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Access to Soviet avant-garde


An exhibition dedicated to one of the key art movements of the 20th Century - the so-called "Nonconformist Soviet art" - has opened in the Russian capital.

Often referred to as the "second avant-garde" or "unofficial underground art", the movement once brought together a range of unconventional artists, banned by the authorities.

In search for new forms and means of art, nonconformists were experimenting with Russian avant-garde and Western modernism, igniting an open conflict with the official art doctrine of the 1960s-70s.

Back in 1962, after Nikita Khrushchev`s notorious visit to an exhibition dedicated to the 30th Anniversary of the Moscow Branch of Artists` Union, when he publicly criticized artworks presented there, they became viewed as "illegal art".

Rejected by the authorities, nonconformist artists formed their own underground subculture which disappeared only with the collapse of the USSR and the fall of the "Iron Curtain".

Those who were not members of Soviet "creative Unions" had no option other than to find another job. Artists-turned street cleaners became a nearly ordinary phenomenon. Those who were ready to take the risks split time between official jobs and underground art. Their works could be seen only by close friends and family members at secretly organized apartment exhibitions.

With risks and tensions running high, works by underground artists provoked public interest along with the "samizdat" books of fiction and poetry by forbidden "unofficial writers". The challenge for those who supported the nonconformists was to secretly export their works abroad to publicly expose them over there.

Paintings, which had no cultural value, according to the Ministry of Culture, enjoyed a dream-come-true verdict "Authorized for export from the USSR".

A number of works, including some of the key paintings, were then officially taken out of the Union and therefore formed great private collections of unofficial Soviet art worldwide.

Russian art dealers have also started their collections by nonconformists.

The display at the Cultural Foundation Ekaterina features about 150 artworks from Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin`s private collection, with paintings by such cutting-edge nonconformists as Anatoly Zverev, Oscar Rabin and Mikhail Shvartsman.

A painting by Oleg Tselkov (Image from ekaterina-foundation.ru)

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18.09.2017
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