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Hannelore Fobo

Timur Novikov's New Artists Lists

October 2018

page 10New Artists “spin-offs” and the “new Leningrad school”

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page 10 • New Artists “spin-offs” and the “new Leningrad school”

Kuryokhin’s example shows that Novikov did not write his texts nor give his lectures from the point of view of an impartial observer – besides, it would be strange to have such expectations. Novikov, breaking ground for his group and wishing to turn it into a movement, had to overcome serious obstacles. His engagement had to be subjective. His mission was ambitious: to reconquer for independent artists “the territory of art“ – the title of a 1990 Russian Museum exhibition of classic avant-garde art. I would say he completed it successfully. By 1988, the New Artists were established as a label – and dissolved.

Here is Novikov’s extended quotation from the introduction:

    By the end of 1988, the New Artists group had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist as a group. The constant expansion of the collective had become massive in nature and transformed the New Artists into a series of tendencies that made up the “new Leningrad school.” […] Here we might note the necrorealists, who spun off from the New Artists; Vyacheslav Shevelenko, Marta Volkova, and Babi Badalov, who are close to Vadim Ovchinnikov; the [New][1] Wilds (Oleg Maslov, Alexei Kozin, Oleg Zaika); the artists of the Amalgamated Museum of Creative Communities; the North Pole group; the Gold-and-Silver group (Yuris Lesnik, Ivan Movsesyan); and Andrei Khlobystin—around eighty artists in all. (Brushstroke, p. 34)

Was it really the “constant expansion of the collective” that led to its end? The statement that the “constant expansion of the collective had become massive in nature” is less convincing than it might appear at first sight.

Two important New Artists exhibitions took place in 1988 – the first large national exhibition at the Leningrad Sverdlov Palace of Culture, and the first large international exhibition at the Kulturhuset, Stockholm, both accompanied by festivals. Neither demonstrates a massive expansion with respect to 1986.

At “The New from Leningrad” at the Kulturhuset, all fourteen artists were from the “classical” New Artists group: Novikov, Kozlov, Bugaev, Ovchinnikov, Yufit, Kotelnikov, Sotnikov, Tsoy, Gutsevich, Krisanov, Guryanov, Savchenkov, Maslov and Kozin. Even the twenty-three names on Novikov’s flyer for the Sverdlov Palace of Culture show few additions to the classical lineup of the New Artists group from 1986. The situation is similar with regard to music: there are no new names – the New Composers performed at Sverdlov Palace of Culture and Pop Mekhanika at the Kulturhuset.

Although there can be no doubt that the New Artists ceased to exist as a group towards the end of the perestroika period, I would rather look for the reason with Novikov himself than with the New Artists “massive” expansion. Even the mystical figure of eighty artists that, according to Novikov, made up the “new Leningrad school” is not new, if we compare it with the seventy-five artists indicated (but not listed) for the “Mayakovsky Friends Club” in the 1987 report.

With regard to the dissolution of the group, the question is whether it happened after “the collective” had created “spin-offs” and “a series of tendencies that made up the ‘new Leningrad school’”. This might not be wrong, but the extent to which it is true should be examined. The use of the term “collective” (discussed in the chapter “The New Artists as an artists’ collective”) allowed Novikov to “collect” for his own group other “tendencies” manifesting themselves in large numbers with the gradual cultural liberalisation during perestroika.

I understand a New Artists’ spin-off to be a group with its leading member or members emerging from the New Artists. Here we could speak of a cell division where each new cell becomes genetically distinct from the mother cell (meiosis). The New Artists would exhaust their genetic code by sending off these cells and cease to exist thereafter.

Again, Novikov’s examples of spin-offs are not at all self-evident. The most striking example is that of Evgeny Yufit, leader of the Necrorealists. We have seen before that Novikov called Yufit a member of the New Artists. But in his lecture from 2001 he states the contrary and sets Yufit outside the context of the New Artists twice:

    Украшая концерт “Поп-Механики”, “Новые художники” пригласили на выставку Евгения Юфита, некрореалиста, режиссера параллельного кино, который в 1990-е годы стал снимать полнометражные фильмы на киностудии “Ленфильм”, а тогда в 1980-е он снимал параллельное кино.

    As the New Artists were embellishing the Pop Mekhanika concert, they invited Evgeny Yufit to the exhibition, the Necrorealist and film director of parallel cinema. In the 1990s he began to turn motion pictures at the Lenfilm studios, but back in the eighties he was involved with parallel cinema. (text no 10) 

For the sake of completeness I should perhaps mention that Yufit’s participation at the exhibition was restricted to a joint work with Kotelnikov. The next quote explains why Yufit wasn’t a New artist:

    [Панки Свинья (Андреи Панов) и Юфа (Евгений Юфит)] были близки группе “Новые художники”, но отличались слишком глубоким радикализмом, что внутри группы “Новые художники” не очень одобряли. Поэтому они отдельно проводили свою радикальную деятельность.

    [The punks Swine (Andrey Panov) and Yufa (Evgeny Yufit)] were close to the New Artist group, but they were essentially too radical, and the group members were not particularly fond of that. This is why they engaged in their radicalism separately, on their own. (text no 10)

Both passages show that in 2001, Novikov treated the Necrorealists, a group of more than seven members, as being different from the New Artists. But did Yufit actually create them as a New Artists’ spin-off? Did they emerge from the New Artists?

My answer is that they didn’t. Yufit coined the term Necrorealism in 1984 (Necrorealism, p. 7 ) and launched his film studio Mzhalalafilm the same year (Necrorealism, p.9 ). Yufit “joined” the New Artists around the same time – with the New Theatre (1984/1985); at least no proof is given of any earlier activity. In other words, he joined as a Necrorealist and continued his activity as a Necrorealist before and after 1988. In those years, the formation of his group took place outside the New Artists. Such a view does not deny the links between both groups, in the first place concerning Yufit himself.

In principle, we must regard the contribution of the New Artists to each single group or individual artist before we follow Novikov’s interpretation and call them New Artists spin-offs.

The same goes for the transformation of the New Artists into “a series of tendencies that made up the ‘new Leningrad school’.” The “New Wilds” Oleg Maslov, Alexei Kozin, and Oleg Zaika already existed as a group before they became New artists. It therefore makes no sense to call them a tendency of the New Artists. Perhaps they were part of ‘new Leningrad school’, but what then were the properties of such a school? What was its position? Which criteria qualified someone to become a representative of this school? How did the New Artists movement inspire it? Was it enough for Vyacheslav Shevelenko, Marta Volkova, and Babi Badalov to be close to New artist Vadim Ovchinnikov to bestow the label “new” on them? Was there any relation of cause and effect other than personal friendship?

Here we leave the field of statistical distribution of artists’ names and enter the field of art history in the proper sense: the development of a particular style relevant for all group members, the question of what was new about the New and whether such a new “thing” can be passed on to others without becoming old.

The scope of this article has been to structure the “biography” of the New Artists to enable us to “reconsider for each New artist individually those stylistic features often termed as common for the entire group”, as I wrote in the first chapter.

I will give an example. In his 1986 article about the “New Artists”, Novikov conveyed the following concept of a stylistic unity among the New:

    С середины 80-х гг. в его работах [Новикова] усиливается влияние Малевича, Филонова, конструктивизма и Маяковского, что отражает определенную тенденцию в работах ряда «Новых художников» - Овчинникова, Вермишева, Сергеева, Козлова, Бугаева, Веричева, Черкасова.

    Since the mid eighties, the influence influence of Malevich, Filonov, constructivism and Mayakovsky has increased in [Novikov’s] work, reflecting a certain trend in the work of a number of New Artists – Ovchinnikov, Vermishev, Sergeev, Kozlov, Bugaev, Verichev and Cherkasov. (New Artists, p.30, text no 4) 

Such a generous remark as “reflecting a certain trend in the work of a number of New Artists” certainly needs further research. One and the same artist would hardly develop a “trend” out of such different styles as those of Filonov and Malevich. The idea that seven different artists developed such a trend at the same time is even less plausible. When asked, Sergey Sergeev didn’t recognise himself in this description – let alone consider himself as a New artist, as I discussed earlier. Kozlov’s work, on the other hand, displayed a certain influence by Malevich in 1980 and of Constructivism from 1987 to 1989, but not in 1986, when Novikov wrote his text.

In my closing remarks, I will add some thoughts about the New Artists collective identity.

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© Hannelore Fobo, uploaded 29 October 2018