Next article Previous article

I have heard about painter Eduard Ziuzin more than once; he is a very vivid personality among the Moscow painters of the 1960s.
One day, a collector called Antony Broy came to the museum in Jersey City. He brought two pictures for an expertise, one belonged to a well-known Russian painter Pimen Orlov, a former serf-painter who spent the rest of his days in Italy; the other was a portrait drawn in ink on a piece of paper. The painter’s signature was hard to make out, but it was clear that the portrait was painted by a big artist.
Antony bought the portrait from a Russian painter who lived in Jersey City and whose name he did not remember. Having looked at the picture, Alexander Gleser immediately identified: “This is Ziuzin’s graphic.”  It happened so that in a couple of days, Ziuzin came to the museum. He looked young for his years - a quality typical of the people obsessed with creative work. His looks and manners betrayed a native Muscovite. Not a very tall but sporty man in his seventies, his light eyes lively and shining, he wore a white moustache and a beard. Every fate is individual, but that of Eduard Ziuzin is amazingly dramatic.

I have heard about painter Eduard Ziuzin more than once; he is a very vivid personality among the Moscow painters of the 1960s.
One day, a collector called Antony Broy came to the museum in Jersey City. He brought two pictures for an expertise, one belonged to a well-known Russian painter Pimen Orlov, a former serf-painter who spent the rest of his days in Italy; the other was a portrait drawn in ink on a piece of paper. The painter’s signature was hard to make out, but it was clear that the portrait was painted by a big artist.
Antony bought the portrait from a Russian painter who lived in Jersey City and whose name he did not remember. Having looked at the picture, Alexander Gleser immediately identified: “This is Ziuzin’s graphic.”  It happened so that in a couple of days, Ziuzin came to the museum. He looked young for his years - a quality typical of the people obsessed with creative work. His looks and manners betrayed a native Muscovite. Not a very tall but sporty man in his seventies, his light eyes lively and shining, he wore a white moustache and a beard. Every fate is individual, but that of Eduard Ziuzin is amazingly dramatic.
Eduard recalls:
“I was born in Moscow, my family lived in 3rd Miusovskaya Street, 6/8-3, close to Tverskaya-Yamskaya St. Ours was the house where composers lived; our neighbours were Dmitriy Shostakovich, Khachaturyan, composer Sveshnikov. Poet Joseph Brodskiy, actors Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, Anatoliy Ktorov, Igor Ilyinskiy, Georgiy Vitsin and Andrey Kartashov were among my close friends.
Georgiy Vitsin was not famous then, he performed in clubs and was poor. I met him in a club where he performed. I was amazed at his performance and told him so after the play, predicting a great future for him, and he laughed in reply. We have become good friends since then.
Igor Ilyinskiy was Stalin’s favourite actor. He was fond of me; he admired my work and loved me as if I were his son. After Ilyinskiy’s death, I cannot help crying as I remember how I made the great actor wait for me for more than two hours near Pushkin’s monument in Gorkiy Square. I was late for a meeting with him because I accompanied Vasiliy Sitnikov in his out-of-town expedition to the dumps.
I knew Anatoliy Ktorov, an outstanding Russian actor. Just like my mother, he was Meyerkhold’s student. Both Ktorov and Ilyinskiy considered me a talented artist.
Andrey Kartashov was a close friend of mine. He lived in poverty then; he did not have an apartment and could only afford to rent a part of a room in a communal apartment. When I met Andrey, he was often accompanied by actor Kramarov, his close friend.
Once, I saved Kartashov from prison. It was in 1967, and the governmental anti-profiteering campaign was under way. Kartashov did not have money to pay the rent, so he sold a couple of Chinese ballpoint pens. He was detained and brought to a police precinct. Having learned this, I went to the precinct. Just the day before, I had a good deal, selling some of my paintings; so I bought an expensive suit and a pair of shoes, which made me look quite impressive. A police officer met me in the precinct. I told him that I wanted to talk to his chief. He asked me to wait. I made myself comfortable in an armchair, putting my feet in the new shoes on the table. Evidently, the officer did not like my behavior, so unusual for the establishment, but he did report me to his chief. The chief, who was a colonel, came out of his office, saw me with my feet on the table and asked me to show him my passport. This helped me to save my friend: in my passport there was a visit card of Molotov, whom I knew in person. Kartashov was released.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

We have been good friends with Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy, and the friendship was a life-long one. Kesha, this is how I called Smoktunovskiy, called me "my little genius". I used to call in on Smoktunovskiy's place in the middle of the night, after dining in a restaurant, at two or three or even four a.m. His wife Sulamif did not like that at all. “Eduard, please, don’t come to us in the night,” she used to say. “Kesha has a hard day tomorrow: he will be giving a lecture, performing on TV, giving an interview to a newspaper and playing Boris Godunov in the evening.” But then Kesha appeared, exclaiming: “I am glad to see my little genius! Sulamif, lay the table." Once, noticing that there is no fresh bread, he went to get it, at three o'clock in the night, to the only night shop. He always pampered me, giving me all the tidbits. He considered me the number one painter in Moscow. When I was arrested, Kesha never visited me in the prison, which hurt me very much. Only in a while did I understand that his visit to the prison could harm his family and career. Many years passed, and once Kesha asked if I could lend him some money - the amount insignificant for me at the time. I denied him, reproaching him for old injuries. Kasha did not say a word to my reproaches. In a while, when I immigrated to the USA, Smoktunovskiy came to the States a couple of times and tried to find me. I realized that we were bound with a strong invisible thread when I read that he died. I will never forgive myself for denying him the money. It makes me suffer as much as the fact that I never obeyed my mother, who was a saint for me.
Once, when we were walking down Gorkiy Street, Kesha boasted his great popularity, but I did not give up. Then he told me: “Eduard, you may be known by half the city of Moscow. But can you imagine that I am known by the entire Soviet Union. You are just… just an Edik, compared with me.” This quarrel ended in a fight. We fought on the snow. The by-passers were surprised, they recognized Smoktunovskiy. I threw myself on him. “Let me go, you idiot! The people are recognizing me.” We laughed at it for a long while then.
Many people were amazed at my technique. Anatoliy Zverev asked me to teach him. We used to meet in the Moscow Zoo for several years, where we drew animals and took part in informal exhibitions in Malaya Gruzinskaya Street. We competed once, who would draw more pictures. Zverev gave me one of his, signing it “To Eduard Ziuzin, my teacher”. Ziuzin’s pictures were in many collections. Long before that, in the 1950s, professor Lobchinskiy bought Ziuzin’s picture called “Third Rostovskiy Lane”, which Zuzin regained in many years: as he became rich he exchanged it for a Levitan’s painting.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

Lobchinskiy gave me the phone number of a well-known collector Aleksandr Leonidovich Myasnikov, a world-famous academician and Stalin's personal doctor. His works were translated into many languages. Myasnikov enjoyed great influence in the USSR. He totally copied Stalin in his behaviour and manner of communication. Myasnikov introduced me to the major art collectors in the USSR: Kostaki, Rubinshteyn, Semenov. Myasnikov used to say that Rubinshteyn's collection is nothing compared to his one: "The next serious collection after mine is Georgiy Dionisovich Kostaki's. He works as a supply manager in the Canadian embassy." Myasnikov showed me the works by Rembrandt, Kandinskiy, and Malevich.
My idol at the time was Albert Marquet, a French artist. Introducing me to the collectors, Myasnikov exclaimed: "I put Zuzin above Marquet!" By the way, Myasnikov himself bought more than 12 pieces from me. A well-known Moscow public figure Natalya Shmelkova bought my "Self-portrait" for a sum, so big for that time that she had to pay it in installments during two years.
The last purchase was tragic for Myasnikov. He invited me to his place, but decided to pay me the sum twice smaller than the one we had agreed upon. "Aleksandr Leonidovich, you are not acting as a gentlemen," I retorted. Stunned by my reply, he warned me: "Dear sir, I could demand satisfaction for your words. You will be miserable. If my son had been here now, he would have thrown you out of my house." In reply, I laughed him in the face. Myasnikov got pale. It was evident that he was unwell. I went away, not saying good-bye. Myasnikov closed the door behind me.
The next day, I learnt from a newspaper that Myasnikov died. A gossip spread all over Moscow that it was me who killed him. A few days later, some strangers approached me in the street and invited me to a café. They showed me their KGB employee IDs and asked me about our quarrel with Myasnikov. I learnt from them that experts failed to find any signs of violent death on Myasnikov's body. They told me that, according to the experts, the murder was of a psychic nature - a hypnotic one. I said that if doctors examined his health state more carefully, they would have known that if someone broke a glass of water in his presence, he would also die. "You are a powerful hypnotist, Mr. Ziuzin. You can benefit the state. We offer you a job in the KGB, in the rank of a captain, and we are sure you will make a good career soon," they told me. "I am a painter and will never be anything else - this is my word," I replied.
The memories carry Eduard back to the past… He was four years old when the train they took to be evacuated was bombed. The survivors abandoned the train and were surrounded by German soldiers. Eduard remembers the grey tanks with swastikas on them, the shootings, the German officer who said, in good Russian, as he was pacing along the row of people: "Madame, aren't you ashamed to be shivering? You're a Russian woman, aren't you." The Jews and the Gypsies were lead away and shot. Eduard recalls: "My mother was Meyerhold's student and Zinaida Reich's friend. Like Reich, she was tortured to death in the KGB. After the KGB killed my mother and her sister - they died of tortures in prison - I started to hate everything and everybody in the USSR. I became obsessed with graphics. I always wanted to draw; I learnt to draw wherever I could."
Three people influenced Zuzin as a painter - he calls them his teachers.
The first is Georgiy Kuzmich Kravchenko, a professor with the Saint-Petersburg Academy of Art, whose teacher was Repin. Kravchenko was a realist, a man of strict rules. When, after the long months of studying and humiliating criticism, Zuzin brought him his first work, he said: "The drawing is perfect, you are making progress." Everybody knew that Kravchenko's highest praise was silence, so when Zuzin got an appraisal this high, he thought himself a genius and abandoned his studies. But the seeds fell onto the fertile soil - and Zuzin's third work was bought by the Tretyakov Gallery.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

Ziuzin`s next teacher was Vasiliy Sitnikov, he learnt modern art from him in the 1960s. Sitnikov spent more than 10 years in penitentiary camps and treated the Soviet authorities appropriately. Vasiliy was born in a village, his parents were recognized as kulaks by the authorities. They worked hard, made a small fortune, but were dispossessed and deported. Vasiliy escaped to Moscow, got a job and rented a room in a communal apartment. He just turned 15 at the time. Once, he meet an acquaintance from his village, who proposed: "Vasiliy, Germans will be in Moscow soon. When they start to occupy Moscow, let`s avenge our parents and give away leaflets and grenades. Here's a box with grenades and leaflets, hide it at your place." Vasiliy agreed. But his neighbors informed on him. A search followed, and Vasiliy was arrested. The KGB officer demanded that he told him the name of the box's owner. Vasiliy did not want to betray him. Then the officer said: "You won't get water or food until you tell use the name." The hunger was bearable, unlike the thirst. The officer drank beer out of two glasses in front of the poor boy as he was interrogating him.
In a few days, they took Vasiliy to a bath-house, where he managed to drink some water. One of the guards threw a herring on the floor, and Vasiliy ate it. What followed was inhuman suffering. Vasiliy wanted to have a drink of water so bad, that, seeing the officer with a glass of beer, he lost control, grabbed a spoon from the table and stuck it into the eye of his torturer. The guards rushed in; they fell Vasiliy to the floor and beat him up severely with their feet. Vasiliy passed out; regaining consciousness, he found himself on the concrete floor of a prison cell. His body was black from the beating. He never knew what happened to the officer, as he was transferred to a prison mental hospital in Kazan right away.
It was real hell. The war, the hunger; the guards took the prisoners' food, saying that it was no good to waste food on "the enemies" who did not deserve to live. 
They starved the people out: they poured a bucket of water, put three spoonfuls of soup from the guard's pot in it, boiled and fed the prisoners. The three spoonfuls was a norm. Every day, several dozen of prisoners died.
Not to go insane, Vasiliy worked: helped the prisoners, washed WCs, took care of the sick. The grateful patients let him sip some soup out of their plates - and he ate it, not fearing to catch a disease, he only wanted to survive. The nurses sympathized with him, because he was hardworking; they fed him and sometimes let him out into a narrow yard with a fence made of metal wire to have a gulp of fresh air. It felt like a real oasis after the stuffy cell. In the yard, there was a pond where frogs lived - he hunted and ate them. It helped Vasiliy to survive these long ten years. "I do not understand how I managed to survive."
From Sitnikov, Ziuzin learnt about such painters as Falk, Malevich, Kandinsky, Picasso, Chagall.
Chagall became Ziuzin 's third teacher.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

I first met Marc Chagall in 1973 in the Tretyakov Gallery. He was 86 then, but he looked about 30 years younger. I learnt how old he was only later. He was not very tall; he wore a black suit, a white shirt and a dark tie; was very energetic. He was easy-going, with the eyes of a thinker.
He was surrounded by admirers. I was young and cheeky, so I elbowed my way to Chagall, introduced myself and showed him my graphic works. I was about 35 at the time - a mature self-confident painter. To the disappointment of the others, Chagall was interested by my pictures: "What is this drawn with?" - "A ballpoint pen." He was amazed: "I have never seen such a skill, such a variety of styles." "I started to draw as a child, in the orphanage. My first drawings were in water-colors. Once I noticed a picture of a tank that my friend drew. I liked it so much that I stole it and spent the nights in the shed, looking at it."
Chagall proposed me to meet the next day. We mostly spoke about techniques and artistic skills. I told him that his flaming colors reminded me of the medieval artists, Cranach for example. He laughed: "You know Cranach?" He said that he worked with varnish; that the glazing technique had been know for centuries; that he only painted in layers. He painted with white or black, sometimes brown, on fresh oil, then let it dry; then put a layer of red, let it dry again; then ultramarine, Berlin blue and so on… Chagall seriously influenced my painting manner and technique; he was a real teacher of painting.
The main thing I learned from Chagall was a concentrated attitude to life and painting.
Zuzin can talk about artistic skill and the history of art on and on…
First of all, Chagall appreciated my graphics. Once, he said something that made me blush: "Edik, your graphic works are better than mine. Your technique is amazing. You are a crazy artist, in the best sense of the word. And maybe you are a genius. I`d like to put you in a golden cage and create a working environment for you."
Chagall liked to get his portraits, which I drew hastily, before our classes. Soon Marc Zakharovich sent me a letter, inviting me to join him in a big exhibition in Tokio. Six of my works were chosen for the exhibition.
But Chagall`s golden cage turned into a prison for Ziuzin. He invited him to Paris, after which it became impossible for Zuzin to live and work in Moscow. Acts of provocation were staged against him; his apartment was attacked, his paintings and letters destroyed; tried to kill him. He had to suffer a lot. But, in prison or in mental hospital - he was obsessed with drawing. The series of the prison portraits in oil is amazing in its expressiveness: this is a portrait of a cell-mate, a murderer.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

In general, I spent five years in jail: Butyrskaya prison, Matrosskaya Tishina prison, mental hospital in Troitsko-Andropovo near Moscow, forced hospitalization, hospital No 5 - they would give you injections whether you wanted it or not.
The aid men wring your hands, hold you and give an injection. It was only drawing that helped me to survive. I survived because I drew graphic pictures – they allowed me to do it, did not take anything away… For example, when I`m asked if I`m an artist, I answer that I am trying to be an artist, I wish and dream to be an artist. It sounds like a prayer, like talking to God.
There was an unwritten law in the USSR – to jail those, who had already been to jail. Any violation of the control regime, established for the released, was a reason to put them back to prison. Not to get back to jail, Eduard had to hide for years, to live in other cities. He was on the list of most wanted. The rare acting talent, which he inherited from his parents, helped Eduard to avoid arrests. Soon, his personal file in the crime detection department was labeled with an OO sign, which meant “specially dangerous”.
In 1980, at an exhibition in Tokio, Ziuzin`s work was placed next to Marc Chagall`s. I am turning the pages of the catalogue, yellow with the time.
Eduard had lived in Jersey City for 16 years now.
“I sell my works for the price they deserve, or just give them away. You can`t depreciate your own work,” Eduard says.
Once, they offered me $10,000 for a portrait, Eduard says.
“I will give it to you for free,” he answered, “but I can`t sell it for less than $80,000 – I am sure that this is what it`s worth.”
“I can`t live with a madman like you,” his wife said, “we need money so bad now,” and she left him.
“I loved her so much,” Eduard remembers, "And I am always thinking about her, even now.”

We meet in the Museum. Eduard stops near Sergey Pchelintsev`s fantasy picture: night, seashore, a stranded fish, the storm knocked down a statue, a huge fantastic butterfly, a broken orchid, falling stars twinkle in the sky, the fish`s scale and the water drawn carefully and with great love.
“This is a real artist,” Eduard says, looking at the picture. “His works are fascinating, like poems about other planets.” He reads aloud his poems about a planed called Kuno. We listen to him, astonished – his verses are great, just like his pictures.

Eduard Zuzin`s life was exceptionally full of events. Listening to his reminiscences, you begin to think of him as of a magnet, that attracts events. Eduard confirms this. To understand, how and why Eduard appeared in the USA, one needs to know the two stories, which happened in his life long before he left, but became the reason for his leaving. Eduard could not even think then, that they will influence his fate so much.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

Eduard was always interested in painting and graphic techniques; he always improved his, studying the works of old artists and learning from his outstanding teachers. Having accumulated enough experience, he was eager to share it with others.
Such famous artists as Anatoliy Zverev and Mikhail Shamyakin learned graphics from him. Once, he met a Moscow artist named Lavr, who was amazed by Zuzin`s graphic. Eduard was pleased to give him some lessons. A grateful student, Lavr, who worked in the depository of the USSR art fund, decided to please his teacher and invited him to visit the depository, saying that the fund`s administration was ordered by the authorities to destroy some paintings, which did not contribute to the development of a Soviet man`s moral make-up, as they said. Lavr promised that Eduard will be able to take home the paintings he liked.
It was 1960, we were a little more than 20 years old. We loved art and wanted to become artists. We did not understand much, were quite naive. I understand now that there is nothing more terrible than ignorance.
Lavr showed Eduard the order, which included such names as Kandinskiy, Malevich, Chagall, Lisitskiy, Falk, Burlyuk, Lyubov Popova, Ventulov, Kuprin, Natalya Goncharova and many others. The order was signed by Nikita Khrushchev.
The depository was huge, with the paintings stored on the racks. Eduard remembers that the racks were equipped with thermometers, showing the temperature in the building. The racks also bore little shields with the artists` surnames and creative periods. He remembers long corridors, concrete floor, endless racks with numerous paintings on them. They approached the rack with the “Kandinskiy” shield on it. Lavr pulled out a huge painting, threw it on the floor and asked, pointing at the picture: “Edik, look, what do you think of it?”
Edik concentrated on realistic art; his ideals were Ayvazovskiy, Repin, Perov, Shishkin, Polenov, Kramskoy, Levitan. He did not understand abstract art then, even the impressionists. The authorities disliked and did not acknowledge abstractionists then. Abstract artists were persecuted, put to jails and mental hospitals. As most of the Soviet people, Eduard had no idea of “a different kind of art”, so he did not hesitate to reply: “That`s rubbish; I could paint better with my left foot. This is daub, not art.”
Depository employees were dragging the paintings into the middle of a spacious yard, to a big fire. They tore the paintings off the stretchers. It was forbidden to burn the stretchers; they were valuable. On the rear sides of the paintings there were seals from the Hermitage Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery. The employees poured gas over the paintings. The paintings were heavy, often large; soaked with paint, they would not burn but smoldered, as if opposing the barbarity. Acrid smoke spread all over the place.  Thousands of priceless paintings were destroyed in these days; all Kandinskiy`s works were burned. I only realized the scale of the tragedy in a long while, Ziuzin says. When I met Marc Chagall and told him the story, he listened, crying. He told me that the works of his best Vitebsk period were burned then.
By the way, on that day, Chagall secretly told Eduard the story of his teacher Jury Pan`s death.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

Jury Pan was lonely. He devoted his life to art and his students. He never married and had no children, But he loved his only nephew very much. The nephew led a wild life, was a heavy drinker. He used to secretly sell his uncle`s paintings and drink away the money. When Jury found out that his nephew sold his paintings, he decided to give them away. The nephew was extremely indignant at his uncle`s words; he could not believe he wouldn`t get the paintings. So he took an axe and killed him. Telling the story to Eduard, Chagall repeated: “What a villain this nephew was…”
Eduard scanned the paintings on the racks: Kandinskiy, Malevich, Chagall, Falk. He remembered a huge picture – a portrait of Meyerhold. A lot of surnames were unfamiliar to him. Eduard looked through hundreds of paintings. Lavr proposed: “Edik, take any picture you like – we`ll burn them anyway. I can smuggle a painting a day under my shirt.”
Not realizing the scale of the crime he was witnessing, Eduard felt desperate. Painter by birth, he understood that something unthinkable was happening. The works of many painters were being destroyed. And it flashed through his mind: “What if these were my paintings; would I put up with it?” He decided to save the paintings, thinking: “Only the future generations will be able to appreciate them.”
They decided to start with Falk, as Eduard knew his wife Angelina Sergeevna. They picked two of his paintings, the ones they liked best - a landscape and a still-life – and removed them from the stretchers. Lavr hid the paintings under his shirt, putting a jacket over it. Eduard had a one-occasion pass. A woman, who Lavr knew very well, was on duty that day. When he was leaving, they exchanged casual remarks. He told her he fulfilled a very hard and responsible task and was very tired. It was evident that she was aware of the important task. He heard words of sympathy in reply.
The destruction of masterpieces lasted for about two weeks. Eduard went to the depository as if to work. “I will save as much as I can,” he decided for himself. He managed to smuggle 14 paintings, including four by Kandinskiy, one by Malevich, two by Chagall, two by Falk, two by Burlyuk, one by Lyubov Popova and Lentulov, and two by Pirosmanishvili. Eduard exchanged the latter for candleholders with a Georgian entrepreneur.
Neither of them had any idea how valuable the paintings were. Most of the people did not know the artists, did not understand the art trend. Eduard gave Falk`s paintings to his girlfriend as a birthday present; and sold two paintings by Kandinskiy to a collector Aleksandr Leonidovich Myasnikov, for 650 roubles each. It was big money then – average salary was about 100 roubles – you could live for half a year on that money. He sold the rest of the paintings for a song at a market – he needed money to buy paint, canvas and paper - he desired to paint, he couldn`t live without it.
In a while, Eduard asked his girlfriend if she liked the Falk`s paintings. She said she did, unlike her mother, who threw them away. “I am recalling these events with deep regret. I pray every day, cry and ask God for forgiveness. I understood that the worst thing in life is ignorance – when you don`t know what you are destroying.” It was hard for Eduard to imagine then, what consequences it will have in his life.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

I met Vasiliy Sitnikov when I was about 18. I heard about him from a painter, who took lessons from a well-known avant-garde pro. I was obsessed to improve my technique. Having received his tentative agreement, I came to the communal apartment where he lived, in Rybnikov lane. He occupied a tiny room, 2x2 m, with only a bed and a window, it seemed. Sitnikov fed pigeons from his window. The birds flew up to him and took the food right out of his mouth. it may seem dangerous now - you could catch a disease from wild birds - but nobody thought about it then. Sitnikov enjoyed the reputation of a very eccentric person. He used to receive guests day or night, so it often happened that he fell asleep during a talk or a lesson, which didn`t make him abandon his habit. But, too shy to bother Sitnikov in the middle of the night, I insisted on coming in the daytime. On his door there was a shield, which read: “Me is not home.” On the door of the apartment, a bell hung, followed by a whole chain of bells, leading to Vasiliy`s tiny room where it ended in a huge bell. Besides, there was a kayak, constructed and patented by Sitnikov, hanging under the ceiling.
Sitnikov also had an outstanding appearance. No-one dressed like he did: hole-ridden skin-tight breeches, bare chested, with a cross on his chest, amazingly athletic. He was unusually open, I have never met people like him before.
He showed me some jars, pieces of glass. I asked him: “Vasiliy Yakovlevich, why do you collect this rubbish?” – “It`s not rubbish, it`s museum items,” he answered, “see these seals and marks? This is tsar`s porcelain, made by Kuznetsov`s manufactory. Kuznetsov was well-known before the revolution; there were also the famous  Goncharov`s and Kornilov`s manufactories. Have you heard of Kornilov? Kornilov`s porcelain, Mason`s porcelain…”
Soon we became friends. Once, at a lesson, Sitnikov showed me some icons from his collection. I was amazed at what I saw. Thanks to Sitnikov I realized that icon-painting is a part of art. Sitnikov also opened my eyes to modernism and avant-garde; I owe him my starting to paint abstract pictures. Since then, I also become obsessed with collecting icons.
Once, Sitnikov introduced me to his friend: “Yevgeniy, meet Eduard, a beginning painter. Eduard, Yevgeniy is a poet, listen to his poems, you like poetry, don`t you?" Yevgeniy started reading. "You call this poetry? This is an imitation of Yesenin or somebody else!” I said, not acknowledging him as a poet. Since then, we started to hate each other. A poet in my opinion is the one who has his own style and view, and does not imitate anyone.
Later, I told Yevgeniy that when I would have my poems published, I would probably mention him in the foreword, “what`s your surname, Yevgeniy?” – “Why would you need by surname if you don`t like my poetry?” he retorted. “You are still young, and will probably become a better poet," I supposed. “Yevgeniy, come on, tell Eduard your surname,” Sitnikov asked, and, not waiting for a reply added: "His surname is Yevtushenko.”
Sitnikov, Yevgeniy Yevtushenko and his wife Galia accompanied me in my expeditions to near-Moscow dumps.  It was a sort of Klondike. The unique findings spurred our interest. Soviet people hurried to get rid of the things because of which they could be recognized as the nobility or clergy, as oppression would follow immediately.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

Among my neighbours, there was a man, with absolutely outstanding manners and appearance. He was well-educated, spoke six languages. He was refined and intelligent; he always looked flawlessly, his hair smothered with brilliantine. He worked as a driver. Rumour had it that he was Gen. Vrangel`s personal aide. When other men gathered to discuss current events and cursed, he would leave without a word. The others were outraged at his behavior. “He is not one of us, he`s an officer,” they said.
Once, he was informed on. The police came to get him at night. We lived next door to him, and they knocked to us. Mother opened, the policemen went in. “Lady, close the door, take away the child,” the officer warned strictly. The neighbour`s wife quickly gathered a small bundle of clothes for him. we never saw him again. I was sorry, because it was him who taught me to love art. Thanks to him I became an artist.
This was the time when Khrushchev declared a war on the church to be the state policy. People were afraid to keep religious items at home, and tried to sell them to antique shops, but the authorities arranged raids on them. After Stalin`s death, his allies continued his policy. It was in 1956-58. Komsomol members informed on those who kept religious objects, and they were arrested. so there was only one way out - to dump these things.
We found incredibly valuable things at dumps: Icons, church utensils, pictures, hand-made jewelry. Soon, I possessed unique objects, although they didn`t cost anything then. In my collection I had a XIII-century icon, two XIV-century icons, two VI-century African ebony figures, sixteen IV-century Scythian kettles with engraved animals, a II-century lamp, golden coins and many other.
In late 1980s, the borders were opened for foreigners, and these items regained their true price. The Pushkin art museum experts appraised the African sculptures at 18 million dollars and said that they were priceless. The museum`s director liked Zuzin`s works very much, so he did not inform on him. all of a sudden, Ziuzin became one of the richest people in Moscow.
He got money, cars, bodyguards – and freedom and independence. Moscow banks started to accept deposits from private persons, and Ziuzin was able to live on the interest for the first time in his life, after many years of poverty. It was a favourable time for painting – he could work, not thinking of how to buy paint or canvas. His works were sold at sky-high prices.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

The happy life didn`t last long. Ziuzin`s apartment was burgled 12 times and some of the paintings were stolen. He had to remove his collection from one apartment to another over and over again. Then he was blackmailed over the phone, they demanded money from him in exchange for "friendship and protection", and then they switched from threats to action, trying to kill him several times. Ziuzin was saved by chance.
Once, in Leningrad, Ziuzin was walking down the street with an American woman. And suddenly, a passing Volga-car made a sharp turn, squeaking its wheels, and headed towards then. Eduard pushed the woman away - they were saved by his boxer`s reflexes. She fell behind a lamppost, he fell beside her. Two women, run over by the car, were dying on the pavement; their mouths and ears bled. It flashed through his mind: "People and animals look the same when they die."
The situation became clearer when he was summoned to the KGB. The investigator asked him about his icon collection, what masterpieces he managed to save from the Art fund depository and where he kept them. "They wanted to know where I kept Malevich`s, Kandinskiy`s, Burlyuk`s and Falk`s works. They could not believe I didn`t have them. They wanted me to give them back all the paintings. I swore I didn`t have them. They could not believe; they wanted to know where I hid them; they thought I was a billionaire. The authorities thought I earned a fortune, selling art masterpieces and icons."
The first victim was Eduard`s close friend Valeriy Korolev, a successful jeweller. Several men met him near his apartment when he was coming home. They said that they knew all about him; that he was rich. They asked: "Share with us, we`re your friends; we will protect and guard you, please!"
Valeriy asked Eduard what he should do. He was agitated and trembled all over. "Edik, what should I do, tell me, you were in prison - you should know. I have money, maybe I should share with them and live peacefully?" - "Valeriy, don`t you understand - there will be no peaceful life. They will run out of money and come again and again. You should take all your money and jewelry and leave for Leningrad or Sochi. Have some rest." …At Valeriy`s funeral, some young people approached him and asked, if he realized that he would be next…
One day, a man called Eduard, saying that he saw his paintings in an art salon Rekord, that he liked them and wanted to buy. "How did you get my phone?" Eduard asked. He intuitively felt danger. Taking precautions, Eduard arranged a meeting in the street. His wife Olga accompanied him. They waited for a long time, but the man never came. They returned home. When Eduard was unlocking the door, several men came running from the upper floor. Eduard was quick enough to open the door and to enter the apartment with his wife, but didn`t manage to lock the door - one of the men put his foot between the door and the jamb. Eduard held the door back as tight as he could, ??? with his feet at the wall. Olga cried, preparing to die. It was very hard to hold back the door - three men were pushing at it. "Olga, grab the axe and chop the foot!" Eduard wheezed out. The foot moved back, and the door closed.
That night he had to call his old friend, a general, who sent people to guard them. Masked people were on duty in the apartment all night long. Two icons disappeared that night. The loss was discovered in the morning. Outraged, Eduard yelled into the receiver: "Take these bastards back, they`ve robbed me!" It occurred to him: "These are not criminals, these are controlled professionals."
Olga cried: "Edik, I can`t go on like this, let`s go away, or they are going to kill us." They went to Eduard`s close friend, a top foreign ministry official. They begged him for help. With his assistance, they got Latvian visas and hurriedly flew to the USA from there. having landed in New York City, Eduard asked the first policeman he saw to provide asylum for him and his wife.
The true danger for Ziuzin was not in his icon and paintings collection. The secret was revealed later: he took part in the events, which could become a world sensation…
To be continued…
Valery Zhiltsov, Museum of contemporary Russian art in Jersey City.

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

It is hand to imagine today how Russian art, and first of all the Russian avant-garde, which came info being in the early 1910s and influenced all world art of the twentieth century, would have developed if the existence of the new art had not been cut short by the totalitarian regime which had established strict control over everything in our country: politics, economics, philosophy, literature, art, morality and even the width of pants and the color of ties.

I also remember that when I was in Athens visiting Georgy Kostaki, I head him say that he was going to write a book about the Russian avant-garde. At that time Georgy Dionisovich developed the main idea of his future book: the Russian avant-garde had exhausted itself and died a natural death. It is good that Kostaki did not write his book after all, for what natural death can you talk about when it was suffocated by the political forces, of course with the help of their followers from among the critics and artists. Those times in our country were really cannibalistic.

After all, the avant-garde artists were the first to support the revolution. It seemed to the creators of new forms and new visions of the world that the new life called for a new art. It seemed to them that the revolution had opened up unlimited possibilities for experimenting in the arts.

In 1919 Kandinsky and Malevich become the leading artists in Petrograd. The avant-gardists, who were still called “the left”, do the decorations for all the revolutionary holidays, and they head the State Institute of Culture and the Department of Fine Arts of the People’s Commissariat of Education and its paper Iskusstvo Kommuny (The Art of the Commune).

In Vitebsk, the FNA (Founders of a New Art) was created in February 1920, in Leningrad the MAA (Masters of Avant-Garde Art) union was created in 1925 and that year in Moscow the PS (Painters` Society). At the beginning of the twenties the New Society of Painters (NSP) and the Society of Young Artists (SYA) appeared in Moscow. In other words, in the early twenties and throughout that decade art life in Moscow and Leningrad, and in many other cities of Russia for that matter, literally boiled. It is sufficient to name such now world famous artists as Malevich, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Filonov, Chagall, Rodchenko, L.Popova, Lisitsky, Klyun, Lentulov, Sherenberg, in order to understand what heights liberal Russian art had reached in those days.

But where were the academician-realists and dogmatic artists, those irreconcilable and, I’d even go so far as to say, deadly enemies of “left art”? They, not believing in the final victory of the Bolsheviks, were biding their time. And only when they were convinced thet the Soviet government would be in power for a long time, did they begin to make up for lost time. The AARR (Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia) founded in 1922 declared an all-out war on the avant-gardists.

And here it is necessary to mention that, of course, there were factions among avant-gardists. For example, there was a long-standing battle between Malevich, the father of suprematism, and the great constructionist Tatlin. This had always gone on between artists of different trends all over the world. However, such battles were usually a matter of discussions and disputes, and involved works of art and manifestoes of one or another group. The AARR members set into motion political accusations, practically daring to involve those in power.

One of the AARR leaders, Katzman, a future Soviet academician, wrote: “The teachers of the left” - Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Marinetti and others – are the ideologues of small groups of the bourgeois intelligentsia in a period of capitalistic flare-up of nervousness and contradiction”. AARR theoretician, Perelman, expressed a similar opinion: “For future historians the art of Picasso and our Kandinsky, Malevich and others of that ilk will be clear and undisputable proof of the insane horror which seized the world bourgeoisie as they reached a dead end. ” The AARRists not only made political accusations but tried to break up the exhibitions of the “left” painters. In the book Soviet Art of the Twenties and Thirties published in Leningrad in 1988, E. Kovtun writes in his article “The Path of the Russian Avant-Garde”: “In the summer of 1926 the scheduled exhibition opened at the SIC (The State Institute of Culture). By that time the antagonism which Malevich had written about [between the `lefts` and the AARR] had grown worse, the AARRists were gaining political clout. The 10th of June, 1926, article << Hiding behind the name of a state institution is a monastery with several nuts who are, possibly unconsciously, coming out with counter-revolutionary statements fooling our Soviet academic institutions>>.An investigation was begun and a commission made up of leading scholars testified about the research activity of the institute, but its fate was a forgone matter”. In his article E. Kovtun tells how in 1929 the Russian Museum was not allowed to open the advertised exhibition of Filonov`s works.

It is interesting that the fervent ardor of the battle and the passion for demagogy of the AARRists in the twenties has not settled to this day. In the beginning of the sixties I worked closely together with the department of literature and art of the paper Moskovsky Komsomolets which was then headed by the current president of the Literary Institute, Yevgeny Sidorov. He said to me off-hand: “Katzman is coming now, do not argue with him.” And an old, but still lively comrade did walk into the room soon. He began to enthusiastically tell about how he had taken Voroshilov to an exhibition and how the latter had admired some of the pictures. I could not retrain from saying: “What does Voroshilov know about painting?” And Katzman went right on the attack – these young people who are skeptics having read the so-called memoirs of Ehrenburg and so on and so forth… He was really angry. Minding Yevgeny, I headed for the door. But Katzman caught up with me and said: “In spite of our differences we have much in common. Haven’t we?” My silence was clear. But he could not keep from saying: “Want me to tell you what we have in common?” I looked at him in curiosity and he blurted out: “Our Soviet government!”

That was in the sixties. Imagine this man of the arts when he was young in the twenties and especially in the thirties.

However, the question arises: were the Bolsheviks really in the dark about who supported them from the very beginning, and who joined them only after everything had become clear. Of course they knew. But that was not the main thing for them. They did not need experimenters, but spreaders of their ideas and their activity. In other words they needed obedient followers with their art understandable by the masses in the fine arts, and also in literature.

It should be said that dooming art to the role of a servant of the party was thought up by Lenin. The famous Russian artist Yury Annenkov told in his “Diary of My Meetings” of a very curious incident. Annenkov’s father was a close friend of Lenin’s even before the revolution and had helped him hide from the police. Annenkov when he was young knew Trotsky, Zinovyev, Kamenev and other Bolshevik leaders well. (Two years ago they reprinted Annenkov’s memoirs, but only the volume in which he reminisces about writers, poets and artists. Maybe now they will print the other one where he tells about his meetings and talks with the Bolshevik leaders). So when Lenin died, the Politbureau of the Central Committee asked the young and talented artist well known to the party leaders to do a picture of Lenin’s office. Working there Annenkov discovered Lenin’s notes. And among them were the typically energetic and clearly expressed thoughts of the leader on art. Lenin had written: “We need art only as an instrument of propaganda. When it has fulfilled its function then we will remove it like a blind gut as being of not further use”.

This behest of Lenin’s was never published (it was really improper to openly allot art the Role of a servant), but in real life the Bolsheviks steadfastly carried it out. Therefore, the avant-gardists were doomed though they persistently resisted during the twenties.

As early as 1928 the Agitprprom of the CC of the party approved the work of the AARR and told them to do more. In April 1932 a resolution of the same Central Committee did away with all Artists’ Unions and with them went the last remnants of creative freedom. Painters were driven into the new Artist’ Union and were only permitted to paint in the style of socialist realism.

Those of the “left” that had foreseen such an end left the USSR back in the twenties. Two stars of twentieth century world art, Kandinsry and Chagall, were among them. Those who remained suffered: they were not allowed to exhibit their works or teach. Some of them went over to illustrating books, others “reformed” themselves, and still others went underground. As a rule they were reduced to poverty and hunger. During the war the great Filonov died of hunger in Leningrad. The Artists’ Union refused to come to the aid of the uncompromising master.

How can one speak of the natural death of the avant-garde? No, they were crushed for a whole decade and in the end obliterated. It is no accident that during the first thaw in the sixties, some art critics and artists tried to return to art lovers and the country her masters of the twenties. The Artists’ Union, of course, supported by the party, raised their hackles. And I repeat, even in the sixties positive mention say of Kandinsky or Malevich caused the teeth of the stalwarts of the official art, socialist realism, to gnash. They permitted, though unwillingly, writing and speaking about Petrov-Vodkin, Konchlovsky and Falk who were also taboo in Stalin’s times. However, Thr Great Russian Avant-Garde, that was the way the British art critic Camilla Grey Called her book (1952), remained banned. And only since 1988 have Soviet art critics been allowed to write about the Russian avant-garde of the twenties. But, interestingly, even in the profound research publications some of the Soviet art critics at times call for a balanced approach. After all there was the avant-garde and the AARR. And there were interesting artists in both camps. Why now smear the AARR, as they had smeared the avant-gardists? It seems to me that from the point of view of the history of art, such an approach is wrong. First of all, there never were nor could there be among the opportunists in the AARR such world famous names as those of Malevich, Kandinsky, Rodcheko, Tatlin, Cagall, Lisitsky, L. Popova. Secondly, we are talking of victims and murderers. So, neither in creative potential, nor in the sense of human qualities are these two groups compatible.

Mikhail Yurievich Gherman, whom I greatly respect, in his book Painting. 1920-1930, which came out in Moscow in 1989 writes: “Farmers Holiday” by A. Plastov (1937), is a sincere and naïve picture myth, painted with passion, with precisely chosen characters, expansively and freely. And what an unforgivable mistake it would be to suspect the artist of simple opportunism! That was the time of labor feats really striking the imagination, of real enthusiasm. And the artist gives from to the knowledge and notions about all the best that is going on in the country, or about a specific, almost everyday, event which therefore should be depicted with a reporter’s preciseness.”

Sorry, Mikhail Yurievich, I just cannot agree with you. A. Plastov is no moron not seeing the world as it really is. And he painted his picture not in a year of real labor victories, but in a year of unequaled terror. It is possible that he did not know precisely about the millions in the camps, about the millions of “dekulakized” peasants exiled to Siberia, and that when there was hunger in the Ukraine in the “wonderful” thirties the mothers ate their children (read Vassily Grossman’s book Everything Changes…). But he could not help knowing that writers and artists were being arrested, that the peasants after working hard all day only lived in poverty. And was not it blasphemy, was not it an example of naked opportunism and obeying the criminal party to paint the “Farmers Holiday” at that time! What kind of “reporter’s preciseness” are you speaking about? And was Plastov really not aware of the crushing of the Russian avant-garde, that the avant-garde artists, his colleagues even if he did not agree with them on questions of art, were living in poverty and huger in the fill sense of the word? No, A. Plastov’s “Farmers Holiday” is the most clear expression of the principles of socialist realism, of this, excuse the expression, art, and its trend. And, God, there were a lot of such Plastovs in the thirties, forties and fifties in our country both in art and in literature. In Ufa in 1959 the chairman of the Artists’ Union of Bashkiria to my question, “Why did they remove the only interesting artist from the spring exhibition”, importantly and irreproachably answered: “We don’t need Picassos and Matisses here in Bashkiria.” The same old ture.

But we shall talk about socialist realists in the next chapter. I’d like to end this chapter by telling about the avant-gardists (it is not a matter of their names) who overcame fear – and there was something to fear – and remained true to themselves and tried to relay their knowledge about avant-garde art to eager young artists. It is difficult to imagine that during the Stalinist terror, with all the informers, there nevertheless were such people. But, as Josef Vissarionovich loved to say, “facts are stubborn things”.

I was told about avant-gardists who lived until the forties by the Muscovite Vladimir Nemukhin, the southerner Leonid Pinchevsky and some other painters and graphic artists. None of these first teachers of the unofficial artists of the sixties were renowned. More often they were the pupils of the greats. Such, for example, is E. Sokolov, a pupil of Malevich and the tutor of Nemukhin, and V. Sterligov, also a pupil of Malevich and tutor of a whole group of Leningrad painters. The merit of these people crushed and maimed by the terrible times is great. They acquainted the next generation of Russian artists with the ABCs of the new art created by the great Russian avant-gardists of the twenties. And in doing so, they risked, I repeat, a lot, perhaps even their freedom and lives.

Alexander Glezer, from the book “Сontemporary Russian Art”

Up Next article Previous article
Next article Previous article

"The National Socialist policy, even the part of it which is called the cultural policy, is determined by the Fuhrer and those he has given corresponding authority."

(Wolfgang Schulz. "The Principles of the National Socialist Cultural Policy")

'Comrade Stalin inspires artists, he points the way for them... The decisions of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the report of A Zhdanov give Soviet writers a complete work program."

(E. Yaroslavsky. From the report at the XVII party congress)

What is socialist realism? Of course you could call it a still-born, false and formal art - and all this would be true. But it has to have some kind of a more or less theoretical definition. And it does. It goes as follows: "Socialist realism is the depiction of reality in its revolutionary development." Not very clear? But it is all very simple. For example, if the people in the country are starving, you depict tables covered with all sorts of delicacies. That is reality in its revolutionary development. In other words lies, lies and more lies. It is not without reason that Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke about the lies on which the whole totalitarian communist system was built as one of the most terrible vices of the USSR. And if it is all built on lies, if black is called white and vice versa, if democracy is called fascism, and Red fascism people's democ­racy, if the noble and courageous defender of human rights Vladimir Bukovsky is branded as a rogue on the pages of the "most free press" (and one can give endless such examples), then how can literature and art avoid falling into the same pithole. It is for lying that the method of socialist realism was thought up, for only with the help of a great untruth could the people be convinced that the country had a fine present life and a bright future.

Once Stalin, when meeting with writers, had been asked what socialist realism was. He noted with his innate cynicism: "Write the truth, comrades, and that will be socialist realism." But to actually write the truth was extremely dangerous, and many paid with their freedom and even their lives for having tried to write the truth. As for "depicting reality in its revolutionary development", then the real meaning of these words is that (look at the epigraph to this chapter) this reality had to be seen through the eyes of its com­munist leaders. Therefore, in essence, socialist realism is just propagandist art (remember the testimony of the artist Yuri Annenkov above). It is a false art serving the communist party. The leader of the Moscow non-conformist artists, Oscar Rabin, answering questions put him by a correspondent of the paper Wa­shington Post in 1971, hit the nail on the head, in my opinion: "Socialist realism is whatever you please." And really, more than half a century socialist realist writers and painters depicted not reality, but what the party demanded at one time or another, and of course the portraits of the leaders. If collectivization was announced, then a whole army of painters, distorting how things really were, depicted happy peasants (that the best were dispossessed and even killed was not important, the party needed happy farmers in the pictures), farmers sitting at a table bending under the weight of all the good food celebrat­ing a holiday (when it was known that these people were starving), and heroes of socialist labor (it is known how they became heroes). But if they set about industrialization, then it does not matter what me­thods are used to go about it, what Draconian laws are applied to the workers. It was necessary to glorify the cause and the socialist realists did just that. There appeared pictures with hard workers who stood reading the paper Pravda next to a blast furnace (other variants were in an automobile plant, a coal mine or somewhere in the Far North, etc.) during lunch break. In general, whatever the party was pushing, that was the kind of pictures the socialist realist artists concocted. And the interesting thing is that even the really talented masters gradually lost their talent, for those selling out their talent inevitably lose it. For example, can the pictures of the young Deineka or Pimenov be compared to their later works

And this is understandable. For when an artist paints a picture he feels something. If not for a day or two but for thirty years he has to imitate others' feelings, then what of his own remain in the end? That is why the talent of so many of our   writers, artists and poets deteriorated.

At times I would happen to hear a conversation like the following: "Don't you like Laktionov? Why, he's a master. There's no denying that. Every button painted in the picture looks real." Of course, Laktio­nov is a master; however, he is not a creator, but a craftsman. Almost anyone could learn to paint like that. Sit ten craftsmen down opposite a tree and ask them to paint it and you will get ten pictures all exactly the same. But if you sit real artists down, each would see the tree in his own way and each would paint it differently. Besides exterior appearances people and things have an internal essence. Let me give you a good example. Once Pablo Picasso was doing a portrait of Gertrude Stein. He made one sketch, then another and his choice fell upon the third one. The artist's friends were surprised: "Why, in the first two she resembles herself, but in the third she's not a woman but a pig in a cube." "But isn't that what she is?" answered Picasso. That's real talent for you.

And it is entirely understandable why the young artists in the sixties willing to work treely, and not follow the dogmas of socialist realism, were so hated by the official artists, that is the socialist realists. First of all, they were rivals. Secondly, where the hell did they come from? After all, and this is notable, it was thought that all avant-gardists had long ago been squashed, and socialist realism reigned over one sixth of the earth. But the fight with modernism went on. After a break due to World War II, the witch hunt began again. In 1947 the Museum of New Western Art in Moscow (what did we need with the impres­sionists and Fauvists, Cezanne and Picasso?) was closed and in 1949 even the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, where classical Western art was displayed (that was at the height of the battle with cosmopolita­nism). Where did all these subversive ideas reappear from right after the great leader and teacher had passed away? The King feared (and rightly so) being caught naked. And that fear forced him to turn to the well-tested weapon of the twenties: to political accusations and denunciations.

Up Next article Previous article