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Leningrad 80s >>
Без ореола — Bez aureoli
Gallery Kantor Sztuki, Gdansk, October-November 1987
In autumn 1987, Polish galerist Mirosław Zeidler organised an exhibition of Leningrad artists at his gallery Kantor Sztuki, Gdansk. Без ореола / Bez aureoli, or "Without a Halo", was one of the first exhibitions – or perhaps actually the first – of artists related to the New Artists group that took place outside the Soviet Union, albeit in a country from the socialist block. Shortly after, in 1988, their works started traveling to exhibitions in the West more>>.
Until recently, there was little information about the exhibition Без ореола / Bez aureoli. One of the documents is a poster from Andrei Khlobystin's collection, now at the Garage Archive Collection, St. Petersburg, external link >>. The poster announces the exhibition for October and November 87 as nową ekspresję w malarstwie rosyjskim, “New expression in Russian painting”, but without a line-up of artists (note that the sentence quite naturally refers to Russian, not Soviet painting). Ksenia Novikova's chronicle, published in the New Artists MMOMA catalogue 2012, refers to this date and lists the following five artists (p. 277): Boris Koshelokhov, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, Alexei Kozin, and Oleg Maslov. However, no documentation was available on what was actually displayed.
In autumn 2021, Polish curator Daniel Muzyczuk of Muzeum Sztuki came across this exhibition while he was doing research on a Totart, a Polish underground and experimental group of the 1980s. In the course of his reasearch, Muzyczuk not only found out that Totart did a performance at Kantor Sztuki during Bez aureoli. He also discovered a 15-minute video or TV production by Waldemar Będziński and Tadeusz Rzeczycki, Dzicy z Leningradu (The Wild from Leningrad), presenting the exhibition. Strictly speaking, it is not a documentary, but a collage of impressions, starting with a passage from a manifesto about bringing art to the streets.
Although in some cases we see only fragments of paintings (close-ups), the film allows to identify the authors of a large number of works. I did so with the support of Oleg Maslov, whose paintings – most of them co-authored with Alexei Kozin – constituted the core of the exhibition, as the film shows. An introductory speech by a young man provides some additional information, from which it follows that the title of the film actually refers to Maslov and Kozin, who were known in Leningrad as Новые дикие, The New Wild. The speaker relates them to trends in western painting, Italian Transvangardia and Neue Wilde from Germany. He also mentions Bob Koshelokhov and an artist whose name I'm not famliar with – Valery Golubkin, if I got his name right. Assuming that Golubkin is the author of some paintings that cannot be identified otherwise, I attempted to find out more about about the paintings and their supposed author. Unfortunately, my research has yielded no results, and this assumption remains speculative.
Starting the street procession of paintings. From left to right: two paintings by Bob Koshelokhov, unkown, and Oleg Maslov or Oleg Maslov and Alexei Kozlin
Still from Dzicy z Leningradu (The Wild from Leningrad) by Waldemar Będziński and Tadeusz Rzeczycki
The films follows a group of people carrying several of the paintings through the streets of Gdansk, like in a procession, and then continues with exhibition views inside the gallery. It appears to me that the film documents all of the larger exhibits. Works of a smaller format in the background cannot be recognised.
The large works are by five artists. Bob Koshelokhov is the author of five works. A total of eight paintings are by Oleg Maslov and Alexei Kozin – actually, some of them are by Oleg Maslov only; Maslov didn't particularly stress the difference. One of the paintings is probably by Sergei Bugaev. Those two (or more) I couldn't identify are by the same unknown artist, perhaps by Valery Golubkin. The film shows no works by Timur Novikov. However, on Novikov's website – which functions as a catalogue raisonné – a painting by Novikov in a 100 x 50 cm format, View of Leningrad from the side of flood defenses, is listed for this and for a follow-up exhibition in Stockholm (see below) external link to Timur Novikov's website >>. Of course, the fact that the documentary doesn't show Novikov's painting doesn't mean that it wasn't in the exhibition. It simply leaves the question open.
According to Oleg Maslov, Miroslaw Zeidler visited his studio at the NCh-VCh Club during a trip to Leningrad [in 1987], where he stayed at the prestigious Hotel Europe. In terms of comfort, the NCh-VCh, located in the backyard of a derelict building, was the antipode to Hotel Europe, but at that time, it was the centre of Leningrad's non-official art and music scene more >>. Zeidler acquired Maslov / Kozin's paintings on the spot "for a rather modest sum", as Maslov told me, and this might also have been the case with the other works exhibited in Gdansk. At any rate, and judging by the text on the poster, Zeidler was interested in business no less than in art: We invite you to visit the exhibition of Leningrad artists and hope that visiting the exhibition will contribute to a good mood and successful purchases.
It would be interesting to know whether Без ореола / Bez aureoli rewarded the Polish gallerist financially, or whether there were any sales during the follow-up exhibition 80 Talets nya ryska avantgarde (New Russian avant-garde of the 80‘s) at Galleri Art Artrium, Stockholm. The exhibition, which took place in February/March 1988, was a cooperation by Miroslaw Zeidler with Jerzy Proszynski of Galleri Art Atrium. According to Ksenia Novikova's chronicle, the Stockholm lineup of artists was somewhat larger than the previous one in Gdansk, as it also includes Evgenij Kozlov, Georgy Guryanov and Inal Savchenkov. This, however, needs verification. There was actually an exhibition in Stockholm at the end of 1988, Ryska Konstnärer från Leningrad at the Pierre Munkeborg Antique store, which showed paintings by Evgenij Kozlov, Georgy Guryanov and Inal Savchenkov and other artists, among them Oleg Kotelnikov, Vladislav Gutsevich, Andrei Krisanov, Viktor Tsoy, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, Irina Kuksenaite, and Vadim Ovchinnikov, but not Bob Koshelokhov nor Oleg Maslov or Alexei Kozin. The exhibition, which thus comprehended an important number of New Artists, had nothing to do with 80 Talets nya ryska avantgarde. Surprisingly, Ryska Konstnärer från Leningrad isn't mentioned in the chronicle nor in any other publication, although it was reviewed in Dagens Nyheter. I am inclined to think that Ksenia Novikova fused it with 80 Talets nya ryska avantgarde, but that's just a guess.
At Galleri Art Artrium, works by Kozin and Maslov seem to have again been dominating the show. An article by Åsa Wall for a unidentified Swedish newspaper – probably also Dagens Nyheter – includes a short paragraph about the exhibition mentioning a total twenty-five paintings. Of all artists, we read only Kozin's and Maslov's names, and a large picture features one of their works shown previously in Gdansk, where it had been displayed along the ceiling. Two other reviews also feature Kozin and Maslov, although they alos have Koshelokhov's name. Maslov told me that one of his works was later auctioned in Stockholm and is now in a Moscow collection.
Asa Wall's article Östarkitektur omvärderad (East architecture revalued) presents three different Stockholm exhibitions from early 1988, among them 80 Talets nya ryska avantgarde at Galleri Art Artrium. The article has a large colour reproduction of a painting by Alexei Kozin and Oleg Maslov (referred to as Alexander Kozin and Oleg Masov) which can be seen in the Gdansk film (see page 3).
Returning once more to Без ореола / Bez aureoli, and summing up the information available so far, one may consider a different question: the question of whether the exhibition should be listed among the other New Artists exhibitions from the same period. At first view, this is what the chronicle lineup suggests. Among those five artists mentioned – Boris Koshelokhov, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, Alexei Kozin, and Oleg Maslov – only Koshelokhov, who belonged to older generation of artists, was not a member of the group, yet he was certainly important to Novikov since the late 1970s, when Novikov joined Koshelokhov's Letopis group more >>. On the other hand, the situation is quite clear with the sixth artist, whose name is not in the chronicle lineup – perhaps Valery Golubkin. This artist has no relation to the New Artists at all.
Regarding Maslov and Kozin, the situation is ambiguous. They both started participating in New Artists exhibitions only in 1988. At that time, they had already adapted a new, more geometrical style more >>, more >>. Yet it is also true that they were part of the New Artists circle of friends, and at the ninth TEII (group) exhibition, in early 1987, some of their works later shown at Kantor Sztuki appeared in the same section as those of the New Artists. Likwise, they were included in the selection for the exhibition at the Kulturhuset, initially planned for 1987, but then postponed to 1988 more >>. Strictly speaking, Maslov and Kozin were not part of the core group of the New Artists, but joined when the group turned into a larger movement more >>.
9-я общая выставка ТЭИИ The Ninth Exhibition of the Society for Experimental Visual Art (TEII), 14-25 January 1987, Leningrad Harbour Exhibition Pavilion, with a total of 160 participating artists. Alexander Rets' picture shows (part of?) the New Artists section. Two of Maslov/Kozin's works were also shown in Gdansk; see below and page 3.
Gdansk, October 1987, Gallery Kantor Sztuki, exhibition of Leningrad artists Без ореола / Bez aureoli
Exhibition view. Left: Oleg Maslov and Alexei Kozin. Right: Five paintings by Bob Koshelokhov,
Still from Dzicy z Leningradu (The Wild from Leningrad) by Waldemar Będziński and Tadeusz Rzeczycki
What has been said so far leaves us with the question of Novikov's and Bugaev's contributions to the exhibition. With regard to its Chronicle lineup of artists, Novikov and Bugaev were the only core members of the New Artists, but their names are not mentioned in the film. Likewise, in the film there is no work by Novikov and only one that can be attributed to Bugaev. This suggests that their contributions were not substantial for the exhibition. My conclusion is that Без ореола / Bez aureoli should be considered a New Artists exhibtion only with reservations. Perhaps Polish reviews from that time provide a different image. Two such publications are mentioned on Novikov's website: Sztuka 4/88. Dwumiesiecznik (Rok XIII). Warszawa. P. 26 Przuiazn [sic]. Magazyn ilustrowany. 1 stycznia 1988. P. 6, but I have not been able to retrieve them online.
The film is, however, quite clear about the exhibition concept. The focus is on Koshelokhov's neoexpressionist painting and especially on Kozin and Maslov's wild art – used as a shock treatment of the public, of passer-bys during the procession of paintings in the street. In other words, the idea is to present art bez aureoli, without a halo.
Novikov's painting View of Leningrad from the side of flood defenses, one of his minimalist "Horizons", stands in obvious contrast to the exhibition's wild-expressionist concept. Not suprisingly, it is not in the film, if it was displayed at all. In fact, Novikov never was a "wild" painter, and after his Letopis period, which lasted to the early 1980s, returned to expressionist painting only occasionaly.
If Без ореола / Bez aureoli stressed the parallels between Russian art and Western trends, thus re-integrating Russian art into international art, Novikov, paradoxically, polemised against this international style. Slightly earlier, in late 1986 or 1987, he wrote a text about the New Artists under his pseudonym "Igor Potapov", arguing
I discussed this fragment previously and showed that Novikov's argument contradicts the facts – that there was no synchronistic evolution of the New Artists more >>. But it is indeed somewhat ironical to see that in the case of Без ореола / Bez aureoli, it was "this age-related affliction" supported by Maslov and Kozin that minimised Novikov own contribution to the exhibition.
Text and research: Hannelore Fobo, November 2021