This Leads to Fire: Russian Art From Nonconformism to Global Capitalism, Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection

Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College

Sep. 14, 2024 - Jan. 11, 2015

735 Anderson Hill Road
Purchase, New York 10577

As world attention is riveted by current events in Ukraine, an upcoming exhibition of works by contemporary Russian artists at the Neuberger Museum of Art takes on a new urgency. In This Leads to Fire: Russian Art From Nonconformism to Global Capitalism, Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection, on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College from September 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015, the challenges that Russian contemporary artists pose to both Russian and Western culture are vividly portrayed.

“In the Soviet period, it was the pluralism of the international art world that sustained and inspired these artists, as well as their collective relationships of mutual support, both material and creative,” says curator of the exhibition Sarah Warren, assistant professor of art history at Purchase College, the State University of New York. “Today’s artists are still burdened by the legacy of Soviet Realism and face an increasingly repressive environment.” She adds that though many of the artists have exhibited extensively in the West, this exhibition will reveal the deeper context of the Kolodzeis’ collecting practices, consider the challenges the artists still face, and familiarize viewers with an important yet underappreciated body of work.

This Leads to Fire: Russian Art From Nonconformism to Global Capitalism, Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection is organized into five parts that explore the origins of Nonconformist art, the developments of Moscow Conceptualism and Sots Art, the influence of the Russian avant-garde in geometric abstraction, and the coercive legacy of Socialist Realism. It features about 100 works of art—from the 1950s through the period of Glasnost and into the present—from the Kolodzei Art Foundation, one of the most extensive collections of Nonconformist and contemporary Russian art in the world. Among the artists represented are: conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid; Oleg Vassiliev and Erik Bulatov, painters whose works slyly challenged Soviet realities; Nonconformist artists Ernst Neizvestny, Oscar Rabin, Vladimir Nemukhin, and Vladimir Yakovlev; and contemporary artists Tatiana Antoshina, Irene Caesar, Alla Esipovich, Anton S. Kandinsky, Alexandra Dementieva, and Valery Yershov.

Founded in 1991 with the support of American sponsors, the Foundation comprises the joint collection of Tatiana Kolodzei, who organized exhibitions of works by Nonconformist artists in the former Soviet Union, and her daughter Natalia Kolodzei. Today, the collection contains approximately 7,000 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photography and video, by more than 300 artists, acquired during four decades of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist art, from the post-Stalinist era to the present.

The Different Sides of Individualism and Repression
According to Professor Warren, many of the artists represented in this exhibition were dissidents, who refused the dictates of Soviet authority. Warren says, “They struggled to assert their individuality, but also banded together to counter Socialist Realism, the officially sanctioned style that dominated Russian art for much of the 20th century.” She frames the history of this period around two crucial moments in the relationship of these artists with Soviet authorities, which coincide with key developments in contemporary art in the West.

Warren explains: “The first of these key moments is the winter of 1962¬–63, when several artists who had previously been excluded from exhibitions were invited to participate in the Manezh Exhibition of Moscow artists. Encouraged by a thaw in Cold War politics during Khrushchev’s tenure, the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the liberalization of art institutions, and the exhibition of avant-garde Western art in Moscow in the late fifties, they were among those who had begun to stretch the limits of official art.

“But their inclusion in the exhibition only facilitated their further marginalization within the Soviet art establishment. Khrushchev was invited to the event and objected vociferously to their work. As a consequence, the Moscow Artists’ Union was censured, many artists lost their positions at art schools, and liberals were purged from official institutions. For years, the artists suffered in obscurity. If we compare this traumatic series of events with simultaneous artistic activities in the West, we see a stark contrast in conditions of production. For example, 1962–63 witnessed the first Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden, the founding of the Viennese Actionist Group, and the advent of Minimalism in the United States.”

“Over ten years later, when artists attempted to mount an open-air exhibition in an empty lot in an outer suburb of Moscow in 1974, they were attacked and their works run over by bulldozers. Western journalists and diplomats, who happened to be on the scene, witnessed this and the ‘Bulldozer Exhibition’ became a notorious embarrassment for Soviet authorities. The concessions granted to artists in the wake of it played no small role in the eventual dissolution of the single party system,” Warren says. “At the same time, however, many artists remained in a continued state of harassment and even outright expulsion.

“All this transpired during the same year that, in the United States, by contrast, artists Chris Burden had himself crucified on a Volkswagen Beetle (Trans-fixed, 1974) and Carolee Schneemann recited a text from a scroll she pulled out of her vagina (Interior Scroll, 1974).

“Looking back on this period from the present, the systematic repression experienced by unofficial artists was a grave violation of civil rights. Hindsight also provides another, perhaps more surprising, revelation—the degree to which visual art was considered a crucial component of public life in the USSR. In contrast, the anti-establishment extremes of vanguard artists in the West yielded almost no response from authorities. Considering the all-encompassing efforts made by Western governments to suppress such political opposition groups as the Black Panthers and the Red Army Faction, the freedom afforded to Western artists implied that art was seen as so separate from public life as to be completely harmless. The aesthetic autonomy of Western art practice was thus the other side of a profound disempowerment in the public sphere. Many of the artists working today struggle, in some way, with this separation.”

The following programs and events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition:

Open House, Sunday, September 14, 2014, 1 to 3 pm
Free and open to the public

Neu First Wednesday Lecture, Wednesday, November 5, 6:30 pm
Masha Gessen: Russian Power, Russian Dissent
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, will discuss contemporary issues in Russia. Held at the Purchase College Music Conservatory Recital Hall. Refreshments following the lecture at the Neuberger Museum of Art.

Conversation: Collecting Art in Russia, Tuesday, November 18, 11 am
Join Natalia Kolodzei in a conversation about collecting art in Russia. Kolodzei’s family daringly amassed one of the most extensive collections of Nonconformist and contemporary Russian art in the world, that is now part of the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection.

Neu First Wednesdays
Media Lecture: Artists Speak–Vitaly Komar, Wednesday, December 3, 4:30 pm
Vitaly Komar has spent much of his career reacting to what he calls “the overproduction of ideology and its propaganda,” most notably Soviet Socialist Realism. From 1967 to 2003, Komar and Alexander Melamid organized various conceptual projects, ranging from painting and performance to installation, public sculpture, photography, music, and poetry, which form a powerful response to contemporary political and social climates. This New Media Lecture is presented by the Neuberger Museum of Art and the New Media Board of Study, School of Film and Media Studies, Purchase College. Free admission and refreshments will be served.


The Neuberger Museum of Art is an integral part of Purchase College, State University of New York. The Museum is supported in part by the State University of New York. Support for the Museum’s collection, exhibitions, publications, and education programs is provided by grants from public and private agencies, individual contributions, and the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art’s members and Board.

The Museum is located at 735 Anderson Hill Road in Purchase, N.Y. (Westchester)

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The Neuberger Museum of Art is easily accessible by car or bus, and may also be reached by Metro-North. By car: From the North or South – take the Hutchinson River Parkway to Exit 28. Head north on Lincoln Avenue to Anderson Hill Road. Turn right onto Anderson Hill Road. Left at first traffic light into Purchase College campus. From 684 – take Exit 2 South on Route 120 to Anderson Hill Road. Turn left onto Anderson Hill to 2nd traffic light. Turn left at Purchase College campus. From the East – take Route 287 (Cross Westchester Expressway) to Exit 8E. Take second left over Expressway onto Anderson Hill Road. Follow signs to SUNY Purchase.

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