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|The New Artists and the Mayakovsky Friends Club, 1986-1990
Text: Hannelore Fobo, 2021
Synopsis and Introduction
next page: Chаpter 1. Soviet Clubs and Houses of Culture
Andrey Khlobystin, artist and art-historian, Saint Petersburg, 17 August 2021.
In 1986, Timur Novikov and his friends set up the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky (Клуб друзей В. В Маяковского / Klub druzei V.V. Mayakovskogo 1986-1990) as the administrative branch of the New Artists (Новые художники / Novye Khudozhniki, 1982-1989), and from late 1986 to 1989, the same artist names appear in both groups. This raises the question of whether these groups were identical or functionally different with respect to their activities. It is a question I answered in favour of a functional identity in Timur Novikov’s New Artists List, an article from 2018 which was essentially an attempt to define the New Artists’ lifespan, biography, and line-up more >>.
In the following years, I analysed several New Artists exhibitions from 1988 and 1989, where, it appeared, the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky – or Mayakovsky Friends Club, in short – and the New Artists promoted each other reciprocally as members of their respective group. I therefore decided to return to the question of their functional identity. In a first step, I scrutinised those formal documents that exist for the first year of the club’s existence (1986-1987), as well as related documents and official applications from the same period, in order to define what may be regarded as the Mayakovsky Friends Club‘s function. In a second step, I juxtaposed these documents with Mayakovsky Friends Club activities from the years 1988 to 1990. It has led me to the conclusion that there exists a functional difference between both groups, though to a very limited extent. This approach also helps to understand in which way – and to what degree – their mutual “membership” was the result of new Soviet bureaucratic practises introduced in 1986 which lifted certain restrictions applying to self-organised groups and gave Novikov the possiblity to juggle names.
Introduction. The New Artists – Members of the Club of Friends of V. V. Mayakovsky?
Timur Novikov established the Mayakovsky Friends Club in September 1986 on the basis of the new “Law on amateur associations and interest clubs” from 13 May 1986  and registered it with the Vodokanal Club, the Youth Centre of the Dzerzhinsky District, Leningrad’s busy quarter north of its main avenue Nevsky Prospekt (Молодежный центр Джерзинского района, клуб “Водоканал” / Molodezhnii Tsentr Dzerzinskogo raiona, klub “Vodokanal”). At that time, the New Artists had already consolidated as a group of avant-garde artists through a number of collective actions – in the main exhibitions and public as well as private performances. Not long after, towards the end of 1986, Timur Novikov wrote a text under his pseudonym "Igor Potapov":
With this explanatory statement, Novikov defined the purpose of the Mayakovsky Friends Club as “strengthening and developing a patriotic, innovative tradition”. Although I agree with Novikov that the Russian and Soviet avant-garde did play a role for the New Artists, I do not find this "back to the roots” argument convincing. The heterogenicity of individual stylistic approaches is manifest throughout the New Artists’ lifespan, and the year 1986 marks no “unifying” turning point.
This does not mean that Mayakovsky‘s name was chosen arbitrarily. In chapter 2, I explain why the label Mayakovsky Friends Club was definitely attractive. However, in the absence of a synchronistic development of the group’s artistic production, whether patriotic or innovative, another purpose seems more likely. Judging by the Club’s registration card for young associations (Учетная карточка молодежного объединения, Chapter 9. Document E.), obtaining permanent premises for the New Artists’ activities was of primary importance for registering a new group: in the line “наличие помещения / потребности (availiblity of premises / requirements)” we read “отдельное помещение для постoянной работы (separate premises for permanent work)”. The same argument reappears a year later, when Novikov again addressed the Main Department of Culture to complain about the absence of premises for his group, more specifically – the “New Artists creative group of the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky”.
Concerning the reason for the Mayakovsky Friends Club foundation, I will therefore not pursue Novikov's “patriotic” line of argumentation, but I will consider it as a cause for choosing its very name (Chapter 2). Yet what has interested me more are the formal – organisational – aspects of the existence of two parallel groups. The Mayakovsky Friends Club was set up as an art group with its own profile, going beyond the activities of the New Artists, who, according to Novikov’ report about the first year, formed just one of seven sections. But was this more than just a bold claim? Were the Mayakovsky Friends Club and the New Artists really functionally different goups? Or was the real, not virtual Mayakovsky Friends Club just another name for the New Artists – its perestroika look-alike?
The question of functionally different goups can be considered under three aspects:
— Membership. Do the groups have the same members? If so, this speaks in favour of their functional identity.
— Relevance. Are they hierarchically subordinated to each other? If so, this speaks in favour of their functional identity.
— Practise. Are the groups pursuing different aims? If so, this speaks in favour of their functional difference.
In the introduction, I argue that the answer to the first question is yes, and that the answer to the second question is also yes, although it is yes in a rather paradoxical way. This shifts the focus of the research to the third question, discussed in Chapter 13 with Novikov’s Mayakovsky Friends Club report for the first year, and in Chapters 15 to 18, the years from 1988-1990 when, in all likelihood, the Mayakovsky Friends Club had ceased to accomplish the process of registering as an association and had thus liberated itself from any formal obligations.
The first and second aspects – membership and relevance / hierarchy – actually need to be examined together, as they are often interrelated. The confusion is indeed quite remarkable, especially when it comes to exhibitions in the West, which started in 1988. At these exhibitions, the New Artists were sometimes presented as Members of the Club of Friends of V. V. Mayakovsky (London and Rotterdam 1988, and Liverpool 1989), but also simply as New Artists (Stockholm 1988). Regarding the Rotterdam exhibition, we even read a statement that mixes up everything: “The Friends of Mayakovsky founded the New Artists in 1982” (Leidsch Dagblatt) more >>.
On the face of it, the use of one name or another appears to be a random choice, as both groups had a more or less identical line-up of artists – that is, if we rely on two lists by Novikov and Khlobystin, respectively.
The New Artists emerged around 1982, and in September 1986, their number had considerably increased, from about five to fifteen or so. In a short text from 1987 entitled Новые художники (New Artists), Timur Novikov listed the following sixteen names: S. Bugaev, T. Novikov, V Ovchinnikov, V. Gutsevich, E. Kozlov, I. Savchenko [sic], O. Kotelnikov, A. Ovchinnikov, O. Maslov, A. Kozin, Yu. Krasev, K. Khazanovich, E. Yufit, M. Taratuta, E. Kondratev, I. Sotnikov more >>.
We a find similar line-up of artists belonging to the Mayakovsky Friends Club on page 114 of Andrey Khlobystin’s book Schizorevolution  Khlobystin’s list includes “S. Bugaev, G. Guryanov, V. Gutsevich, O. Zaika, A. Kozin, E. Kozlov O. Kotelnikov, S. Kuryokhin, O. Maslov, A. Medvedev, A. Myertvy, T. Novikov, Vad. Ovchinnikov, I. Savchenkov, A. Ovchinnikov, I. Sotnikov, A. Khlobystin, E. Yufit, and others”.
Khlobystin compiled his list on the basis of Mayakovsky Friends Club exhibitions (private talk in May 2020, see Chapter 19 for exhibitions). In other words, he followed an approach to membership that holds for informal groups, like that of the New Artists: membership is not a question of a legal status, but of joint activities.
Strictly speaking, membership in a registered association demands some kind of formal procedure. The registration card for young associations indicates 32 members (Chapter 9. Document E), but it is just a figure without any reference to names. Apparently, no document or official list exists for the Mayakovsky Friends Club that could give proof of registered members – contrary to the second association Novikov registered simultaneously with the Vodokanal Club, the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity more >>.  Paradoxically, it was the Mayakovsky Friends Club that acquired some relevance as a label for exhibitions and other events, and not the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity, although Novikov sometimes included Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity in his “mutual membership” mentions, too, for instance in the New Artists exhibition at the DK Sverdlov in April 1988 (see below).
The differences between Novikov’s New Artists list and Khlobystin’s Mayakovsky Friends Club list are minimal, and such differences get even smaller when taking into consideration other lists or mentions. Yury Krasev, for instance, who is not in Khlobystin’s line-up, is nevertheless mentioned in the Mayakovsky Friends Club working plan for 1986-1987 (Chapter 10. Document F), and he is called a Mayakovsky Friends Club council member in Ksenia Novikova‘s New Artists chronicle (New Artists catalogue, MMOMA, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2012, p. 1274). If the Mayakovsky Friends Club was indeed more than a virtual organisation, then the New Artists effectively made up all of its seven sections, and not just the visual art section.
Thus, if the two groups have the same members, does it follow from here that the groups as such also are identical?
This assumption may be rejected on formal grounds: the Mayakovsky Friends Club started the process of registering as an association of artists with the local authorities and thus acquired a hierarchical structure, with a chairman (Sergei Bugaev) and a deputy chairman (Timur Novikov), while the New Artists remained an informal group, with no other definition of membership than participation in joint projects or exhibitions – although, as shown above, Andrey Khlobystin pursued such an intuitive approach to membership for the Mayakovsky Friends Club, too.
Another argument speaking in favour of separate groups seems more important: when registering unofficial artists as a group finally became possible in 1986, Novikov decided to register not the New Artists, as one might have expected, but an organisation without a history: the Mayakovsky Friends Club. This sets the two groups apart.
I nevertheless argued against such a formal division earlier. In the first chapter of my article from 2018, Timur Novikov’s New Artists List, I considered the creation of new groups as part of Novikov’s game mocking Soviet institutions:
Although perhaps not everyone feels exhausted by the abundance of names and activities, the idea of Novikov mocking reality for the sake of art has important supporters. Art historian Ekaterina Andreeva, a friend of Novikov’s and probably the person who knows his work best, summons Timur Novikov’s view on art and the role of the artist: “Its nature itself is paradoxical, and the artist is the master of paradox, a glass beads player under the OBERIU’s ‘star of nonsense’ ” (Timur, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2013, p. 29), “the long list of simulations of artistic practise”. (Ibid., p. 55)
Mark Lipovetsky’s description of “antistructural elements” introduced to Soviet culture by a trickster could also apply to Novikov (and even more so to Sergey Kuryokhin). In Lipovetsky‘s book “Charms of the Cynical Reason: The Trickster's Transformation in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture” (Boston, 2011, p. 31) we read:
In this context, it is quite interesting to have a look at (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov‘s iconic “Portrait of Timur Novikov with Arms consisting of Bones “ from 1988, which reflects both the serious and the “trickster” aspects of Novikov’s personality.
The following example of Novikov’s inventiveness is from a Leningrad exhibition from April 1988, the first official exhibition that announced the New Artists with their very group name printed on a poster and booklet: “Новые художники” (Novye Khudozhniki / The New Artists). This show also presented Timur Novikov‘s typewritten “New Artists” exhibition text, where Novikov, after describing the New Artists’ activities, writes in his typical paradoxical manner:
Participants in the exhibition are members of the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity, the Club NCH-VCH, The Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky, and the Rock Club. more >>
Here, Novikov argues that members of four different clubs, one of these four being the Mayakovsky Friends Club, form the New Artists. (As mentioned above, the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity is another one of Novikov's creations.) In this way, Novikov turned the New Artists into a sort of superstructure for other organisations. This is exactly the opposite position of the London, Rotterdam, and Liverpool exhibitions, which presented the New Artists as members of the Mayakovsky Friends Club, that is, as a section of the Mayakovsky Friends Club.
The term “members of” implies a hierarchical structure. This alone would be enough to imply partial identity, like of that of a subset with a set (remember that A is a subset of a set B if all elements of A are also elements of B). But here, groups are subordinated to each other mutually – the older group to the younger in the case of the London, Rotterdam and Liverpool, but also the younger group to the older in the case of the Leningrad exhibition.
Therefore, if A is a member of B (in London, Rotterdam, and Liverpool), and B is a member of A (in Leningrad) – shouldn’t we conclude that A=B, in other words, that the groups are identical and therefore cannot be functionally different?
But to arrive at such a conclusion, one still needs to know how, and if possible, why, the new label Mayakovsky Friends Club started competing with the older New Artists label. The last exhibtion of the New Artists took place in 1989, while the last Mayakovsky Friends Club activites happened in 1990. Were the New Artists perhaps ultimately absorbed by the Mayakovsky Friends Club?
Both membership and hierarchy speak in favour of a single functional identiy of both groups. At this point, it is the third aspect remains to be examined, that of the groups‘ practises and activities.
Studying the emergence of the Mayakovsky Friends Club and listing exhibitions and other events for both groups should help determine what accounted for the choice of one label or the other – and whether the choice reflects any “patriotic, innovative tradition”. If it doesn’t, there must indeed be just one group given different names at different times – the New Artists.
 Положение о любительском объединении, клубе по интересам: Утв. 13.05.1986 г.; № 05/15-38 // Культурно-просветительная работа. – 1986. – № 8. – С. 26-28.
The Russian text is on Timur Novikov's website External link >>
«Новые художники» открыли клуб друзей В.В.Маяковского - организацию, призванную укреплять и развивать отечественные новаторские традиции. Этот клуб создан при Дзержинском районном молодежном центре. В него входят почти все новые художники, новые композиторы, деятели нового театра и кино, некоторые рок-музыканты, искусствоведы, коллекционеры.
An alternative translation for the first sentence is The New Artists opened the V.V. Mayakovsky Friends Club, an organization designed to strengthen and cultivate domestic innovative traditions.” In: Novye Khudozhniki [Новые художники] / The New Artists, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, edited by Ekaterina Andreeva and Nelly Podgorskaya. Moscow: Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2012, p. 29
Concerning the translation of отечественные новаторские традиции see also my article from 2020 The New Artists. Timur Novikov: Roots – E-E Kozlov: Cosmos. Chapter 1. Timur Novikov: native roots and western influences more >>
 “7 Artists from Leningrad”, Young Unknowns Gallery, London, 2-27 February 1988 more >>
 Шизореволюция. Очерки петербургской культуры второй половины ХХ века (Schizorevolution. An Outline of Saint Petersburg’s Culture in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century, Borey Art Center, Saint Petersburg, 2017. See also Chapter 3.
Uploaded 17 August 2021