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      Leningrad 80s >>

Da Da Majakowski

Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam, 25 March – 8 April 1988

Invitation card and press release

For the team of the Dionysus Gallery, who were themselves not familiar with the Leningrad artists or their works, to promote their colleagues from Leningrad meant to rely on whatever information was available to them and to somehow try to connect it with the paintings they received.

In essence, we can speak of two important sources of information. On the one hand, there were the personal accounts of the “Nieuwe Weelde” editors, and on the other hand, there was the written information of the London typescript catalogue.

Although the gallery archive has kept only one of the pages of the London typescript catalogue – Paul Easton’s contribution – its role becomes clear when we look at the Rotterdam invitation card, the press release and the press reviews. 

Reverse side of the invitation card for Da Da Majakowski, Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam, 25 March – 8 April 1988 On the right is a list of names adopted from the London catalogue.
Reverse side of the invitation card for Da Da Majakowski, Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam, 25 March – 8 April 1988
On the right is a list of names adopted from the London catalogue.

The relevant texts from the London catalogue were Timur Novikov’s contributions: an abridged version of his “New Artists” text from 1986 and his artists’ biographies.

From these artists’ biographies, the Rotterdam line-up was compiled and printed on the reverse of the invitation card, using the same spelling of artists’ names as the London catalogue – including a typing error, Ovtchinokov for Ovchinnikov. Likewise, Guryanov was again presented with his nickname “Gustav” in the place of his first name Georgy. (E-E Kozlov immortalised “Gustav” in his series of painted collages “Good Evening Gustav” from 1984 more >>.) We can therefore say that the London and the Rotterdam line-ups are identical – with the exception that Kozlov’s name was no longer included in the Rotterdam list, as mentioned above. The sequence of names is also different.

Thus, the Rotterdam (invitation card) line-up displays eleven names in the following order:

    Timur Novikov, Vadim Ovtchinokov, Sergei Bugaev, Inal Savtchenkov, Gustav Guryanov, Andrei Khlobystin, Igor Potapov, Ivan Sotnikov, Irena Kuksenaite, Andrei Krisanov, Oleg Kotelnikov.

Ksenia Novikov’s Chronicle entry of Da Da Mayakovski sticks to the order of names printed on the invitation card, adding some minor corrections and changes: Ovchinnikov (for Ovtchinokov), Georgy Guryanov (for Gustav Guryanov) and Sergei “Afrika” Bugaev (for Sergei Bugaev).

The Dionysus Gallery press release from 15 March 1988 consists of a one-page statement announcing Da DA Majakowski for the period from 20 March to 8 April 1988 as an exhibition of eleven artists from Leningrad organised by “Nieuwe Weelde”. The press release informs us about other material enclosed: an invitation card for the official opening on 25 March, a list of artists, and a text by Timur Novikov. The press release does not specifically mention the biographies of artists, but they are mentioned in a press review. We also recognise in several press reviews quotes from Timur Novikov’s “New Artists” text printed in the London catalogue – an abridged version of Novikov’s “New Artists” text from 1986 translated into English, unfortunately containing some misinterpretations. I will come back to this point in the chapter dedicated to the press reviews.

The press release presents the exhibition as a unique chance to see works of artists who are not allowed to show their works abroad. The works are said to have been “smuggled across the border” and then “brought from London to Rotterdam by two of the eleven editors [of “Nieuwe Weelde”] in a cloak-and-dagger operation“ before going to New York.

The groups’ name “The New Artists” doesn’t appear in the press release; instead, we learn that during a visit to Leningrad, the “Nieuwe Weelde” met Timur Novikov, the president of a group of artists called “Friends of Mayakovsky” (“Vrienden van Majakowski”). The title "president" is a slight error. While Novikov was indeed the leader of the New Artists, the president of the Club of Friends of V. V. Mayakovsky was Sergei Bugaev, and Novikov was his deputy.

From there it follows that pages one and two of the London catalogue – the Russian / English introduction to the exhibition signed by Sergei Bugaev (Afrika) as Chairman of the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky and also by Timur Novikov as deputy chairman in the Russian version more >> – were not relevant for the Rotterdam press release (or perhaps the London catalogue came to Rotterdam without these two pages).   

This omission had a double effect. One result is that we read Timur Novikov’s name twice in the Da DA Majakowski press release; at the same time, his is the only artist name we are given. Novikov’s prominence in the text, together with the fact that his works were signed (with one exception, probably), made him the exhibition's central figure in the press, although a number of other works were also discussed, and some of them in detail, but, obviously, as works by anonymous painters.  

The second point is that with regard to the London press reviews, there is now an important shift in the argument why most paintings were not signed. In the London catalogue, Bugaev (and Novikov, to those reading Russian) explained the viewer that “the numerous joint works allow us to present a unified exhibition, without the need to divide the work according to the artist. This is a COLLECTIVE exhibition.” This argument was taken up by all three London press reviews, for instance by Time Out “Collectively presented without individual artist’s names attached…” more >>. In the Rotterdam press reviews, however, the lack of nametags is clearly associated with the smuggling, that is, with some degree of “forbiddenness” of the works or of their authors; NRC Handelsblad even called them “dissident artists”. See page 6: Press reviews – summary >>

Besides, neither the “collective” nor the “forbidden” argument look particularly convincing when we consider that at least eight exhibits carried individual signatures: those by Timur Novikov, Andrey Khlobystin and some mystical “GUB” (see discussion of paintings no. 8 and no.9 in the London exhibition. Addendum January 2022: this work is attributed to Sergei Bugaev in Sara Åkerren's private archive). With respect to the other works, it isn't even clear whether they were signed on the reverse. If they weren't, there could have been multiple other reasons to explain the lack of a signature, for instance that some artists never or hardly ever signed their works, or that they enjoyed the pleasure of deliberately misleading the viewer. Or, quite simply, the fact that an exhibition of unsigned works allowed Novikov and Bugaev to extend the list of participating artists at will, providing their friends with an exhibition biography.

Da Da Majakowski, press release, 15 March 1988, Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam.
Da Da Majakowski press release, 15 March 1988, Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam.

Uploaded 12 November 2020
Last updated 26 January 2022