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Hannelore Fobo

Timur Novikov's New Artists Lists

October 2018

page 5 • Timur Novikov’s texts

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page 5 • Timur Novikov’s texts

Timur Novikov’s texts allow us to perceive the New Artists from two sides: as part of a larger cultural movement I described in the previous chapter, as well as a catalyst for this very movement. For obvious reasons, Novikov always placed emphasis on the latter, proposing his own, personal point of view, sometimes adding fiction to facts. Discussing Novikov’s ideal New Artists lineup, I am therefore also taking into consideration visual documentation of events or artists’ statements contrasting Novikov’s information. Naturally, I can do so only to the extent that I have knowledge of such facts. As I wrote earlier, documentation of New Artists exhibitions and other events is a desideratum.

The eleven selected texts can be divided according to periods: those written at the time of the New Artists, the earliest being from 1985, those giving an account in retrospective (1998, 2001, 2002), and one text marking a transition between these two periods.

There are five texts from 1985/1986. They relate to specific events or to artistic genres popular among the New Artists. Two texts are from 1985 – ”New Trends in the Contemporary Painting of the New Artists“ (text no 1) and ”The New Theatre (text no 2) –, and three are from 1986 – “Celebration of Arts” (text no 3), “New Artists” (text no 4), and “Collage in New Art” (text no 5).

Novikov wrote them under his pseudonym Igor Potapov. This allowed him to talk about himself in the third person. Text no 6 is an untitled (and so far unpublished) document from 1987. It gives a résumé of New Artists’ activities, possibly to obtain institutional recognition. The last sentence is “To date, the New Artists are …”, followed by sixteen names. The text bears no signature, but judging by its content, it was most likely written by Timur Novikov.

Text no 7 is (most probably) Novikov’s flyer for the first official Leningrad exhibition of the New Artists in April 1988. It expressively defines the New Artists as “more a movement than a group”.

Text no 8 marks what I called a “transition between the other two periods”. I do not know its entire version, but Andreyeva, who quotes some passages from this text in the “Brushstroke” catalogue, states that it was written “no earlier than December 1988“, and that it “brings the group’s history to its conclusion“. The text contains a statement by Novikov that is important for my research:

    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 […] around eighty artists in all. (Brushstroke, 2010, pp. 34/35).

Unfortunately, we are not told who these eighty artists are and can only guess what is meant by “new Leningrad school”. I will return to this question later.

The autobiography from 1998 (text no 9) was compiled by Ekaterina Andreyeva for Novikov in December 1997 – at that time, Novikov had already lost his eyesight. It was published in a booklet for Novikov’s exhibition at the State Russian Museum in 1998. The autobiography interests us here with regard to the New Artists in the first place.

The two lectures from 2001 (“The History of Leningrad Art of the 1980s”, text no 10) and 2002 (“New Artists”, text no 11) constitute recollections of what Novikov considered to be the most significant features of the New Artists. One would therefore expect them to be more exhaustive and complete than those from the mid-1980s. Yet few additional names appear in these later texts. The most important ones are in Novikov’s autobiography  – Yuris Lesnik and Vladislav Mamyshev-Monro, who were, together with Novikov himself, the protagonists of the video art project “Pirate Television“ from 1989/1991. This is the dating in the book “Notes from the Underground” on page 333, but there are also other dates. The catalogue Self-identification dates the beginning to 1990 p. 273, and Ekaterina Andreyeva thinks it might have lasted until 1993 (private email from 1 November, 2018).

Interestingly, Novikov does not mention “Pirate Television“ in his lectures on the New Artists, that is, three and four years later – perhaps because “Pirate Television” actually falls into the transition period from the New Artists to Novikov’s next art movement New Academy and is stylistically close to the New Artists as well to the early, burlesque New Academy videos. If we take at face value Novikov’s statement quoted above – “By the end of 1988, the New Artists group had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist as a group” –, then, according to logic, nothing coming into existence after 1988 can be considered part of the New Artists. I therefore added “Pirate Television” as a kind of appendix to New Artists’ projects. But this is a question of putting logic over feeling – in the context of this article.

Аt this point, the question of “who belonged to the New at what moment” becomes quite complex. The later lists not only add some new names, but they also omit a number of the earlier names; what is more, each of these three lists omits different names.

Therefore, in an attempt to compile Novikov’s “final“ or “definite“ list, various approaches are possible:

1. newer lists supersede older ones

2. only those artists found on all lists belonged to the New Artists

3. anyone ever mentioned by Novikov in the context of New Artists activities was a New artist, but some only belonged to the movement, not to the group

4. One of the (later) lists is more authoritative than the others.

None of theses approaches is without flaws. In the first case, we dismiss all but the last text, just as the last written testament revokes all previous ones. In the second case we ignore that artists may stand as “examples“ for their colleagues. Only some texts, such as the document from 1987, clearly state an exhaustive list of names. In fact, Novikov sometimes “forgot“ to name even core members.

In the third case we ignore the context of the reference. Individual persons may have performed together with New artists, but this didn’t automatically make them New artists or attach them to the New Artists movement. Or did it? In the fourth case we need good arguments why one text should be more important than others.

In other words, we must examine each single text in order to compile one or perhaps several “definite” lists on the basis of good reason.

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© Hannelore Fobo, uploaded 29 October 2018

Updated 2 November 2018