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      (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov: exhibitions >> • Leningrad 80s >>

Kulturhuset's New Artists project 1987-1988

De Nya från Leningrad / The New from Leningrad,
Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 27 August – 25 September 1988

Synopsis and Introduction

Part One: Outlining the festival project

Chapter 1. The four phases of the Kulturhuset festival project

Chapter 2. Stockholm’s invitation of Leningrad artists and musicians

Chapter 3. The correspondence between Kulturhuset and the Swedish Consulate, Leningrad, April-September 1987

Part Two: Photo documentation and selection of artworks

Chapter 4. Photo copies with selected works (1987)

Chapter 5. Colour pictures in Sara Åkerrén’s photo album

Chapter 6. Kulturhuset archive colour pictures

Chapter 7. Catalogue reproductions

Chapter 8. Table of works per artist, 1987 and 1988

Chapter 9. Concluding remarks

Exhibtion views, Kulturhuset, 1988

Text and research: Hannelore Fobo, January / February 2022

Chapter 3. The correspondence between Kulturhuset and the Swedish Consulate, Leningrad, April-September 1987

Setting up the exhibition to officially present it to the Soviet authorities was a laborious process. The difficulties get clearer when looking at the correspondence between the Kulturhuset and the Swedish Consulate, Leningrad. Copies of four letters and a memorandum, written between 27 April and 7 September 1987, are in Sara Åkerrén’s private archive.

The first and last letters are by Sissi Nilsson, Kulturhuset. The other two and the memorandum are by Björn Lyrvall, vice-consul at the Swedish Consulate until August 1987, when Magnus Dahnberg took over Lyrvall’s position and continued working on the exhibition project.

The following is a synopsis of the correspondence. A specific aspect of the correspondence, the selection of paintings, is discussed in more detail in the next chapters.

In her letter from 27 April 1987, Sissi Nilsson writes that Fredrik Vogel, formerly working at the Kulturhuset, presented the staff of the Kulturhuset with a photo-documentation of Leningrad artists he had taken in the spring of 1986. It stirred their interest that these artists and musicians were working in different media – painting, music, theatre, poetry, and performances. The staff of the Kulturhuset decided to organise an exhibition, “based primarily on visual art but preferably, if possible, with elements of music and performances by poets and writers.” The letter mentions the names of Sergei Bugaev, Timur Novikov, Sasha Titov, 0leg Kotelnikov and multimedia groups: Popular Mechanics, Kino and Aquarium, but Nilsson planned to extend the list. In his reply to Sissi Nilsson, Björn Lyrvall tells her that he knows these young people, as well as some others, and suggests a visit to Leningrad to meet with them personally.

The next document is Björn Lyrvall’s memorandum of the three-day visit of Sissi Nilsson, Fredrik Vogel and Tine Pringel to Leningrad at the end of May 1987. At that moment, Magnus Dahnberg from the Swedish Consulate was already involved in the project, which he would take over from Lyrvall some time later. The delegation (in the presence of Lyrvall and Dahnberg) meets with Sergei Kuryokhin and his wife Nastia, Kuryokhin is asked to compile a list of 15-20 persons making up a cultural delegation to Stockholm. Together with artists Misha Taratuta and Vladislav Gutsevich, the delegation and consulate members visit a New Artists exhibition at the Kolisei Movie Theatre and the TEII exhibition at the Leningrad Youth Palace [The Tenth TEII exhibition, 20 May–17 June, with several New Artists participating: Kotelnikov, Maslov, Ovchinnikov, Sotnikov, Taratuta, Yufit. See also Chapter 6, footnote 2 >>]. The delegation also visits the studios of Vladislav Gutsevich, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, and Oleg Kotelnikov.

The exhibition is planned for autumn 1987, alternatively spring 1988, and an action plan is discussed with Kuryokhin, Novikov, Bugaev and Taratuta, who thus became spokesmen for the rest of the group. Kuryokhin represented the musical section, and since Taratuta soon left to Israel and withdrew from the project, Novikov and Bugaev represented visual art. The Kulturhuset archive has Bugaev’s address and telephone number copied on several sheets of paper. Obviously, at one point, Bugaev became the contact person for the Swedish side, perhaps because he, other than Novikov, spoke some English.

Further steps in the action plan comprise the collection of material, the design of the exhibition, as well as a list of artists and musicians to be invited. Letters to the Leningrad Cultural Board and the Ministry of Culture, it was agreed, should stress the importance of peace and friendship between peoples and highlight perestroika and Leningrad’s interesting cultural life. This very much corresponds to the content of the letter to the Ministry of Culture discussed in the previous chapter. Kuryokhin suggested to contact Sergei Likhachev, Leningrad-born director of the newly established Soviet Cultural Foundation and interested in young experimental culture. Whether the Soviet Cultural Foundation actually supported the project I cannot say, but as perestroika took momentum, it might no longer have been necessary.

It seems plausible that at least some of the pictures for the pre-selection of works were taken during the delegation’s visit of exhibitions and studios – I will return to that point later. Possibly, Fredrik Vogel’s photo-documentation from 1986 also played a role, while others were taken after the visit. In his letter to Nilsson from 20 Juli, 1987, Lyrvall writes “The artworks on the photocopies you sent have all been the identified.” But this was not the final selection. “You requested [works by] the artists Vadim Ovchinnikov and Inal Savchenkov. I also send you a few pictures I took myself in the (now vacated) House on Voinova Street [Novikov’s studio]. Here are a couple of works by Evgenij Kozlov and Ivan Sotnikov, respectively, I also think I can promise additional documentation later. I have several exposed films which have not yet been developed.” In fact, some pictures in the Xerox copies show Björn Lyrvall in Novikov’s studio next to artworks, among them one with Evgenij Kozlov’s paintings.

Upper part of Xerox copy with selected works by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov Left: Björn Lyrvall next to "Portrait of Guryanov" with a work on paper by Sergei Bugaev applied to it Right: A drawing by Inal Savchenkov next to Kozlov's "Timur on Horseback". Courtesy Kulturhuset archive

Upper part of Xerox copy with selected works by (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov
Left: Björn Lyrvall next to "Portrait of Guryanov" with a work on paper by Sergei Bugaev applied to it
Right: A drawing by Inal Savchenkov next to Kozlov's "Timur on Horseback".
Courtesy Kulturhuset archive

But the material was still insufficient. In her letter from 7 September 1987, addressed to Magnus Dahnberg, Sissi Nilsson asks for additional material. She writes that the Kulturhuset now intensifies its cooperation with the Swedish Institute which serves as an intermediary to other state institutions, but in order to present the project to such institutions (Culture Council, Ministry of Education), she needs more pictures of works by Kozlov, Savchenkov, Sotnikov and Gutsevich, and samples of Pop Mekhanika music. In Sara Åkerrén’s archive, the correspondence ends with this letter.

Returning once more to Lyrvall’s letter from 20 July 1987, three more aspects deserve a closer look.

The first concerns a monetary aspect of the exhibition: the Swedish side wanted to grant the artists the right to sell their works. Apparently, this problem had been discussed previously. According to Lyrvall, sales might be done with the help of what was commonly called “valuta gallery”, Moscow based Vsesojuznoje Chudozjestvenno-proizvodstvennoje objedinenije imeni E. V. Vucheticha, Всесоюзное художественно-производственное объединение им. Е.В. Вучетича»[1] This division of the Ministry of Culture edited certificates for antiques and icons so that they could be officially exported by a Soviet exportation company and sold for western currency. Lyrvall writes that Novikov discussed this point with the company’s scientific staff who were ready to help but “needed some kind of bank guarantee for the works to be released out to the West.”

The second aspect concerns the delay of the project, which, so it seems, was caused by the Kulturhuset. Lyrvall stresses the importance of acting fast: with the rapid increase of the New Artists’ popularity, others might take over the project:

    Despite a certain summer style regarding concerts and exhibitions, many of them have been busy in Moscow with film recordings and the film festival which just ended. It should also immediately be emphasized that during the weeks in Moscow, several American and English gallery owners interested in promoting the group approached Africa [Bugaev] and Timur. Although they both assure that they put an exhibition at Kulturhuset high on the list and do not at all intend to give all their work to the US, there may be good reasons to urgently proceed with the preparation of the manifestation.

Both aspects are interrelated, since an artist’s popularity pays in money and increases the monetary value of artworks. It is difficult to say whether the interest of American and English gallery owners effectively put the Swedish exhibition at risk, but Novikov and Bugaev surely knew how to trade their value as the perestroika artists.

The third aspect concerns the line-up of artists, more precisely, the question whether Vadim Ovchinnikov’s brother Alexander (Sasha) Ovchinnikov should be included in the project. Lyrvall writes that Vlad (Gutsevich) and Timur (Novikov) decided against it because Alexander Ovchinnikov had only just joined the group and “actually not done more than a couple paintings.”  Accordingly, Alexander could not yet be considered “a member of the Assa Group”. This comment proves that those artists involved in the project’s organisation had a clear idea of who were the group’s nine core members and should be presented in the first large-scale project in the West which, after all, might become the start for an international career.

[1] Всесоюзный художественно-производственный комбинат имени Е.В. Вучетича при Министерстве культуры СССР (ВХПК им. Е.В. Вучетича), Москва. Основан в 1966 году на базе Дирекции художественных выставок и панорам Комитета по делам искусства при Совете Министров СССР. В 1983 году переименован во Всесоюзное художественно-производственное объединение имени Е.В. Вучетича при Министерстве культуры СССР (ВХПО им. Е.В. Вучетича). С 1993 года – Акционерное общество открытого типа «Вуарт-ВХПО». http://www.britishprints.ru/glossary_provenance/combinat_e_v_vucheticha.html

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Uploaded 23 February 2022
Last updated 16 September 2023