The New Artists.
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Like their author, Evgenij Kozlov’s albums were marked by a concern for outward elegance. Kozlov’s genteel expressionism verged on art deco, if we speak in terms of the 1920s culture that had such a huge influence on the New Artists. It was a counterweight to the wild style of the group’s other members and undoubtedly influenced the evolution of Novikov’s aesthetic predilections in the direction of “neat tendencies.” Aside from his own large-format paintings, Kozlov made portrait albums with hand-painted photographs, many of which he shot at “teddy boy” parties and the soirees of Leningrad dandies. Novikov preserved Kozlov’s album Good Evening, Gustav as a particular cultural treasure: it contains hand-painted photographs of a party whose attendees included Gurjanov, Bugaev, and filmmaker Vetta Pomerantseva.
As such free social space developed in the eighties, Novikov became more and more interested in party culture. This, finally, was the direction taken by the members of the group who had been fascinated with performance art.
Performances were the favorite pastime of visitors to the ASSA Gallery, who took part in “fashion shows” during which models in fur coats would stand on the stovetops in the communal flat’s spacious kitchen like statues atop podiums. The New Theater blossomed after the artist, musician, and cross-dressing actor Sergei Bugaev joined the group, and Kotelnikov befriended the theater director Erik Goroshevsky. Its first production, in 1984, was Daniil Kharms’s Ballet of the Three Inseparables, with the New Composers Veritchev and Valery Alakhov providing the music and Novikov, Gurjanov, and Veritchev in the starring roles. (Novikov, Bugaev, and Oleg Kolomeichuk later performed these same roles in Moscow.) This was followed, in 1984–1985, by radically abridged versions of two Russian classics, The Idiot and Anna Karenina: at the urging of Rodion Zavernyaev, their libretti took up no more than half a page each. more: German >> Russian >> Moreover, the productions were an ideologically critically take on the originals. Or rather, they were anti-ideological in sentiment because the new interpreters of these classics were displeased that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky had doomed their main characters for the sake of “conventional views of human relationships” and under the influence of the “devils of social intercourse.” The roles in the New Theater’s productions were played by Gurjanov (Count Vronsky, Prince Myshkin), Novikov (Karenin, Rogozhin), Bugaev (Anna, Aglaya), Rodion Zavernyaev (“railroad man,” Dostoevsky), Vladislav Gutsevich (“bailiff”), and Natalia Pivovarova (Nastasya Filippovna). Yufit choreographed the horse race scene; he also played the role of Vronsky’s horse. (According to Novikov, his performance was brilliant.) As always, Veritchev and Alakhov provided the musical accompaniment. The theater’s final production was Bugaev’s play The Biathlete.
Along with the theater, the New Artists were active in filmmaking. Their most serious practitioner was Yevgeny Yufit, who founded the Mzhalala Film Studio. For Novikov, it was undoubtedly quite important to have a filmmaker in the group’s ranks because the cinema was the most popular form of mass art in the twentieth century. (In 1989, when pioneering video artist Yuris Lesnik and body art virtuoso Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe joined the group, Novikov quickly launched the Pirate Television (PTV) project. Among PTV’s most popular programs were Culture News, with Monroe as host; Spartacus, with Georgy Gurjanov in the starring role; and the series The Deaths of Famous People.) The New Artists transferred their method of drawing on fiberboard and printed matter to the film strip: Kotelnikov and Vadim Ovchinnikov demonstrated this particular form of animation in “The Dreams of Bananan,” a short that was inserted into Sergei Soloviev’s hit film ASSA.
It is thus not surprising that by the mid-eighties the New Artists had adopted the Russian avant-garde notion of vsëchestvo (“everythingism”) as their second aesthetic category. (The New Artists sometimes also referred to it as vsyachestvo, a term that would pop up in their “Festival of All Sorts of Arts” [Festival’ vsyacheskikh iskusstv] and an eponymous, short-lived “Academy of All Sorts of Arts.”) Novikov called everythingism the “classical conception of the Russian avant-garde,” which is manifested in the “use of any methods whatsoever.” From his viewpoint, what mattered in this regard was that “the majority does not strive to develop individual methods; style is not the monopoly of the individual artist, but the property of the entire collective.” In the case of the New Artists, this majority was constituted not only by artists, but also by “musicians (the group Kino, the Popular Mechanics club orchestra), actors, writers, art critics, filmmakers, fashion designers, and composers.”
Everythingism can been viewed as the collage-like expansion of the wild style in painting, as well as the flip side of zero culture. This had also been the case with the fathers of the conception in its classical variant, Mikhail Larionov and Ilya Zdanevich. Authors of the “Da-Manifesto” [“Yes Manifesto”] and “everythingists,” in 1913 they argued that “one should give recognition to everything” and assent even to mutually contradictory conclusions; that is, as one gives one’s consent, one should also negate “only for the sake of negation itself because this is more to the point.” At the other pole (which is historically linked with everythingism) we find “the nothing of peace” or, in Malevich’s coinage, “non-meaning.” Malevich imagined this “nothingification” as a creative principle. It has a rich philosophical sub-texture, incorporating the elements of eastern philosophy that were adapted by early twentieth-century theosophical thought. In the late seventies, these same elements became broadly popular in Russia again and the devotees of zero culture took them up as well. In the early decades of the twentieth century, everythingism and the zero method of nothingification manifested themselves in the expansion of art into all areas of life, incorporating in the process such mundane objects as bottle drying racks and urinals, which Duchamp, for example, could then “sign” as his own sculptures. This expansion of art’s frontiers was paralleled by the disenfranchisement of painting, as in Malevich’s Black Square. Everythingism’s pluralistic conception of art making is ordinarily viewed as an anticipation of European Dadaism, and indeed they share several common sources: first and foremost, Marinetti’s manifestos and Nietzsche’s philosophy. Thus, the everythingist “Da-Manifesto” has its prototype in Zarathustra’s teachings, especially as fleshed out in Nietzsche’s commentary in Ecce Homo. To an unprecedented degree, Zarathustra verbally and practically negates everything that has already been affirmed, thus becoming the perennial “yes” for all things in the world.
Novikov and Sotnikov were ready to say yes to everything; they thus regarded the avant-garde’s nullification of painting down to the last abstract symbol as a delusion. To the nullification of painting in the historical practice of professional abstractionists, Sotnikov opposed a continuous “primeval painting” that he found exemplified in “swan” rugs, paintings sold at marketplaces, and other such folk artifacts that embodied the primary aesthetic instinct of ordinary human beings. On the other hand, he “misused” folk art as a source material for his own production of contemporary art. He turned sketches of ornamental designs that he made at Leningrad’s Ethnographic Museum into wild semi-abstractions, amplifying the voices of minor decorative elements so that they resounded like large, independent forms in their own right. Novikov said that his goal was to humanize Malevich’s Suprematism. To this end, he “powered” the miniature “icons” of universal human culture in his own works (little houses, fir trees, ships, airplanes, etc.) with the abstract schemata of the avant-garde’s colored quadrangles. In his work, the reductionist component of everythingism was much weaker than the expansionist component. The Soviet avant-garde had been nullified in the distant thirties, and so in the Leningrad of Novikov’s youth, in the sixties, it was in fact only in such marginal forms as the decorative and applied arts that the idiom of artistic modernism had survived. Aeroflot advertisements or souvenir matchboxes preserved the intonation of the avant-garde. It was the task of the New Artists to rescue this intonation from the applied arts and return it to a central art form like painting by recreating these images on the easel.
The New Artists learned about Larionov and Zdanevich’s everythingism firsthand in 1980, when Maria Spendiarova, the widow of Larionov’s younger friend and correspondent Sergei Romanovich, visited the Russian Museum in connection with an upcoming exhibition of Larionov’s works. Novikov was then employed at the museum as an electrician. He met Spendiarova and together they inspected the museum’s avant-garde collection, which was housed in the semi-restricted twentieth-century art storage rooms. Novikov was infused with the spirit of budetlyanstvo (Futurism). In “The Process of Perestroika in the Work of the New Artists,” Novikov argues that the eighties should be seen as a renaissance of the Soviet avant-garde, whose legacy had been regarded as “non-art” for many years. The New Artists met the surviving Futurists, LEFists, Vkhutemas students, and disciples of Filonov in the early eighties, and these encounters were configured as a “path of glory” in which they inscribed themselves: Larionov—Mayakovsky—Warhol—the New Artists. In the article “The New Artists,” Novikov (“Potapov”) writes that from the very beginning the group was greatly influenced by
As readers of Andrei Krusanov’s book about the history of the Russian avant-garde (Novikov read the manuscript long before its official publication) will know, Larionov was not a dogmatist, unlike Malevich and Filonov. Living proof of this was provided by the 1980 exhibition of his works in the Russian Museum’s Rossi Wing: Larionov had used his elegant painterly style to incarnate a host of kitsch characters and hooligans (a soldier on leave, “Venuses,” dandyish provincial barbers). The titles of his graphic works (e.g., Manka the Whore) were alone enough to set off a commotion within the academically staid halls of the museum. The show made it possible for those born after 1917 to come face to face with the relics of the avant-garde’s bravado, which had forfeited none of its virulence because its source were life and art, not formalism and ideology. The stories about Larionov—how he and his wife Natalia Goncharova had strolled through Moscow with painted faces; how women had lined up to have their brows, cheeks, and breasts painted by the master; the scandals and fistfights that erupted at the avant-garde’s public debates—could not help but rouse interest in the topic of everythingism.
This interest was also encouraged by the fact that, in the early eighties, the New Artists had a no less striking albeit much darker character in their midst—Valery Cherkasov, who was a friend of Kotelnikov. Cherkasov was the founder of the “Pliushkin Museum,” which was housed in his own flat. According to Kotelnikov, there were so many objects of all sorts and unimaginable piles of trash in the room that it could accommodate only two people—Cherkaskov himself and one visitor. Novikov dubbed the everythingist style of Cherkasov and Kirill Khazanovich “folk conceptualism.” What he meant by this, in particular, were such phenomena of daily life as the decoration of miserable living conditions using whatever materials were available, the magical collecting of “lucky” tickets and other such garbage, the Aesopian language of folk humor, and the cryptographic signal culture of tattoos.
What was the difference between the New Artists and two other art currents that rapidly blossomed during the eighties, conceptualism and Sots Arts, whose adherents were especially active in Moscow and in emigration? How do we distinguish lovers of “folk conceptualism” from the professional artists whom Boris Groys has famously called “romantic” conceptualists? What is the difference between the “zero culture” of the New Artists and the “void canon” of the Moscow Noma (conceptualist community) as articulated by Pavel Pepperstein and Sergei Anufriev? Beginning in 1986, when the work of the New Artists quickly became part of perestroika’s export culture, which peddled Soviet avant-garde symbols among its other wares, Novikov and Bugaev provoked critics into such comparisons with the Sots Artists. We frequently encounter Soviet themes and symbols in the work of Bugaev, who employed them with a particularly striking artistic cynicism. (Thus, his 1986 work Russian People’s Cosmonauts Belka and Strelka depicts two dogs coupling.) Novikov preferred less flagrant and more decoratively aesthetic forms of Dadaism. Disinclined to play one ideology off another, he instead defused Soviet symbols by incorporating them as details of larger decorative compositions. At 7 Independent Artists from Leningrad (London, 1988), Novikov presented Sun over Leningrad, a landscape on fabric in which the city is illuminated by two sources—the sun, on the left side of the picture, and the hammer and sickle, on the right. Novikov showed up at the opening dressed in a light-colored summer outfit embellished with his trademark stencil drawings and the inscriptions “morning,” “perestroika,” and “USSR.” An analogous example of this aesthetic de-sovietization (as opposed to the anti-Soviet tactics of the Sots Artists) is Oleg Zaika’s The Flip Side of a Matchbox (1987). Zaika transforms the underside of an Estonian matchbox into a painting of the blue abyss of the sky. The technique—an inscription on the backdrop of the sky, which Erik Bulatov had employed to denounce the ideologically triumphant heavens—here produces a result that is directly opposite to that achieved by Sots Art. As an abstraction, the blue of the sky lives its own life, graciously illuminating all things under its canopy, even such prosaic things as a one-kopeck matchbox.
Like the New Artists, the Moscow conceptualist school and Moscow Sots Art operated on the territory of “non-art,” on the margins of official Soviet culture. The effect of their actions was to enable the viewer to see that this gigantic culture was already in a state of ruination. Its constructive meanings had collapsed. Its system of signs no longer corresponded either to reality or myth, and this myth had itself become incoherent and worthless. The conceptualists and Sots Artists disavowed the pathos of Soviet art and the priestly role of the artist. (The leaders of these two groups employed the tactic of doubling, hiding behind a multitude of characters such as amateur artists, housing authority designers or mythical madmen who devote themselves to depicting their own noses and so on.) They often acted as iconoclasts by destroying the dominant image and revealing its emptiness. The New Artists, on the contrary, often behaved like a band of heroes. They pumped up the pathos, using a technique that had been forbidden in the avant-garde scene of the nineteen-seventies: a “naturalist” view of a culture in the process of destruction. They saw in this culture not socially organized meanings, but natural flows of energy that gather force, grow to catastrophic proportions, and just as catastrophically dissipate. The Moscow school investigated the social determinism of Soviet culture and had a mediated relationship with critical social philosophy. The New Artists had a similarly mediated and congenial relationship with the early twentieth-century philosophy of energetism—the ideas of Henri Bergson and the related scientific theories of Alexander Chizhevsky and Vladimir Vernadsky. In this sense, the New Artists inherited the thought-forms of Leningrad culture, particularly the expressionism of Pavel Filonov. Like Alexander Bogdanov, he had imagined social organization as an organism, as a total system of biological circulation.
This biologistic view of the collective social body arose for the second time in Leningrad art history (during the late forties) in the paintings and drawings of Alexander Arefiev, the leader of the Order of Mendicant Painters (aka the Arefiev Circle). Arefiev, however, began drawing as a teenager during the Siege, on streets covered with a thick carpet of broken glass and thus rendered uninhabitable. As such, he was not interested in social biology as a Futurist scheme of the world. Each of his drawings reflects an unhinged society’s intercourse with reality, which the artist experiences as if it were a woman caught unawares in a dark alley by hooligans. Even in this underworld expressionism, whose subjects are fights, confrontations, and robberies, Arefiev unflinchingly remains an aesthete, unlike the German expressionists during the First World War. As would be the case with the New Artists, Arefiev’s work was utterly free of a certain species of moralizing that had revealed its general inapplicability. Instead of exposing an amoral society and its criminal ideology, Arefiev made his work an apology for the instinct of life. His paintings and drawings are full of bright color, fluid lines, and hard bodies situated in a cityscape chockablock with possibility and the promise of adventure.
 Rodion Zavernyaev, “On the New Theater,” in Novye khudozhniki, p. 83. In Novikov’s archive, the copies of this same text are signed “Group of participants (actors and spectators).”
It was here, by the way, that the theme of homosexuality arose for the first time in the New Artist universe: Karenin and Count Vronsky become lovers, leaving Tolstoy to mourn his dead heroine alone.
The authors of these productions evoked the traditions of vernacular theater and the “raree show,” where performers and spectators easily switched roles. Kotelnikov recalls that Gurjanov, who acted the role of Vronsky, was late for one performance. When he finally arrived, someone else was already performing his part: the presence of two Vronskys on stage enlivened the performance considerably.
Just as Sergei Prokofiev had done with Dostoevsky’s The Gambler in his own time, the New Artists simplified the literary classics in keeping with the traditions of absurdism.
 Andrei Krusanov, The Russian Avant-Garde, 1907–1932, vol. 1: The Militant Decade (Saint Petersburg, 1996), pp. 87–88, 129 (in Russian).
 DNKh-85-15(3). The New Artists were greatly interested in Warhol’s work. In late 1985, through the good offices of American singer Joanna Stingray, they sent him two collages as gifts—Novikov’s City and Kotelnikov’s Ye-Ye. Warhol responded in kind: he has his picture taken with each of these presents and dispatched a parcel of souvenirs to Leningrad. Novikov and rock singer Boris Grebenshchikov each got an autographed copy of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), while Kuriokhin, Bugaev, Grebenshchikov, Novikov, Gurjanov, Tsoi, Kotelnikov, Krisanov, and musician Alexander Titov each received autographed cans of Campbell’s Soup.
 Novye khudozhniki, p. 86.