(E-E) Ev.g.e.n.i.j ..K.o.z.l.o.v Berlin
(E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: exhibitions >> • Leningrad 80s >>
De Nya från Leningrad / The New from Leningrad,
Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 27 August – 25 September 1988
Text and research: Hannelore Fobo, January / February 2022
Between 27 August and 25 September 1988, after two years of preparation, De Nya från Leningrad / The New from Leningrad, took place at the Kulturhuset, the cultural house of the City of Stockholm. The first major presentation of Leningrad’s New Artists group (1982-1989) outside their country included an additional festival programme with concerts, lectures and film screenings.
De Nya från Leningrad / The New from Leningrad, a general view of the exhibition.
In this article, I discuss what I defined as the project’s second phase, when, in the spring of 1987, the Swedish curatorial team and Leningrad artists and musicians elaborated a plan of action and selected the exhibits. Pictures and other documents kept in private and public archives help reconstructing the original line-up of nine artists with selected as well as unselected works. The paintings and objects, of which many are not documented otherwise, span the period from 1982 to 1987. Comparing the sources, I was primarily interested in establishing the number of works per artist to find out about priorities given to their works. I then applied the same quantitative analysis to the 1988 exhibits of the extended line-up with seventeen artists, which allows determining both constancies as well as significant changes in the distribution of works per artist. Interestingly, with eight of a total of seventy-nine works, the “newcomers” played a minor role in terms of numbers. Concerning the other seventy-one works, it can be said that contrary to expectations, only six works from the 1987 selection made it to the 1988 exhibition. In the concluding chapter, some possible reasons are given for these fundamental changes.
Between 27 August and 25 September, 1988, an exhibition presenting Leningrad’s New Artists group (1982-1989) took place at the Kulturhuset, the cultural house of the City of Stockholm. During the first days, De Nya från Leningrad / The New from Leningrad presented an additional festival programme with concerts, lectures and film screenings. A highlight of the programme was a Pop Mekhanika (Pop Mechanics) concert on 29 August, “ABSOLUT POP MECHANIKA”.
Curated by Sissi Nilsson of Kulturhuset and Fredrik Vogel, an independent curator previously working at the Kulturhuset, The New from Leningrad was the first major presentation of this “unofficial” Leningrad group of artists in the West. It was also the start of an exhibition tour Fredrik Vogel organised through Aarhus and Copenhagen, which ended with another large festival in Liverpool at the beginning of 1989, “Perestroika in the Avant-Garde” more>>.
In the early 1990s E-E-Kozlov and I exchanged letters with Sissi Nilsson and Fredrik Vogel to find out more about the exhibition and those of Kozlov’s works that didn’t make it to Liverpool. In her letter to the artist from 7 April 1993, Sissi Nilsson wrote that it took the organisers two years to realise the project, although in the end, the outcome still wasn’t clear: “When we arranged a press conference some days before the opening we could only show some slides of the art and tell the press that we were not sure about the content of the exhibition.” In fact, Pop Mekhanika musicians and performers brought the exhibits to Stockholm as backdrops for their concert. This probably saved the exhibition which, according to Sissi Nilsson, “was a great, enormous success”. Sissi Nilsson also sent us some pictures of Kozlov’s works taken in Leningrad for the exhibition catalogue, while Fredrik Vogel sent us slides with Kulturhuset exhibition views more>> and other documents. I therefore had a fairly good idea about the exhibition itself and its specific circumstances.
Later, in the course of my research on other New Artists exhibitions, the key role of The New from Leningrad became more and more obvious to me. It was unique not only because of its scale, but also regarding the biography of the exhibits, of which many are today in private collections and important museums, such as Tate Gallery.
As a matter of fact, The New from Leningrad is “the central point on which many threads converge and from which many depart” – to quote Mrs. Humphry Ward from “A Writer’s Recollection“. Put differently, The New from Leningrad hosted eight works that arrived not from Leningrad: four came from the New Artists London-Rotterdam exhibition tour (February more>> to April 1988 more>>) and another four from Sara Åkerren’s private collection in Stockholm see Chapter 8>>
On the other hand, a number of works left Stockholm without ever reaching Liverpool – or they may still be in Stockholm more>>. The post-Liverpool history of the works is just as intriguing. A brief description is in the introduction to my article about the Liverpool festival more>>.
A full history of all Kulturhuset exhibits – of all “threads” – would display an irregular weave composed of many different colours, each colour representing a person connected to the exhibition in one way or another – artists, curators, collectors and art-dealers, as well as representatives of political institutions from the West and from the East. They all pursued mutual as well as conflicting interests. This led to a dynamic development where ad hoc decisions easily toppled careful planning, changing the pattern of the weave. Perhaps the most bizarre phenomenon is that E-E Kozlov’s painting “Timur on Horseback”, the fabulous logotype
Yet to speak of a dynamic development isn’t much more than using a placeholder for what should be analysed in detail. And although today it is no longer possible to fully understand how the final pattern emerged step by step, archival documents allow to examine specific aspects or phases of the project. I’m referring to documents in my own archive, Sara Åkerrén’s private archive, and the archive of the City of Stockholm, which keeps Kulturhuset’s archival material; for the sake of simplicity, I will call it “Kulturhuset archive”. In this article, I discuss what I define as the project’s second phase starting in the spring of 1987, when the initial idea was taking form with a plan of action and the selection of exhibits began. The second phase ends in November 1987, with the City of Stockholm’s official festival proposal sent to the Soviet Ministry of Culture.
The first part of my research starts with a periodisation of the entire project and analyses written documents pertaining to its second phase, in the first place official correspondence. The second part focuses on visual material. An outstanding number of colour pictures and black and white Xerox copies document pre-selected works as well as those selected towards the end of 1987. They represent the New Artists’ nine “core” members and show a unique cross-section of their multifaceted work. The paintings and objects, of which many are not documented otherwise, span the period from1982 to 1987.
Comparing pictures and paper copies, I was primarily interested in establishing the number of works per artist to find out about priorities given to their works. Thus, this part of the study deals with data and statistics. Questions of individual styles play a role only when they touch upon a problem manifesting itself once more during my research – the problem of unreliable attribution of works.
This kind of quantitative research allows comparing the 1987 distribution of selected works with that from 1988, when the exhibition finally opened. It leads to a surprising conclusion. Although the total number of artworks is almost the same – approximately eighty works – only six of the works appear in both lists. The “new arrivals” from the extended line-up of artists (from nine up to seventeen) account for eight works and cannot explain these fundamental changes. In the concluding chapter, some possible reasons are given for these changes: Apparently, the combination of meticulous Swedish organisation, incalculable Soviet bureaucracy and the artists’ gift to improvise in any situation led to some unpredicted results.
Hannelore Fobo, Berlin, 23 February 2022.