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The New Artists and the Mayakovsky Friends Club (1986-1990)

Text: Hannelore Fobo, 2021
Chapter 19. Concluding remarks
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Chapter 19. Concluding remarks

A comparative analysis of documents A to I has shown that Timur Novikov and his friends were ready to meet the challenges of bureaucratism, but only to a certain degree. After a promising start with the Vodokanal Club, the Mayakovsky Friends Club, it appears, was never fully established as a legal entity. The example of the Nch-Vch Club demonstrates that this aim could be attained in principle and that premises could indeed be obtained to organise club activities.

But not everyone is a Oleg Sumarokov, and the New Artists soon returned to the concept which was dear to them – to "preserve their informality and save themselves from inevitable bureaucratism and official obligations", as Novikov wrote in his 1986 text. To my knowledge, there are no administrative documents concerning the Mayakovsky Friends Club after 1987, and besides, the same goes for the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity. It is therefore plausible that the formalisation process of of both associations, set up by Novikov, Gutsevich and some others, was abandoned by the end of 1987.

It is instructive that practically none of the activites listed by Novikov in his club report for the first year (dated 5 October 1987) was perceived as a genuine club activity in the New Artists’ chronicle. [1] Novikov’s strategy of a "second utilisation" of New Artists activities for the Mayakovsky Friends Club made sense in view of the requirements for registering the Club, but left no traces on the Club’s biography. In retrospective, Ksenia Novikova referred to them either as New Artists activities or simply added names of individual New artists.

But if the concept of the Mayakovsky Friends Club as a registered club was abandoned, this didn‘t mean that its name also was abandoned. The name was, in a manner of speaking, the fruit and legacy of joint efforts and continued existing as a label for a virtual organisation.

Paradoxically, as a virtual organisation, the Mayakovsky Friends Club now had some real exhibitions that carried its name. It might be called a “real” virtual organisation, because it is very likely that none of its real or virtual members, with the exception of Bugaev and Novikov, knew of its factual legal status – or even cared about it, for that matter.

Looking at the virtual Mayakovsky Friends Club’s real history after 1987 – for the period from 1988 to 1990 – brings us back to the question asked in the introduction. Were the club's exhibitions and events functionally independent of the New Artists? Or were they New Artists events, with the Mayakovsky Friends Club as a label?

In the introduction, I proposed to look at this question from three points of view: membership, relevance or hierarchy, and practise. Since both associations refer to the same members and were mutualy subordinated to each other – which speaks for a common identity – the focus shifted to the third point. Were there any Mayakovsky Friends Club’s activities between 1988 and 1990 in line with its proper profile defined in 1986? It would allow us to consider the club as functionally independent at least to some degree.

It is possible to say that once the club was no longer tied to formal obligations after 1987, it makes no sense to apply such a restrictive view for a later period and to tie the club to its past. As a matter of fact, the very last event, the Mayakovsky Club Party from 1990, which was definitely not a New Artists group activity, had nothing to do with the original concept of the Mayakovsky Friends Club either.

The reason I nevertheless support a narrow defintion for the entire lifespan of the Mayakovsky Friends Club and not only for its early period is simple. Novikov and Bugaev themselves maintained the fiction of a specific Mayakovsky Friends Club’s profile after 1987, keeping their now virtual positions of chairman (Bugaev), deputy chairman (Novikov) and head of the visual art section (Novikov). With it, the virtual visual art section with New Artists as members also carried on. This could be shown for a number of European exhibitions from 1988 and 1989.

Novikov's documents from 1986 therefore serve as the basis for a narrow definition of the club’s profile: his working plan for the club’s first year (Chapter 10) and the fragment from his text stating “The ‘New Artists’ formed the Club of Friends of V. V. Mayakovsky with the purpose of strengthening and developing a patriotic, innovative tradition”.

Between 1988 and 1990, there are four exhibitions related to Mayakovsky’s name in one way or another – the exhibition commemorating Mayakovsky’s 95th birthday at the Nch-Vch, Leningrad (1988), DaDa Majakowski, Dionysus Gallery, Rotterdam (1988), The First North American Exhibition of the Friends of Mayakovsky Club New York (1989) and The Friends of Mayakovsky Club Leningrad USSR, Exhibtion II, New York, 1990.

Applying the narrow definition to these exhibitions, two exhibtions stand out as not being in line Mayakovsky Friends Club’s profile: the Rotterdam exhibition and the first New York exhibition. Both were part of “travelling” exhibitions recomposed for each new venue to larger or lesser degrees, with inflows and outflows of works between London – Rotterdam – Stockholm – Liverpool – New York (and possibly some other places, too), with different labels for succeeding exhibitions, of which some, for one reason or another, bore Mayakovsky’s name. One reason or another means that sometimes, either Timur Novikov or Sergei Bugaev throught it appropriate to use or were successful in launching Mayakovsky‘s name, especially in connection with their already defunct offices as Cchairman etc.

Among the remaining two exhibitions, I would consider the one at the Nch-Vch Club in the summer of 1988. as a real Mayakovsky Friends Club exhibition in that it fulfilled the “purpose of strengthening and developing a patriotic, innovative tradition” – but most importantly because participants gathered and chose their work according the motto of the exhibition. In other words, the exhibition is the result of a collective activity, which the term “club” stands for. At least, this is what the exhibition views suggest: artists standing in front of their paintings. Although a restriction must be made concerning Kozlov’s constructivist work "Star” from 1987. Kozlov himself is not in the picture taken at the NChVCh. His painting was at the New Artists exhibition at the Sverdlov House of Culture in April 1988 more>>, and, possibly, Novikov stored "Star” at his own or at Bugaev‘s place after the April exhibition and selected it for Mayakovsky Memorial Exhibition himself.[2]

Exhibition of the New Artists (aka "Mayakovsky Friends Club”) at the NCh-VCh, Leningrad, summer of 1988. From left to right: Oleg Maslov, Ágnes F. Horváth, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, Ivan Sotnikov, and Inal Savchenkov. The picture displays paintings by Ivan Sotnikov (fragment on the left wall), (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov ("Star", centre), Igor Smirnov (Sten) (right, portrait of Mayakovsky) and Oleg Maslov (stencilled posters bottom right). more >> Picture courtesy Ágnes F. Horváth.
Exhibition of the New Artists (aka "Mayakovsky Friends Club”) at the NCh-VCh, Leningrad, summer of 1988.
From left to right: Oleg Maslov, Ágnes F. Horváth, Timur Novikov, Sergei Bugaev, Ivan Sotnikov, and Inal Savchenkov.
The picture displays paintings by Ivan Sotnikov (fragment on the left wall), (E-E) Evgenij Kozlov ("Star", centre), Igor Smirnov (Sten) (right, portrait of Mayakovsky) and Oleg Maslov (stencilled posters bottom right). more >>
Picture courtesy Ágnes F. Horváth.

Regarding The Friends of Mayakovsky Club Leningrad USSR, Exhibtion II, New York, 1990, a slightly more generous defintion allows us to include it, too, since it maintained the conceptional approach. The difference between the 1988 NchVch exhibition on the one hand and the 1990 New York exhibition on the other hand is that the former was organised by club members, while the latter was presenting club members. Besides, this is another reason why I wouldn't say that the Mayakovsky Friends Club absorbed the New Artists: with the 1990 exhibition, what had been an artists’ club activity, at least in principle – setting up the exhibtions – was transferred to a gallerist. Division of labour was a natural consequence of artists entering the world of art business.

In this way, a narrow definition of the Mayakovsky Friends Club's activities excludes all but two (or one and a half) exhibitions and assigns the other ones to the New Artists instead. Paradoxically, the 1988 exhibition at the Nch-Vch, the one exhibition I suggest to consider as the strongest proof for the club’s functional independence from the New Artists, is listed as an exhibition by The New in the chronicle.

Ultimately, the problem of defining the Mayakovsky Friends Club as either a label attached to activities of some other entity or as an entity launching itis own activities transitions into another discusion – the discussion of nominalism versus realism. Does naming lend existence (realism) or is naming nothing but a reference to a mental entity that exists only in thought (nominalism)?

As I see it, Novikov understood naming as a declarative speech act that lends thought existence, very much in the way writer and literary critic Dmitry Bykov described Russian logocentrism (in his broadcast for Echo of Moscow, 30 July 2021):

    Вы знаете, назвать сегодняшнюю Россию литературоцентричной было бы всё-таки некоторым преувеличением. Она логоцентричная — это да, словоцентричная. Конечно, мы по-прежнему считаем, что если слово сказано, то уже как бы и дело сделано. External link>>

    You know, to call today's Russia literary-centric would somewhat exaggerated. It is logocentric – yes, it is word-centric. Of course, we have always believed that if the word is said, then the deed is already done.  

Here, I would add “the deed was done somehow”: the foundation of the Mayakovsky Friends Club was laid upon which the myth could be built. Like the New Artists as a group, but to a higher degree, the Mayakovsky Friends Club maintained an uncertainty principle which, as in physics, confronts the researcher with a fundamental limit of accuracy in determining "what there is and where it is" – that is, in determining its position and momentum. My approach has been to follow a path of logics guided by the Mayakovsky Friends Club’s foundation principles. It has shrunk the number "real” Mayakovsky Friends Club to one or two – which are still enough to speak of its real, not thought existence, however vague and undetermined.

Because of the uncertainty principle, other lists of Mayakovsky Friends Club activities are also possible. Thus, Andrey Khlobystin includes – besides the NCh-VCh exhibition and both New York exhibtions – an exhibition at the Russian Museum curated by Ekaterina Andreeva and Olesia Turkina. (Klobystin, Schizorevolution, pp. 113-114). The chronicle list this exhbition without reference to the Mayakovsky Friends Club as a "Non-public exhibition for the employees of the State Russian Museum and guests with works by the New Artists, the Necrorealists, the Mitki” (New Artists, chronicle, p. 280). To call it a Mayakovsky Friends Club exhibition means that the Necrorealists, the Mitki were also club members.

Obviously, for Khlobystin, himself a club member and participant of the two New York exhibitions, there can be no doubt that where there is a name and where there are members there is existence, whereas I myself ask for some additional facts, as I‘m less inclinded to believe in the power of naming. But this might be exactly the difference between a view from outside the club‘s existence (mine) and a view from inside club‘s existence (his).

Having said this, a view from the outside isn‘t necessarily more critical. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion I‘ve drawn from my research about The New Artists and the Mayakovsky Friends Club is how easy it was to impress the Western art world with statements about patriotic art and collective identities, about chairmen and deputy chairmen and groups and their sections. Judging by the press reviews of the London and Rotterdam exhibitions, it all seems to have been taken at face value. Unaware of the context, the West missed the playfulness and irony of this imaginary world. It didn't understand that this game of names became part of an art project – and converted its uncertainty principle into accurate statements about the Mayakovsky Friends Club.

But of course, the artists are not to blame, because art is all about appearance, not about the truth.

Hannelore Fobo, 17 August 2021

[1] The performance “Out, Moonshine”, which was in fact a genuine club event, does not appear in the chronicle either.

[2] Shortly afterwards, in August 1988, Bugaev and Novikov took the exhibits for "The New from Lenngrad” to Stockholm, among them "Star” which, like some others, was declared as Pop-Mekhanika backdrop.

Synopsis and Introduction

Chаpter 1. Soviet Clubs and Houses of Culture

Chapter 2. Chapter 2. Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky

Chapter 3: Source material and references

Chapter 4. Index of documents 1986-1987

Chapter 5. Document A. Charter of the New Creative Association

Chapter 6. Document B. Application by the New Creative Association, 4. 8. 1986

Chapter 7. Document C. Application by the New Creative Association, 5. 8. 1986

Chapter 8. Document D. Front page of the Mayakovsky Friends Club charter, 3. 9. 1986

Chapter 9. Document E. Registration card for young associations

Chapter 10. Document F. Mayakovsky Friends Club. Working plan for 1986-1987

Chapter 11. Document G. Mayakovsky Friends Club. Invitation card, 21. 12. 1986

Chapter 12. Document H. Mayakovsky Friends Club. Report about the first year (Sept.86-Sep. 87)

Chapter 13. The Report about the first year and corresponding New Artists chronicle entries

Chapter 14. Document I. Mayakovsky Friends Club. Application to the Main Department of Culture 1987

Chapter 15. The Nch-Vch Club

Chapter 16. The Mayakovsky Friends Club Party 1990

Chapter 17. The Mayakovsky Friends Club in Europe, 1988-1989

Chapter 18. The Mayakovsky Friends Club in the USA, 1989-1990

Chapter 19. Concluding remarks

Research / text / layout: Hannelore Fobo, March 2020 / August 2021

Uploaded 17 August 2021
Last updated 23 September 2021