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The New Artists and the Mayakovsky Friends Club, 1986-1990

Text: Hannelore Fobo, 2021
Chapter 2. Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky
previous page: Chapter 1. Soviet Houses of Culture and Clubs
next page: Chapter 3: Source material and references
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Chapter 2. Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky

On 13 May 1986, at the beginning of perestroika, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet approved the “Law on amateur associations and interest clubs”. Its original title is “Положение о любительском объединении, клубе по интересам: Утв. 13.05.1986 г.; № 05/15-38 // Культурно-просветительная работа. – 1986. – № 8. – С. 26-28.” The law covered a large variety of interests, from sport, science, art, veteran clubs etc. “Interest clubs” could register with cultural and other institutions (if accepted). Such institutions were directly responsible for them and I suppose that they did not have to get permanent feedback from superior authorities.[1]

In other words, interest clubs were not fully autonomous in their decisions, but concerning “unofficial” artists – those lacking appropriate diplomas, a category which applied to most New artists – the Soviet system passed from an utterly restrictive system to a much more flexible system of self-organisation. Using those new opportunities, different groups of “underground” artists were hoping to get public support for their activities – in the first place a club room for meetings and exhibitions. The new law, however, did not abolish the discriminatory status of amateur artists, nor did it lift a number of restrictions applying to them, such as denying them the right to generate an income through their creative activities. In this and some other respects, professional artists were in a priviledged position.[2] Put differently, both of Novikov's clubs, the Mayakovsky Friends Club and the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity, confirmed the amateur status of its members, although the name Mayakovsky Friends Club conceals this fact.

Lyubov Gurevich’s article “About the history of the emergence of the ‘Leningrad Gallery’ foundation” (К истории возникновения фонда «ленинградская галерея), printed in the TEII compilation 2007 [3], offers some information about the circumstances that led to the foundation of the Mayakovsky Friends Club .

Gurevich writes that in the summer of 1986, the Leningrad city administration made an open call to amateur associations, inviting them to join a new federation which would give them a legal status. This open call obviously followed the new “Law on amateur associations and interest clubs” mentioned above.

A public meeting was set at the café Vostok, and during this meeting, Novikov, hoping to receive premises for the New Artists, conceived of the V.V. Mayakovsky Friends Club and recorded its name in the list of applications.

Why then did Timur Novikov not register the New Artists and Friends, but the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky instead? According to Lyubov Gurevich, Novikov, during this very meeting at the café Vostok, tried to think of a proper name and, after having discussed the question with a member of the Komsomol, the Communist Youth Organisation, took a decision on the spot. [4]

Unfortunately, Gurevich doesn't tell the reader the exact date of the meeting. Around the same time, Novikov and Gutsevich also concieved of the New Creative Association (see Chapter 5. Document A, undated, and Chapter 6. Document B, dated 4. 8. 1984). Considering that the name doesn‘t reappear later, it is possible that Novikov spontaneously converted the New Creative Association into the Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky (although it is actually more plausible that New Creative Association was subsituted by the Club of the Appreciation of Amateur Creativity headed by Gutsevich).

Whatever the case, Vladimir Mayakovsky‘‘s name offered Novikov the possibility to combine the requirements of the official communist ideology with some glamour, [5] and to use this name looks like a conscious rather than a spontaneous decision.

In the Soviet Union, the great poet, who committed suicide in 1930, at the age of thirty-six, was an established representative of the Russian and Soviet avant-garde – with a functionally streamlined biography, reduced to a simple tale of a young Marxist and Futurist who dedicated his life to the Revolution and his art to the people. The main building of the Leningrad branch of the Writers' Union LO SP (ЛО СП, Ленинградское отделение Союза писателей СССР) was the “House of Writers named after V.V. Mayakovsky” (Дом писателя им. В. В. Маяковского), located in the former palace of Count Sheremetov, today Hotel Sheremetev Palace. According to the Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia, the Leningrad literary "underground" of the 1950s to 1980s existed aside from the LO SP and even despite it, since the LO SP carried out its activities under the strict control of the Communist Party and participated in the campaigns against Akhmatova, Zoshchenko and Brodsky. [6] In this way, Mayakovsky's name was drawn into major acts of politcal repression.

Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1915. Unknown photographer Wikipedia Public Domain

Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1915. Unknown photographer
Wikipedia Public Domain External link >>

But Mayakovsky also had the coolness of an urban dandy, plus there was his ménage à trois with Lily Brik, his lover, and Osip Brik, his editor, while his suicide turned him into a mystic figure. On top of that, Mayakovsky was a visual artist who designed some of the best-known early Soviet propaganda posters. Speaking for the New Artists, Evgenij Kozlov remembers (in a private talk, 2020): “Mayakovsky stood for style, urbanity and radical originality. His genius was primary and made a unique contribution to the world of art.”

For Georgy Guryanov, the artist and musician who contributed to Leningrad’s subculture with his impeccable taste, Vladimir Mayakovsky was the personification of stylishness. In an interview interview with Andrey Damer, Guryanov, who calls the club Club of Fans of Mayakovksy, (Клуб любителей Маяковского), refers to the famous movie “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, where “Friends of Italian Opera” is the name of an undercover meeting of the national crime syndicate. In the same way, Guryanov says, the Mayakovsky Friends Club was their cover.[7] 

In the absence of a contemporary Soviet David Bowie, V.V. Mayakovsky was a perfect choice for a label. Just as the official side “forgot” about Mayakovsky‘s anarchic personality, Mayakovsky‘s admirers choose to ignore his bizarre eulogies of “an ordinary little boy by the name of Lenin born in the solitude of Simbirsk”.[8] 

As a marketing brand, the components “Club”, “Friends” and “Mayakovsky” combine sociality, unconventionality, and personality – especially in its long form Club of Friends of V.V. Mayakovsky, which makes the double “V” resound. The first V is the abbreviation of Mayakovsky’s first name Vladimir, and the second V is the abbreviation of Mayakovky’s patronymic name “Vladimirovich”. In Russia, this naming custom adds a slight note of respectful irony to the name, while it adds an a exotic element outside Russia.

[1] По сравнению с Положением 1932 года, новый документ предусматривал значительно более облегченный процесс образования самодеятельных объединений. Контроль и общее руководство за деятельностью объединения возлагался на организацию-учредителя, в качестве которой могли выступать учреждения культуры и спорта, Дома и Дворцы молодежи, учебные заведения и жилищно-эксплуатационные организации, но не министерства и ведомства, что значительно суживало вмешательство властных структур в деятельность любительских объединений. Именно с этого времени (вторая половина 1986 г.), на базе объединения легализирующихся кружков возникают первые общественно-политические клубы.

Согласно данному документу любительские объединения признавались организационной формой общественной самодеятельности населения, создаваемой на основе добровольности, общих творческих интересов и индивидуального членства участников с целью удовлетворения многообразных духовных запросов и интересов людей. (Положение о любительском объединении, клубе по интересам: Утв. 13.05.1986 г.; № 05/15-38 // Культурно-просветительная работа. – 1986. – № 8. – С. 26-28.) Создавались общественно-политические, производственно-технические, естественнонаучные, физкультурно-оздоровительные, художественные объединения. Кроме того, могли создаваться клубы ветеранов, молодежи, творческой интеллигенции, а также клубы трезвости, семейного отдыха, знакомств и т.д.


[2] Differences between the social status of official and unofficial artists disappeared only towards the end of the 1980s, and with the benefits of restricted membership in a trade union – the Union of Artists, of Writers, of Composers etc. In his novel “Master and Margarita”, Mikhail Bulgakov‘s satirised the privileges granted to the members of the Union of Writers – unlimited access to the club’s formidable restaurant.

[3] От Ленинграда к Санкт-Петербургу. ТЕИИ – Товариществo экспериментального изобразительного искусства –. «Неофициальное» искусство 1981 – 1991 годов / Сост. С. Ковальский, Е. Орлов, Ю. Рыбаков. Музей нонконформистского искусства, Санкт-Петербург, 2007, pp 255.
From Leningrad to Saint-Petersburg. TEII – The Society for Experimental Visual Art. ‘Non-Official’ Art 1981-1991 / Edited by S. Kovalsky, E. Orlov, Yu. Rybakov. The Museum of Nonconformist Art, Saint-Petersburg, 2007, pp 255.

[4] Тимур думал-думал, потом пошел советоваться со знакомым комсомольцем. И наконец, зарегистрировал «Клуб друзей Маяковского. Ibid. p 256

[5]See also: Hannelore Fobo, Art into Life: Agitprop and Vladimir Mayakovsky (2020) more >>

[6] Деятельность ЛО СП, осуществлялась в условиях жесткого парт. контроля и несла на себе печать времени: содействуя творч. успехам мн. писателей, Ленингр. писательская орг-ция в то же время участвовала в кампаниях против А. А. Ахматовой, Зощенко, И. А. Бродского. Ленингр. лит. "андеграунд" 1950-80-х гг. существовал помимо ЛО СП и во многом вопреки ему.
Санкт-Петербург Энциклопедия, Союз писателей, ленинградское отделение External link >>

[7] Khlobystin, Schizorevolution, 2017, p. 114, quoted after Георгий Гурьянов: "Поиздеваться над всеми". Interview taken by Andrey (1damer) 15 June 2007, published 6 June 2021 on livejournal External link >>

[8] “в глуши Симбирска родился обыкновенный мальчик Ленин”. From V.V. Mayakovsky poem “Vladimir Ilich Lenin”, dedicated to the Russian Communist Party (1924) .

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