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The term Soviet Nonconformist Art refers to "art produced in the former "Soviet Union from 1953 to 1986 (after the death of "Joseph Stalin until the advent of "Perestroika and "Glasnost) outside of the rubric of "Socialist Realism. Other terms used to refer to this phenomenon are "unofficial art" or "underground art."
From the time of the "Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 until 1932, the historical Russian avant-garde flourished and strove to appeal to the proletariat. However, in 1932 Stalin's government took control of the arts with the publication of "On the Reconstruction of Literary-Artistic Organizations"; a decree that put artists' unions under the control of the Communist Party. Two years later, Stalin instituted a policy that unified aesthetic and ideological objectives, which was called Socialist Realism, broadly defined as art that was, "socialist in content and realist in form." Moreover, the new policy defined four categories of unacceptable art: political art, religious art, erotic art, and "formalistic" art, which included "abstraction, "expressionism, and "conceptual art. Beginning in 1936, avant-garde artists who were unable or unwilling to adapt to the new policy were forced out of their positions, and often either murdered or sent to the "gulag, as part of Stalin's "Great Purges. Vladimir Sterligov, a student of Kazimir Malevich, along with two of his own students, Alexander Baturin and Oleg Kartashov, as well as Vera Ermolaeva and her students Marusya Kazanskaya and Pavel Basmanov were arrested in December, 1934 and taken by train to Kazakhstan. Sterligov spent five years in prison outside Karaganda, while Ermolaeva disappeared forever. Sterligov's student, Alexander Baturin, spent a total of 32 years in prison.
In the wake of "World War II, referred to in Russia as "The Great Patriotic War, "Party resolutions were passed in 1946 and 1948, by "Andrei Zhdanov, chief of the Propaganda Administration formally denouncing Western cultural influences at the start of the "Cold War. Art students such as "Ülo Sooster, an "Estonian who later became important to the Moscow nonconformist movement, were sent to "Siberian prison camps. The nonconformist artist "Boris Sveshnikov also spent time in a Soviet "labor camp. "Oleg Tselkov was expelled from art school for '"formalism' in 1955, which from the viewpoint of the Party might have constituted an act of treason.
The death of "Joseph Stalin in 1953, and "Nikita Khrushchev's subsequent denunciation of his rule during his Secret Speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 created a "thaw"; a liberal atmosphere wherein artists had more freedom to create nonsanctioned work without fearing repercussions. Furthermore, Stalin's "cult of personality was recognized as detrimental, and within weeks many paintings and busts bearing his likeness were removed from public places. Artists such as "Aleksandr Gerasimov, who had made their careers painting idealized portraits of Stalin, were forced out of their official positions, as they had become embarrassing to the new leadership. However, despite increased tolerance, the parameters of Socialist Realism still hadn't changed, and therefore, artists still had to tread lightly.
The "thaw" era ended quickly, when in 1962, Khrushchev attended the public Manezh exhibition at which several nonconformist artists were exhibiting, including "Ulo Sooster with his "Eye in the Egg. Khrushchev got into a public and now-famous argument with "Ernst Neizvestny regarding the function of art in society. However, this altercation had the unintended effect of fomenting unofficial art as a movement. Artists could no longer hold delusions that the state would recognize their art, yet the climate had become friendly and open enough that a coherent organization had formed. Additionally, punishments for unofficial artists became less severe; they were denied admittance to the union instead of being executed.
As a "movement" nonconformist art was stylistically diverse. However, in the post-thaw era its function and role in society became clear. As the eminent Russian curator, author and museum director Joseph Bakstein writes,
The duality of life in which the official perception of everyday reality is independent of the reality of the imagination leads to a situation where art plays a special role in society. In any culture, art is a special reality, but in the Soviet Union, art was doubly real precisely because it had no relation to reality. It was a higher reality.... The goal of nonconformism in art was to challenge the status of official artistic reality, to question it, to treat it with irony. Yet that was the one unacceptable thing. All of Soviet society rested on orthodoxy, and nonconformism was its enemy. That is why even the conditional and partial legalization of nonconformism in the mid-1970s was the beginning of the end of the Soviet regime.
In the mid-1980s, "Glasnost and "Perestroika were the policies that led to the demise of the USSR in 1991. The nonconformist movement, deprived of a host body, suffered demise as well. However, two other factors sealed the fate of nonconformism. The first was the 1988 auction of modern and contemporary Russian art in Moscow by "Sotheby's. The auction was only open to foreigners who could pay in British Pounds, which signified the economic fragility of the Soviet Union, the end of its xenophobia, and the beginning of the forces of capitalism that control the art market. The second factor was diaspora - many artists had already emigrated, beginning as early as the late-1970s and continuing throughout the 1980s.
Among Leningrad Artists who emigrated in the 1970s are: to Israel: in 1976 Evgeny Abezgauz (or "Eugene Abeshaus) (1939-2008), 1976 Tatiana Kornfeld (b. 1950), 1976 Yuri Kalendarev, sculptor (b. 1947), who in 1979 moved to Tuscany, Italy; 1977 Sima Ostrovsky (1938-1995); 1979 Anatoly Basin (b. 1936), who from 1994 lives and works in both countries, Jerusalem, Israel, and St. Petersburg, Russia; 1979 Alexander Okun (b. 1949); 1993 Alexander Gurevich (b. 1944); to USA: in 1974 "Alexander Ney (b.1939), sculptor, to New York; 1976 "Alek Rapoport (1933-1997) emigrated from Leningrad, and in 1977 moved to USA; 1977 Natalia Toreeva (b. 1941) to Chicago, Illinois; 1980 Evgeny Goryunov (1944-1994), who moved after 2 years to Europe, lived in Austria, Italy, and later in Paris, France, and in 1989 returned to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia; to France: in 1971 "Mikhail Chemiakin (b. 1943) was exiled from the Soviet Union to Paris, France, then moved in 1981 to New York, the United States, and currently lives in France; 1977 Alexander Arefiev (1931-1978). In the late 1970s, Yuri Zharkikh (b. 1938) emigrated to Germany and then moved to Paris, France, where he lives and works now.
Notable Soviet Nonconformist artists from "Moscow include: "Ernst Neizvestny, "Oscar Rabin, "Vladimir Yankilevsky, "Ilya Kabakov, "Oleg Vassiliev, "Erik Bulatov, "Komar and Melamid, "Leonid Sokov, "Viktor Pivovarov, "Ülo Sooster, "Boris Sveshnikov, Vladimir Yakovlev, "Anatoly Zverev (1931-1986), "Dmitri Plavinsky (1937-2012), "Lidiya Masterkova, "Vladimir Nemukhin, "Eduard Steinberg, "Igor Novikov, "Michail Grobman, "Mikhail Koulakov, Lev Kropivnitsky, Valentina Kropivnitskaia, "Mikhail Odnoralov, "Oleg Tselkov, Alexander Yulikov, Andrei Grositsky, "Vasily Sitnikov, Dmitrii Krasnopevtsev, Leonid Lamm, Igor Shelkovsky, and others.
From St. Petersburg ("Leningrad): Yuri Dyshlenko, "Evgeny Rukhin (1943-1976), "Alek Rapoport (1933-1997), "Timur Novikov (1958-2002), Anatoly Basin (b. 1936), Yuri Zharkikh (b. 1938), "Alexei Khvostenko (1940-2004), "Valery Klever, Yuri Gourov, "Anatoly Belkin (b. 1953), "Alexander Ney (b. 1939), "Vladimir Lisunov (1940-2000), Igor V. Ivanov (b. 1934), Natalia Toreeva (b. 1941), Evgeny Goryunov (1944-1994), and others.
From Siberia: Edward Zelenin (1938-2002) (fr:Edouard Zelenine).
There were many artistic groups and movements that were active in the Soviet Union after the period of the thaw. They can be difficult to classify because often they were not related due to stylistic objectives, but geographical proximity. Furthermore, participation in these groups was fluid as the community of nonconformist artists in Moscow was relatively small and close-knit.
One of the most rebellious groups to emerge from this period is called Lianozovo, after the small village outside Moscow where most of the artists lived and worked. The members of this group were: Evgenii Kropivnitsky, Olga Potapova, Valentina Kropivnitskaia, "Oscar Rabin, Lev Kropivnitsky, "Lidia Masterkova, "Vladimir Nemukhin, Nikolai Vechtomov and the poets Vsevolod Nekrasov, "Genrikh Sapgir, and "Igor Kholin. This group was not related due to aesthetic concerns, but due to "their shared search for a new sociocultural identity." If one generalization may be made of this group's aesthetic preferences and general worldview it is that, "the aestheticization of misery is precisely what distinguishes the representatives of the de-classed communal intelligentsia of the thaw era from their predecessors (the Socialist Realists), who created a paradisiac image of history."
Many members of the Lianozovo group worked in an abstract style. The 1957 thaw resulted in the discovery of Western artistic practices and historical Russian avant-garde traditions by young Soviet artists. Artists began experimenting with abstraction, as it was the antithesis of Socialist Realism. However, the fallout from the "Manezh exhibition, in 1962, caused restrictions to be enforced once again. The new restrictions could not however, curtail what the young artists had learned during the five-year interlude. Additionally, Victor Tupitsyn points out that the 1960s mark an era of "decommunalization" in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev worked to improve housing conditions, and a consequence of this was that artists began to get studios of their own, or shared spaces with like-minded colleagues. If one is to follow "Virginia Woolf's thesis that "A Room of One's Own is the primary necessary factor for the proliferation of creative work, then it is easy to see how nonconformist art began flourishing at this time in the USSR.
Officially, those in the Lianozovo group were members of the Moscow Union of Graphic Artists, working in the applied and graphic arts. As such, they were not permitted to hold painting exhibitions, as that fell under the domain of the Artists' Union. Consequently, apartment exhibitions and literary salons began at this time as a means of publicly exhibiting. However, the Lianozovo group in particular was often harassed by Soviet officials as they were vigilant in pursuing public exhibitions of their work. In an attempt to circumvent the law, the Lianozovo group proposed an open-air exhibition in 1974, inviting dozens of other nonconformist artists also to exhibit. The result was the demolition of the exhibition by bulldozers and water cannons, for which reason the exhibition is still known as the "Bulldozer Exhibition.
A group of artists that had studios on and around Sretensky Boulevard, Moscow, became a loosely associated like-minded community in the late 1960s. The members of this group were: "Ilya Kabakov, "Ülo Sooster, "Eduard Steinberg, "Erik Bulatov, "Oleg Vassiliev, "Viktor Pivovarov, "Vladimir Yankilevsky, and "Ernst Neizvestny. The artists' studios were also used as venues to show and exchange ideas about unofficial art. Like their colleagues in the Lianozovo group, the majority of visual artists who were part of the Sretensky Boulevard Group were admitted to the Union of Moscow Graphic Artists. This allowed the artists to work officially as book illustrators and graphic designers, which provided them with studio space, materials, and time to work on their own projects. Although they shared the same type of official career, the Sretensky group is not stylistically homogenous. The name merely denotes the community that they formed as a result of working in close proximity to each other.
However, many of the artists on Sretensky Boulevard were part of the "Moscow Conceptualist school. This movement arose in the 1970s to describe the identity of the contemporary Russian artist in opposition to the government. As Joseph Bakstein explains, "The creation of this nonconformist tradition was impelled by the fact that an outsider in the Soviet empire stood alone against a tremendous state machine, a great Leviathan that threatened to engulf him. To preserve one's identity in this situation, one had to create a separate value system, including a system of aesthetic values."
The aesthetic language of Moscow Conceptualism is self-conscious and often deals with the quotidian. Consequently, these artists incorporated their experiences of Soviet life into their art in a manner that was not overtly negative, but at varying times, nostalgic, disinterested, wry, and subtle. Erik Bulatov explains that conceptualist art is, "a rebellion of man against the everyday reality of life... a picture interests me as some kind of system... opening into the space of my everyday existence." By exposing the underlying mechanisms of Soviet society and interpersonal interaction, the artists created a very real and relatable artistic language to rival the "official" propagandistic language of the government.
This group includes "Ilya Kabakov, "Erik Bulatov, "Oleg Vassiliev, "Komar and Melamid, Ivan Chuikov, "Viktor Pivovarov, and also broadly encompasses the "Sots artists and the Collective Actions group, which were both influential in the construction of Russian conceptualist art. The term Moscow Conceptualism is sometimes used interchangeably with post-modernism, and is sometimes erroneously meant to include all of the nonconformist artists of the "Soviet generation." This term applies both to specific artists who were born in the 1930s and 1940s, grew up under "Stalinism and came of age in the 1960s, and to certain artists of the next generation that were born in the 1950s, like the core of the Collective Actions group (Andrei Monastyrsky, Nikita Alexeiev, Nikolai Panitkov, "Georgy Kiesewalter, etc.). Both these groups took nonconformist art in a new direction in the 1970s.
In 1967 the Petersburg Group Manifesto was written and signed by Chemiakin, O. Liagatchev, E. Yesaulenko and V. Ivanov. Ivanov and Chemiakin had previously developed the idea of Metaphysical Synthesism, which proposed creating a new form of icon painting through the study of religious art across the ages. The essay, Métaphysique Synthétisme included illustrations to the works of "E.T.A. Hoffman and "Crime and Punishment by "Fyodor M. Dostoevsky.
A. Vasiliev and the miniature painter V. Makarenko joined the group later.
Four years after the founding of the group, in 1971, Chemiakin emigrated to France, and later the United States.
Liagatchev, until his emigration to Paris in 1975, and Vasiliev continued to participate in exhibitions of non-conformist artists in Leningrad at the Gaza Palace of Culture (1974) and the Nevsky Palace of Culture (1975). Liagatchev's work in this period includes: Kafka, Intimeniy XX (1973) and Composition - Canon (1975). The group finally became defunct in 1979, ceasing to have joint exhibitions.
It is also known as Gazanevsky Exhibitions, an unofficial artistic movement of the mid-1970s.
Some examples of the unofficial Apartment Exhibitions are:
In November 1975, the First Jewish exhibition "Aleph", also known as "Twelve from the Soviet Underground", took place in E. Abezgauz's ("Eugene Abeshaus) apartment, where the following 12 Jewish artists participated: Evgeny Abezgauz, Anatoly Basin, Leonid Bolmat, Aleksandr Gurevich, Yuri Kalendarev, Tatyana Kornfeld, Aleksandr Manusov, Aleksandr Okun, Sima Ostrovsky, "Alek Rapoport, Osip Sidlin ( 1909-1972), and Olga Schmuilovich. In 1976, the catalog of the "12 from the Soviet Underground" was published in California, USA, reflecting this historical exhibition of the Jewish artists that took place in November 23–30, 1975 in the E. Abezgauz's apartment, and where over 4,000 people viewed this exhibition.
In 1976, the Second "Aleph" exhibition took place in E. Abezgauz's apartment, where such artists as E. Abezgauz, A. Arefiev, A. Basin, R. Vasmi, A. Gurevich, Y. Kalendarev, T. Kerner (1941-1973), T. Kornfeld, A. Okun, S. Ostrovsky, A. Rapoport, O. Sidlin (1909-1972), G. Shapiro, S. Schwartz, O. Schmuilovich, and others participated.
In 1976, before his emigration from Russia, "Alek Rapoport organized an exhibition in his apartment, where many artists, including Evgeny Goryunov, Natalia Toreeva, and others participated with their artwork.
In March 1977, there was the "Self-portrait and portrait" exhibition, organized in their apartment by Rimma and Igor M. Loginov (? - 1984), who was the engineer and Leningrad art collector. The following artists were presented: E. Abezgauz, Anatoly Basin, Gleb Bogomolov (b. 1933), S. Gershov, E. Goryunov, Igor V. Ivanov, B. Kozlov, A. Krasnovsky, A. Morev, Osip Sidlin (1909-1972), Natalia Toreeva, B. Tsiselsky, G. Shapiro.
The Apartment Exhibitions were important places not only for the exhibition itself but also became a place where people could meet and discuss freely and openly about the art, painting, poetry, etc.
Osip Sidlin (2/18/1909-9/23/1972) was educated at "VKHUTEMAS (Higher State Artistic and Technical Institute, renamed later to Ilya Repin St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture). He studied under "Alexander Osmerkin, "Alexander Savinov, "Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, and also was in contact with "Kazimir Malevich.
Starting in the middle of the 1930s, Osip Sidlin was teaching art in Leningrad at such art schools as the Ilyich (Lenin) Palace of Culture, the First Five-Year Palace of Culture, and also at the Kapranov Palace of Culture till his death in 1972.
Among his students were the following artists: Anatoly Basin (b. 1936), Galina Basina (b. 1939), Vladimir Egorov (1918-?), Anatoly Golovastov (1930-2007), Evgeny Goryunov (1944-1994),  Igor V. Ivanov (b. 1934), Galina (Sizova) Ivanova (b. 1937), Boris Kupin (b. 1939), Alexander Mikhailovsky (1923-2005?), Yury Nashivochnikov (b. 1922), Sergey Sivertsev (b. 1934), Natalia Toreeva (b. 1941),  Margarita Trushina (b. 1941), Vasily Yuzko (b. 1938), and other artists, and the poet Yuli Goldstein (1940-1986), who provided to the group the wider vision not only to the art, but also to the literature and poetry.
Vladimir Sterligov (1904-1973) was the student of "Kazimir Malevich, "Pavel Filonov, and all his life followed K. Malevich's principles of cubism and "suprematism in this artistic tradition. His followers were: A. Baturin (1914-2003), Elena Gritsenko (b. 1947), A. Nosov (b. 1947), Mikhail Tserush (b. 1948),  G. Zubkov (b. 1940), and other artists, who expending the Sterligov's philosophy in their artistic view.
Pavel Kondratiev (1902-1985) was also the student of "Kazimir Malevich, "Pavel Filonov, "Alexander Savinov at the Academy of Arts/"Vkhutein, and collaborated with V. Sterligov and T. Glebova at that time and later. So, they both have the same kind of Niche in art, where their followers and pupils were in one group or another, but followed the same kind of principles in art. Pavel Kondratiev was also a follower of Pavel Filonov's "Masters of Analytical Art" (MAI) movement in Leningrad from 1927 to 1932.
Alexander Arefiev (1931-1978) was a leader of the nonconformist group in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1977, and soon died in Paris in 1978. The group included the following artists: A. Arefiev (Arekh), Valentin Gromov (b. 1930),  Richard (Rikhard) Vasmi (1929-1998), Vladimir Shagin (1932-1999), Sholom Schwartz (1929-1995), Natalia Zhilina (1933-2005), who was close to this group, and the poet Roald Mandelstam (1932-1961), who provided to the group the inspiration for their art work. They called their group as "The Order of Mendicant Painters", and were recognized only after the starting of the new Nonconformists movement in Leningrad and their participation in the exhibitions at the Gaza Palace of Culture (1974) and the Nevsky Palace of Culture (1975).
Besides the artists participated as the schools, or groups, described above, these artists participated individually in the important time of the Soviet non-conformist art. They took the active part in the unofficial art, including their participation in the apartment exhibitions and in the unofficial art exhibitions, such as the famous non-conformist Gaza-Nevsky exhibitions in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in the mid-1970s.
"Timur Novikov (1958-2002) was one of the leaders of "St. Petersburg art in the 1980s. In 1982 his theory of "Zero Object" acted as one of the foundations of Russian conceptual art. In the 1990s he founded Neo-Academism.
Another important St. Petersburg artist who emerged in the 1980s was "Afrika (Sergei Bugaev).
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By the mid-1970s, in Odessa, a core group of nonconformist artists was formed whose most active members were: "Vladimir Strelnikov, Alexander Anufriev, "Valentin Khrushch, Victor Mariniuk, Lyudmila Yastreb, "Stanislav Sychov, Lev Mezhberg, Evgeni Rakhmanin, Ruslan Makoev, Andrei Antoniuk and others. These artists continued to show their art privately in spite of the constant harassment from the authorities and the oppression and hatred coming from the majority of the officially recognised artists. They had close connections with the Moscow centres of the underground art movement and were participating in the apartment exhibitions of nonconformist art in Moscow and in Leningrad. They also invited their Russian colleagues to visit Odessa and to take part in their apartment exhibitions there.
The following artists took an active part in the unofficial, so called "apartment exhibitions" in the 1970s in Odessa. Some of them participated in the "apartment exhibitions" in Moscow as well. Valentin Altanietz (1936–1995) Andrey Antoniuk, Alexander Anufriev, Valery Basanietz, Alexei Bokatov, Igor Bozhko, Nadia Haiduk, "Valentin Khrushch (1943–2005), Michail Kowalski, Ruslan Makoev, Victor Mariniuk, Volodymyr Naumez, Nikolay Novikov, Victor Pavlov (artist), Valery Parfenenko, Evgeni Rakhmanin, Viktor Risovich, Sergei Savchenko, Vitaly Sazonov, Valentin Shapavlenko, Yuri Shurevich (1937–1997), Oleg Sokolov, Nikolai Stepanov (sculptor) (1937–2003), Alexander Stovbur, "Vladimir Strelnikov, "Stanislav Sychov (1937–2003), Vladimir Tziupko, Alexander Voloshinov, Ludmilla Yastreb (1945–1980), Anna Zilberman (1935 - 2000).
Collectors of Soviet and Russian Nonconformist art include: