As Russia starts the stealthy process of nicking back its former Soviet territories, let’s have a look back at the good old days, in the final decade of the USSR before Gorbachev gave away the Empire in a fit of reform. Long viewed as a period of misery and poverty that included a dearth of creative talent, the late Soviet era may not have had a Prokofiev or a Shostakovich to fly the hammer and sickle, but in Timur Novikov it was blessed with a artistic force who was responsible for leading two of the most important movements in the 1980s Soviet Union.
The early ’80s gave rise to Novikov’s New Artists Group – a collection of friends who gathered in communal flats and began their painterly adventures in German expressionism, pop art and primitvism, as well as film, fashion and music, holding exhibitions and gigs in the cramped surrounds. At the end of the decade, as the Soviet Union entered into its final phase, Novikov formed another avant garde movement, the New Academy, which sought a return to the ideals of classical Greek art, with its ideals of physical perfection. How revealing to see, in a time of supposed repression, the group exploring homoeroticism and androgyny in painting and performance; one wonders how such artistic expression would be received in today’s Russia.
Club of Friends: Timur Novikov’s New Artists and the New Academy is an exhibition covering both movements, revealing them not only as important artistic entities but also as hugely enjoyable social clubs, full of laughter and larks and a freedom of spirit that is not readily associated with the time and place. In an era benefiting from the effects of Krushchev’s post-isolationist cultural thaw, Novikov was able to interact with important artistic figures of the Western world, such as Andy Warhol and Brian Eno, and this show charts their relationships through a multitude of media. Calvert 22 in London, specialising in Russian and Eastern European contemporary art, is hosting the merry-making as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture; runs till 25 May.