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Hannelore Fobo

Timur Novikov's New Artists Lists

October 2018

page 11The New Artists’ lifespan: a wondrous metamorphosis

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page 11 • The New Artists’ lifespan: a wondrous metamorphosis

A certain fatigue is apparent in Novikov’s conclusion that the New Artists “ceased to exist as a group”. It reminds me of Kuryokhin’s statement about Pop Mekhanika from about the same time, quoted by Alexander Kan in his biography about Kuryokhin:

    There is no unity, no common feeling that would unite people and make them create a common culture. Pop Mekhanika was once based on the principle of friendship. It brought everybody together and, consequently, carried a certain spiritual charge. Now it is able to carry only a purely formal charge, and this is the only charge it is carrying. I can expand it compositionally, find lots of new stylistic devices, but the process has become somewhat mechanical. (Kan, Skipper, p. 80, translated by T. Zyulikova)

It is true that Novikov stipulated a common culture (“the new Leningrad school”), while Kuryokhin, in contrast, lamented the absence of a common culture. Yet the result of expanding their realm of activity to the international field had a similar effect on both: it helped reflect on past experiences and opened the prospect of pursuing a personal career on a new level. This induced a desire to start something new.

But in 1988/1989, at the time Novkov pronounced his verdict on the end of the New Artists, they (and Pop-Mekhanika) just started gaining recognition in the West – paradoxically, for their strength and freshness. Several international exhibitions had been prepared or were about to be organised, and they were carried out between 1988 and 1991. The New Artists exhibited under their own label until 1989 (Stockholm and Aarhus, 1988, Liverpool 1989), and then with their individual names, but still together (Budapest, 1990, Nantes, 1991). At that time, Novikov had already begun his new project “New Academy of Fine Arts” (in short: New Academy). In two of the texts considered here, he mentions the passage from the New Artists to New Academy. In his biography from 1998, he dates its foundation to the year 1989, when a non-formal New Artists sub-organisation became the New Academy of Fine Arts:

    In 1990s I began to feel the wonderful impact of classical art, and in 1988, we started to organise the New Academy. That was the first wave of conservatism. The following year, the New Academy of All Sorts – the old organisation of the New Artists – became the New Academy of Fine Arts.

    В 1990-е годы я стал ощущать всю прелесть классики, и в 1988 году мы начали организовывать нашу Новую академию. Тогда появилась первая волна консерватизма. В 1989 году мы образовали на основе старой организации времен «Новых художников» – Новой академии всяческих искусств – Новую академию изящных искусств. (Timur, 2003 p. 14, text no 9)

In his lecture from 2002, the New Artists as a whole turned into the New Academy:

    The Moscow intellectuals at the Moscow Art Magazine have started singing the tunes that the New Artists who went over to the New Academy had been singing in the late eighties and early nineties. (Timur, p. 157, text no 11)

    Те песни, которые “Новые художники”, перешедшие в Новую Академию, стали петь в конце 1980 - начале 1990 годов, запели сейчас московские интеллектуалы в “Художественном журнале”. (Timur, 2013, p. 156, text no 11)

If we stick to the facts, from the New Artists per se only Novikov himself, Guryanov, Medvedev, and Maslov joined the New Academy, plus some artists from the very late New Artists period like Khlobystin.

At best, we could call the New Academy a spin-off from the New Artists, if the latter hadn’t ceased to exist in 1988, according to Novikov.

A similar situation accounts for the passage from Letopis to the New Artists. In 1986, Novikov wrote about the New Artists “we can date the groups emergence to 1977: that was the year when the Chronicle [Letopis] group of artists emerged, a group that would be reborn as New Artists in 1982“. (New Artists 2012, p.27, text no 4).

A little later in the text he stated that “the Chronicle [Letopis] group practically ceased to exist after its fourth group show in 1981. So the following year (1982) part of the Chronicle [Letopis] group – Timur Novikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Evgenij Kozlov – and their friends Oleg Kotelnikov and Kirill Khazanovich merged into a new community of artists.“ (p.27)

We see that in both cases, with Letopis and the New Artists, the end is not the end. Accordingly, the limits of a group’s existence touch not only possible forms of afterlife, but possible forms of pre-existence. If we follow Novikov’s logic, we can extent the New Artists’ existence into both directions – from the beginning of Letopis to the end of the New Academy. It is a double metamorphosis: from Letopis to the New Artists the group becomes the New Artists proper, and thereafter it continues existing in the form of the New Academy of Fine Arts.

But at the end of this double metamorphosis, all eight founding members of Letopis and almost all New Artists per se had disappeared. To be exact, it was Novikov alone who maintained the continuity between all three groups: no one else but Novikov had been a member of all three.

In this way, Novikov represented tradition, not avant-garde. To counter this effect, he also proclaimed the cessation of the older group, as this alone allowed him to speak of the emergence of something new, emphasised in the labels of both of his foundations: New Artists, New Academy.

Bridging the gaps prior and subsequent to the New Artists in propria persona, Novikov acquired a type of “collective” personality: the “I“ becomes a collective “we”, similar to the majestic plural. If we consider that neither the New Artists nor the New Academy had a successor to Novikov, their founder and spokesperson, the degree to which others identified him with the collective becomes apparent. In my opinion, the New Artists ceased to exist not so much because they became too many, but because Novikov, possessing the power of naming, decided that they had ceased to exist. But this also means that individual artists had always existed independently of the “collective” – it was no substitute for their own identity.

The positive effect of Novikov’s “collective” personality is that it helped establishing the New Artists as a brand name in his home country. At the same time, independent positions of group members started moving out of researchers’ focus. Seen from the outside, and particularly in retrospective, the group tends to become “Timur Novikov and the New Artists”, as the subtitle of the 2014 exhibition at Calvert 22 Foundation, London, “Club of Friends” suggests: “Timur Novikov's New Artists and the New Academy.”

While the subtitle justly underlines Novikov’s organisational talent, it also reduces the diversity of individual artistic approaches, which were, however, demonstrated by the exhibition itself. Considering the strong international position of Moscow’s conceptual artists of the late Soviet period (Kabakov, Monastirsky, Prigov, Bulatov, Pivovarov, Anufriev, Pepperstein, Leiderman, Zakharov et al.), to identify the Leningrad art-scene with Novikov in the first place carries the risk of turning the New Artists group and movement into a local affair of the perestroika period – contrary to Novikov’s own vision.

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© Hannelore Fobo, uploaded 29 October 2018

Last updated 28 November 2020