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Calvert 22 Brings Gay Art from Russia to Britain

Published: May 15, 2014 (Issue # 1810)



  • Ivan Sotnikov’s painting “Blue Firs” shows Lenin’s tomb upside down.
    Photo: Ivan Sotnikov / Calvert 22

  • Timur Novikov, wearing a moustache, poses with artist Georgy Guryanov, left.
    Photo: Paquita Escofet Miro / Calvert 22

While Russian politicians express outrage over Austrian transvestite Conchita Wurst's recent Eurovision victory, a new exhibit at the Calvert 22 gallery in London, organized as part of the 2014 U.K.–Russia Year of Culture, is showing works from Timur Novikov's New Academy, a St. Petersburg arts school known for pioneering nonconformist and gay art in post-Soviet Russia.

The exhibit "Club of Friends" manages to incorporate music, film, photos and paintings — showcasing a mix of talents from Timur Novikov and his team, the New Artists and the New Academy. Presenting work from the 1980s to 1990s, the show chronicles the artistic movements that sprang up in a time of change and political turmoil in St. Petersburg.

"The unofficial art scene of Leningrad practiced the so-called 'aesthetic otherness.'" said curator Yekaterina Andreyeva. "The artists did not fight Soviet rule or critique or deconstruct it as much as they avoided talking in a Soviet language out of principle … the New Artists lived in a trans-avant-garde world, without division," commented Yekaterina Andreyeva.

Timur Novikov was the driving force behind two unique artistic movements in this period: the New Artists and the New Academy. Founded in a communal apartment in the early '80s, the New Artists included an eclectic assortment of artists ranging from painter Oleg Maslov to video artist Sergei "Africa" Bugayev, who exhibited works together and formed a close social circle.

In 1989, Novikov expanded the informal New Artists circle to create the New Academy, a group vaguely modeled on the ideal of an ancient Greek academy. This group expanded the exhibition activities of the New Artists, and also organized protest/performance pieces. Most famously, Novikov and Bugayev together publicly declared their homosexuality in a 1989 interview, four years before the repeal of a Soviet law outlawing sodomy — Bugayev has since recanted this declaration.

The curatorial staff at Calvert 22 has close connections with Novikov's groups: David Thorp, curatorial advisor at Calvert 22, has been interested in Novikov's work since viewing Novikov's creations in the late 1980s, and even owns a few of the textile pieces by Novikov, while curator Yekaterina Andreyeva was personally acquainted with many of the artists that Novikov inspired.

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