Three preeminent Russian non-conformist artists appeared in public and spoke about their art together for the first time to mark the opening of the latest exhibition at London's Aktis Gallery
. On 26th November, the gallery hosted a unique round-table discussion that included Oscar Rabin (b.1928), Oleg Tselkov (b.1934) and Vladimir Yankilevsky (b.1938). United in their pursuit of artistic integrity under a hostile regime in USSR during the 1960s and 1970s, but following quite different artistic directions, this is the first time that they have taken part in such an event. The discussion marked the opening of 'Squaring the Circle,' an exhibition which celebrates the distinctive routes that these artists, together with Dmitry Krasnopevtsev (1925-1995), have taken in the pursuit of their art.
D. Krasnopevtsev, O. Rabin, O. Tselkov and V.Yankilevsky are from a similar generation, born between 1925 and 1938, and Aktis Gallery is proud to present works by these artists from the 1960s when the struggle for the freedom of artistic expression in Russia was particularly intense. Not only will the exhibition demonstrate work from the earlier period, but it will also be balanced by later examples, when each artist began to be exhibited internationally, until the present.
This exhibition, 'Squaring the Circle','celebrates Russia's rediscovery of its own hidden cultural past, and the defiance of D. Krasnopevtsev, O. Rabin, O.Tselkov, and V.Yankilevsky against the repressive dogma of socialist realism that was imposed. Unrecognized in the USSR for many years, their work is now displayed in museums and important private collections in America, France, Germany and Russia.
Aktis Gallery opened in St. Jamess in the spring of 2010 and specialises in twentieth-century Russian artists working in exile.
Dmitry Krasnopevtsev (1925-1995) is perhaps the most classical of the four artists, whose metaphysical‟ still lifes from the late 1950s and 1960s, have a quietly surreal flavour that bear comparison with the Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi.
His paintings have no overt political content, yet in 1956, Life, the American magazine, reproduced a still life for which he was denounced as a traitor by Russian newspapers and expelled by the Artist‟s Union. He lost his state workshop and any chance of taking part in official exhibitions in his own country throughout the 1960s and 1970s and was forced to exhibit unofficially. In spite of this, D.Krasnopevtsev‟s paintings were bought by well known collectors such as George Costakis and in 1967, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, bought several works. In 1988, he had a one-man show at The Central House of Artists, Moscow, and, five years later, his work was exhibited at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
Amongst others, he is represented in the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection, Rutgers University, New Jersey; and the Bar-Gera Collection, Cologne.
Oscar Rabin (b.1928) is more of an expressionist painter whose still lifes and landscapes have a grotesque and often uncompromising character (Valery Dudakov, Barbican Art Gallery, 100 Years of Russian Art, London 1989). Subjects in this exhibition include a sombre landscape by moonlight; light falling on a vodka bottle, herring or a newspaper; bottles, lamps, labels, all rich symbols of the times.
O. Rabin was given his first ever solo exhibition in London at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1965. He was recognised as a leader of cultural resistance and his house in the village, Lianozovo, outside Moscow, became a gathering place for nonconformist artists during the 1970s. In 1974 he participated in the famous Bulldozer exhibition, an underground art exhibition and one of the first protest actions held by unofficial artists in the USSR. It gained international attention when it was bulldozed by government agents pretending to be workmen leading to the establishment, in 1976, of a gallery in Izmaylovsky Park, where the exhibition of non- conformist art was tolerated.
In 1978 the authorities allowed O. Rabin to go to France, but he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and has remained in Paris since then. He was given back his Russian passport in 2006 and today O. Rabin is known internationally. A retrospective was held for him at The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, in 2008, when he was also elected to the Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow. In 1973 he participated in Avant-Garde Russe‟ at Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris; in 1984 he showed at the Museum of Modern Russian Art, Jersey.
Oleg Tselkov (b. 1934). Since 1960, O. Tselkov has developed a theme in his art: deformed human faces and bodies, reminiscent of sinister masks or anthropomorphic mutants. He was compared by some critics to Francis Bacon; Arthur Miller, the playwright, said in 1979, Tselkov combines an almost brutally violent use of colour with a surreal misplacement of natural shapes to form freshly original pictures of sometimes satiric, sometimes tragic power.
O.Tselkov was expelled from the Minsk Institute of Art and Theatre, Moscow, in 1954 and from the Repin Institute of Art, Sculpture and Architecture, Moscow, in 1955 for ideological reasons. His first solo exhibition took place in 1965 at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Physics, Moscow, and his foreign friends smuggled his works abroad where they were exhibited. In 1977 he left the USSR, establishing himself in Paris, where he has lived and worked every since.
His work has been exhibited throughout the world. Museum and private collections of his work include: the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Moscow); Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey); Bar-Gera Collection (Germany-Israel); Jean-Jacques Geron collection (Paris)
Vladimir Yankilevsky (b.1938) was one of the first non-conformist artists to find a voice of his own, and has since built a career of remarkable consistency. Matthew Cullerne Bown, Contemporary Russian Art, Phaidon, 1989. His art evolved into a series of paintings, both flat and three dimensional, which start as abstractions, but become more figurative and expressive; large scale triptychs by him are emblems of the drama of life.
Yankilevsky was a participant in the Manege exhibition (1962) where he was declared degenerate by President Khrushchev. Yankilevsky had never taken part in any exhibitions officially approved by the Ministry of Culture and certainly would not do so henceforward. His art was only shown sporadically in one-day exhibitions at research institutes. In 1965, a solo exhibition of his work at the Institute of Biophysics, the Academy of Sciences, Moscow, was closed down, but in the same year three of his pieces were included in the artist‟s first major international exhibition (Alternativa Attuale II, Venice).
In 1978 Yankilevsky was given a retrospective exhibition at the Malaya Gruzinskaya Hall in Moscow. He visited New York in 1988 for a retrospective exhibition and in 1990 he relocated there; in 1992 he moved to Paris where he has lived and worked ever since; his work was included in Russia! (Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005).
Yankilevsky‟s work has been collected by numerous museums including: The National Gallery in Prague; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The State Russian Museum, St.-Petersburg; The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; The Museum Ludwig, Cologne; The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers; The State University of New Jersey, USA; The Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA; The Maillo Museum Foundation Dina Vierny, Paris.