The New Artists.
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The group contained, nevertheless, a core of extremely independent young men: Novikov himself, Kozlov, Kotelnikov, Sotnikov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, and Bugaev. (Ovchinnikov and Bugaev joined the group in 1983 and 1984, respectively.
The first aesthetic category of the Leningrad zeroists was “wildness.” It is precisely this wildness that immediately inscribes the New Artists within international art history by aligning them with the German Neue Wilde movement, which had achieved the height of its popularity in Europe and the US in the very early eighties, and the American new wave artists. In a letter to the fictional Mr. McGreis, Novikov asserts that in 1984 the New Artists got their “first news of Figuration Libre and the American graffiti artists. […] We recognized them as kindred spirits and took an interest in what was happening in the culture of the west.” The first public viewing of the Neue Wilde took place at the show Man and Nature, which was held in the Leningrad Manezh (Central Exhibition Hall) during the 1984–85 season. Just as had been the case with the local reception of cubism on the part of artists like Tatlin and Malevich, the New Artists did not borrow foreign prototypes, but evolved in parallel with them. The unforgettable early-period New Artist masterpieces—for example, Kotelnikov’s Horseman, Kaput, and Brushstroke (all dated 1982); Novikov’s Pokrovskaya Square, Leningrad Landscape, and his portraits of Koshelokhov and Gurjanov (from 1982–1983); Sotnikov and Kotelnikov’s joint portrait of Kovalsky (dated 1983 in the Happy New Year catalogue); and Sotnikov’s Concert or Novikov’s Airport (also from 1983)—testify to the unique quality of their art and, correspondingly, to the fact that their “wildness” was homegrown, not imported. Moreover, the presence of Leningrad’s New Artists (who were practically not plugged into the international market until 1987) in the context of early painterly postmodernism in Europe and the US is in fact direct proof of the originality of this entire international movement. This fact should allow us to dismiss speculation about the allegedly commercial (and thus secondary) significance of the painting of such artists as Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
In 1986 Novikov strategically demarcated the “wildness” of the New Artists, the Leningrad neo-expressionism of the seventies that had preceded it, and the classical “wildness” of the early twentieth-century avant-garde:
Critics were always enamored of the phrase “primeval chaos” in reference to his work. This superficial impression was aggravated by the quantity of analogous works: the artist is fond of demonstrating a hundred or two pieces [to studio visitors or exhibition viewers] all at once. Aside from painting, Koshelokhov also made object compositions that gravitated toward conceptualism (he called them “concepts”). These pieces also provoked an unambivalent reaction—“this isn’t art.” With his original take on the process and product of artistic work, Koshelokhov attracted many young followers. They were clearly impressed both by the anti-art-historical categories he employed—“rough-and-ready,” “tough,” “plain and simple,” etc.—and his universally accessible methods—frames fashioned from old furniture found in garbage dumps; house paints; canvases rigged from the upholstery backing of old sofas. After 1979, Koshelokhov’s artistic methods finally stabilized, and he became more a living museum piece than a guru. The living genius of “wildness” is Oleg Kotelnikov, who had also once been influenced by Koshelokhov. Whereas Koshelokhov’s principal element was color, Kotelnikov dwells in the realm of form and content. This shifting of accents has led the “wild” faction of the New Artists away from elitism and towards populism, a tendency that has not been fully realized. The content of Kotelnikov’s works is profoundly folkloric. His subjects are jokes, scary stories, and fragments of songs and TV programs, and his works are also reminiscent of comic strips. He constantly employs the widest spectrum of media and new methods in his explorations of the pictorial surface, which is also characteristic for the majority of the New Artists.
Kotelnikov claims that at the time he was not interested in such local expressionists as Koshelokhov, who showed an affinity with American painting of the fifties:
In an article about the show Happy New Year, Novikov expresses regret that
Novikov’s own neo-expressionist period began in 1978–79 and ended in the mid-eighties; moreover, Novikov openly made the turn to color precisely in 1982. As for the other natural, self-made painters within the group, Kotelnikov took up “wild” painting around 1982 and continued to work in this style until 1990. On the contrary, Sotnikov, who became a “wild” expressionist at the same time as Kotelnikov (it is no accident that they collaborated so often), never gave up this manner.
Vadim Ovchinnikov found his painterly style (which shows affinities with the Italian Transvanguardia artists) in the mid-eighties after he had reinterpreted his early apprenticeship with Albert Rozin (Rossin), whose own work was vivid and spectacular in the punk manner, but who restricted his pupils to a harsh diet of blue-grays and gray-browns. The leading light of the Novorossiysk School, Inal Savchenkov, became a painterly star of the New Artists in 1986. The golden period of the painting of the necrorealists and the new New Wilds (Alexei Kozin, Oleg Maslov, Oleg Zaika) also dates to the period 1986–1990. The New Artists were thus formed in the year when the principal heroes of the movement’s first wave—Kotelnikov, Novikov, and Sotnikov—discovered themselves in the wild style. The older generation’s final break with “elitist” neo-expressionism took place in 1986, when the second wave of wildness rose and the first-wave artists themselves were in the process of contemplating the results of the previous five years of artistic labor.
Novikov chose this moment to write his programmatic essays (signed by “Igor Potapov”) about the democratic aesthetic of the New Artists, while at the same time abandoning the wild style and announcing the advent of “neat tendencies in the work of the New [Artists].” As Novikov left “wildness” behind, Ovchinnikov’s paintings achieved a new level of perfection. Just like Novikov in the mid-eighties, Ovchinnikov shifted his affections from the dynamics of the gesture to subtle surface renderings and a deployment of pictographic icons that conjured up images of virtual cross-cultural journeys. In 1987 Novikov began working on the series Horizons. (The earliest example of his experiments with horizontal composition, The Black Sea in Winter, dates to 1986.) In these works, the images are pasted or stenciled onto pieces of fabric. “The stencil,” Novikov wrote, “is now the favorite method of those artists who just yesterday painted with a mop or a broom. The industrial art of the LEF achieved perfection, and the New Artists had no intention of competing with it. Processes of repetition are experienced in another informational field. The idea triumphs once again over the lack of ideas.”
It is true that, aside from painting, Kotelnikov, Novikov, and Sotnikov were also especially interested in collage from 1983 onward. Kotelnikov has claimed that the New Artists took up collage because the price of paints rose fivefold under Andropov. According to Yuri Krasev, Kotelnikov was equally fanatic in his practice both of painting and collage:
However, financial difficulties were not the only factor that spurred the interest of the New Artists in collage, stencils, stickers, and appliqué. They most often employed these media to depict “streams of consciousness,” as the affichistes, pop artists, and Robert Rauschenberg had done in the forties, fifties, and sixties. In 1983, the New Artists befriended Igor Veritchev, the author of a text entitled “The Versification of Information.”
This friendship rocketed the New Artists into the boundless realm of sound collage—transmissions of the collective unconscious spliced together from recordings of radio programs. The New Artists (Vadim Ovchinnikov, in particular) recorded music in which the sounds of “zero music”—that is, various forms of white noise—were spliced with fragments of radio broadcasts; the call signs of Soviet satellites were then pumped through this entire acoustic mass. (Here I should note that in the Soviet Union these call signs were marketed as souvenirs. In the sixties, Soviet industry produced musical cigarette boxes in the shape of books that played the tune “Broad Is My Native Land” and signals from the first Sputnik.) Novikov was obviously charmed by Veritchev’s ideas, but once again he found a functional application for “trans-sense” language in the production of various “recompositions” and the recruitment of aesthetic supporters. In the article “Collage in the New Art,” Novikov paints an epic picture:
Kondratiev, Ovchinnikov, Kotelnikov, Yufit, Veritchev: a clear example of interconnection that cannot avoid the influence of television. […] PAINTING AND COLLAGE. The most serious forces have gathered within this sector. We also encounter our acquaintances from the worlds of music and cinema. Efficiency is here not always the main reason for the turn to collage. The expressiveness of the method attracts more and more new forces. Cherkasov also ploughed around the edges here; Filonov produced a whole school (Vermishev, Savinsky). Larionov also anticipated this every which way (Sotnikov collection). [This is a reference either to Sotnikov’s own collection of folk and primitive art—aka “swan painting”—or to Sotnikov’s own collages — E.A.] Kotelnikov [and] Novikov are dumpster divers who have ransacked even the dumpster of American pop art; they have also inherited their aestheticism from their teacher the century. Koshelokhov gave up collage too quickly; his heirs—the anti-aesthetes (Bugaev, Inal, Kozin, Maslov)—are ripping it from the hands of Kotelnikov, who picked it up. The naïve school is giving them a run for their money—Batishcheva and the children of Tager’s studio, Zakhar, Gutsevich. And here the jobbers are also right on their tail. Shutov, Kozlov, Vermishev, Ovchinnikov, Novikov: prettiness that is computer-like in its self-justification.
The ideology of the New Artists inevitably led them to work with readymade textures and collage; as Novikov put it, “The zeroists use everything without mastering anything.” These practices gave rise, in Novikov’s art, to a totally new pictorial form: landscapes or portraits on pieces on fabric in which the details are produced with appliqués and stencil prints. Novikov began pasting tinfoil spires and colored-paper leaves onto this works in 1982. In Novikov’s oeuvre, collage and stencil were not employed in order to express streams of consciousness, but in order to achieve the maximal effect with a minimum of artistic means. This principle of economy should be understood not only functionally, but also ideologically: the “savings”—the last sign left standing on the pictorial surface (Malevich’s Black Square is the supreme example of such economy)—transmits the work’s main idea with a tenfold force. If we view them in this aspect, Novikov’s works used unfailingly comprehensible (nearly computer-like) symbolic icons to unveil a new, universal artistic idiom that any viewer can access. This idiom witnesses to the ecological minimum of existence—our home, the space around us, and beauty as the essential glue that binds the world together.
Ivan Sotnikov was also fond of appliqués. In his rendering, they were also both decoratively expressive and conceptual—like the magical diagonal crosses and sun symbol in To the South, which reproduces one instant of a TV report on the transport of the Soviet Buran space shuttle to an aeronautics show on the back of a Mriya cargo plane; or the face of the “alien” in Homon LTD (which, according to Sotnikov, is a portrait of our “antipode,” Paul Robeson, clipped from an issue of Ogonyok and turned upside down). As I have already mentioned, Kotelnikov in his role as collagist developed the avant-garde genre of the artist’s book by recycling Soviet mass-market printed matter, both literary and bureaucratic (brochures, instructional booklets, magazines, etc.)
This genre was also mined by Vadim Ovchinnikov, author of the object The Iron Book, which became famous after its appearance in the film ASSA. Ovchinnikov fashioned the book while working as watchman at Vodokanal (the city water plant). It testified to the fairness of Novikov’s remark that literature was hardly the first concern in the books authored by the New Artists. Between 1985 and 1986 Ovchinnikov also produced several large-format collage paintings and compositions.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 80. This statement reads as follows: “MAFIA. The News have developed into a powerful culture mafia with their own organizations: the V.V. Mayakovsky Friends Club; the New Artists; the New Composers; the New Theater; the New Criticism; the New Cinema and the Mzhalala Film Studio; the Folk Art Amateurs Club; the journal News; Collegium D.P., the New Literature, etc; branches in other cities and offices in other countries; fraternal organizations. They are prepared to collaborate (with anyone whomsoever).” I have reproduced this passage in full because others have reproached Novikov for it without noticing the irony of his statement.
 DNKh-87-51(3). As in the case of Igor Potapov’s conversation with Timur Novikov, Novikov in all likelihood wrote this letter to himself. As I have already noted, above, there is extant an article (“New Russian Painting”), attributed to a critic identified as “A. McGreis,” that was written on Novikov’s typewriter. This text is reminiscent of other “promotional materials” about the group that Novikov issued on behalf of fictitious art scholars.
 Koshelokhov’s well-known “concept” Exclamation consisted of a chamber pot and hospital bedpan nailed to a board. In 1976, Koshelokhov transported this assemblage unimpeded to the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, where an open-air show in memory of Yevgeny Rukhin, a leader of the Leningrad underground who had died in a mysterious fire, was supposed to take place. Police arrested the other exhibiting artists as they approached the fortress, canvases in hand.
 Kotelnikov recalls that Koshelokhov was capable of carrying off on his back several “capital renovations” (kapremonty)—that is, any material that he found in abandoned flats and stairwells and that he thought might come in handy for his paintings and “concepts.” According to Novikov, Koshelokhov once produced a piece from the trash that he picked up as he walked down Nevsky Prospect.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 86.
 Timur, pp. 23–24.
 Novikov’s archive has preserved a letter, dated August 22, 1982, that is signed by a group of artists—Koshelokhov, Ovchinnikov, Figurina, Kozlov, Tager, Batishcheva, Kotelnikov, Novikov, Sotnikov, and Alexander Goryaev—and addressed to the Chief Directorate for Culture of the Leningrad City Council Executive Committee. The artists ask the directorate to include an exhibition of 150 works in their plan for 1984. This lineup, then, was the core of the city’s neo-expressionist movement. No shows featuring this precise roster of artists ever took place, however.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 91. Novikov once offered to donate several hundred miniature abstractions by Cherkasov to the contemporary art department of the Russian Museum. They all fit in a soapbox.
 This was the title of New Artists show at the Znanie movie theater in 1987. All the exhibited works were neatly matted with strips of pink paper.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 80. Novikov abridged this text for publication in the anthology and dated it 1985. The word “MANIFEST” [sic] is handwritten in the margins of the original typescript. There is reason to assume that this text should be dated 1986 insofar as the well-known phrase by Dunya Smirnova—“All words are synonyms”—which Novikov quotes here, was coined no earlier than 1986.
 Timur, pp. 116–117.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 93. “[T]he manipulation of sound information from various spheres of our life imparts to music a new and [rapidly] changing significance. It is precisely this [that] creates new musical objects [that need not be compared] with reality. [H]ere we observe the reverse process[,] in which the abstract becomes concrete[, but] this concrete[ness also] has many planes in the [realm of meaning]. [T]hese planes of significance are like abstract elements of the entire Universe; their availability creates the possibility for the birth of the music of a new reality and the possibility [of being present within it.] [A]ny coherent thematic or symbolic treatment of this music enters into unavoidable contradiction [w]ith the very principle of its construction, [whose] essence consists in the destruction of connections, in the desynchronization of meanings and structural layers. [T]he absence of a particular semantic superstructure in a musical work guarantees [i]ts direct entry into reality and therefore into that vast space [within it] where ideas and [clashes] of views and positions exist. [T]he most important thing is that in the process the [short-circuiting] of content does not occur. [T]he listener himself expands its content, [plugging into] its interpretation his own knowledge of reality, his [thoughts] about it, [and] various associations. [T]his is like a catalyst [that] allow[s] one to materialize images of concrete irrationality[,] but at the same time these images  have [no] worth HERE[:] the rules of their connectedness are [replaced] by random association[s]. [The more distant they are], the stronger the effect of surprise. [I]t is precisely this unexpectedness which [militates] against the stagnancy of opinions and brings one closer to a free and active co-experiencing, to pure inventiveness. [T]hat magic of inner action[,] that possibility to live through  an experience [that] otherwise would have been would have been would have been [sic] inaccessible. [T]his approach to the creation of musical forms allows one to [situate] them in no man’s land[,] in the territory of ‘the impossible,’ in that abyss [that lies between] objective reality and the [operation] of consciousness[.] And it is here that everything  begin[s].” Kabinet: An Anthology, ed. Viktor Mazin and Thomas Campbell (Amsterdam & Saint Petersburg, 1997), pp. 128–129.
 Novye khudozhniki, pp. 87–88.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 87.