nevertheless support Andreyeva’s view. But we must admit that with regard to the group’s existence, the period between 1982 and 1984 leaves room for interpretation, even though Novikov himself referred to 1982 as the year of the group’s foundation retrospectively, for instance in his lecture from 2002 (text 11).

In this way, the most restrictive view of the New Artists’ lifespan includes the years from 1984 to 1987, while the least restrictive, shared by Andreyeva and Khlobystin, includes the years from 1982 to 1991.

As a matter of fact, until quite late, the group’s name wasn’t even clearly defined, as Andreyeva notes: “The name ‘New Artists’ (group) is now the commonly accepted term, but there were others as well […] the ‘society’ or ‘association’ of New Artists”. (Brushstroke, p. 33).

The “Association / Society of New Artists”, in Russian  “Obyedinenie Novykh Khudozhnikov” (Объединение Новых Художников), appears in Novikov's typescript catalogue “Happy New Year” next to the name New Artists (Novye Khudozhniki / Новые художники), namely with its abbreviation ОНХ (ONKh) more>>. “Association” suggests a looser configuration than a “group” of artists. Seen as a group, New Artists is a proper name, a trade mark, or brand, like “Mitki”, another Leningrad group from the 1980s which still exists today (and to which Ivan Sotnikov had close ties). In contrast, “Association of New Artists” is closer to a generic name, like that of a trade union, admitting anyone fitting some formal, but not necessarily ideological criteria. Novikov also occasionally used “The New” group (gruppa “Novye” / группа “Новые”).

Two New Artists’  “hypostases” from 1986, the “Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity” and the “Vladimir Mayakovsky Friends Club”, generously absorbing New as well as “other” artists to their numerous sections, add to the confusion about who is who. This proliferation of functions and names characterised Timur Novikov’s strategy: like a jester, he provoked the court – in this case the communist bureaucracy – and mocked its institutions. At the same time, he expanded the myth of the New Artists as a “critical mass”, intending to establish the group as a serious alternative to existing institutions. While this double strategy constituted an essential part of the New Artists’ attraction, the abundance of names and activities at times exhausts the scholar.

Giving an analysis of the New Artists’ structure, Andreyeva quotes from a New Artists flyer:

    On a flyer for a New Artists show from 1988 or 1989 (the flyer is marked with the stamp of the “Vladimir Mayakovsky Friends Club“ – a silhouette red circle made with the lid of a photo-film canister) we read: “The New Artists are more a movement than a group. They have been in existence since 1982. No one knows the exact lineup: it is fickle.“ (Brushstroke, p. 33)

The flyer (text no 7), reprinted in Khlobystin’s book Shizorevolutsiia on p. 98, displays twenty-three names of artists (tweny-four, if we include Novikov's pseudonym Igor Potapov). They are Sergei Bugaev, Oleg Kotelnikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Evgenij Kozlov, Timur Novikov, Ivan Savchenkov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, Oleg Maslov, Kirill Khazanovich, Evgenij Yufit, Georgy Guryanov, Viktor Tsoy, Andrey Khlobystin, Sergey Savchenkov [Enkov], Alexander Ovchinnikov, Andrey Krisanov, Alexey Kozin, Dmitry Egorov, Oleg Zaika, Igor Smirnov, Igor Verichev, Vladislav Gutsevich, Igor Potapov [Timur Novikov], German.

Novikov created this flyer for the first official New Artists’ exhibition in Leningrad, which took place at the Sverdlov Palace of Culture in the spring of 1988 – according to Khlobystin, this is documented on a picture from the exhibition (private email from 1 November 2018). Novikov’s text explains that there was no selection principle of works exhibited, and that everybody brought along what they saw fit. This is obviously the reason why the list is very long and comprises several “untypical” New Artists names – Dmitry Egorov, Igor Smirnov, and German.

The Sverdlov exhibition also had an official booklet – perestroika was well under way and such extravagancies became possible. In contrast to Novikov’s long list, the exhibition poster states only eight – classical – members. Their names can be read below the headline “The New Artists group” (группа «Новые художники»): Bugaev, Kotelnikov, Kozlov, Sotnikov, Novikov, Ovchinnikov, and Yufit. Whether the factual lineup included all artists from Novikov’s flyer or whether – according to Khlobystin – the lineup was even larger, needs to be established yet.

Whatever the case, we now have the choice to speak of the New Artists as an association, a group, or a movement. Each term implies a different concept of membership. But if the lineup is fickle, is it worthwhile carrying out systematic research into terminology and definitions?

After Andreyeva and Khlobystin presented the New Artists’ multifaceted contribution to the Leningrad art of the 1980s, I believe this should be the next step. We want to know not only concepts and attitudes, but we want to follow the group’s dynamic growth step by step – to the extent feasible. This article sheds light on some basic problems we encounter in laying out such a scheme and offers a possible approach to structure the findings.

Such a “deconstructive“ proceeding opens the prospect of reconsidering for each New artist individually those stylistic features often termed as common for the entire group – e.g. recomposition, wildness, or the influence of the Russian avant-garde. Once we establish who was a New artist at what moment in time, we will be able to specify our concept of what “new” stands for with the New Artists.

[1] I write the group’s name in italics. When referring to individual members, I write only New in italics and capitalised: New artist.

[2] “E-E” has been Kozlov’s signature since 2005. The artist made it a prefix to his name in 2014.

[3] Text numbers in brackets refer to Timur Novikov’s texts used in this article. See chapter “Timur Novikov’s texts” and list of works cited.

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© Hannelore Fobo, uploaded 29 October 2018.

Last updated 8 May 2022