International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
News Archive
Micro Talks
Cankarjev Dom
M1 & M2

The New Academy's Defence Olesya Turkina,
Viktor Mazin

The appearance of the New Academy
According to the dating of Timur Novikov, the founder of neo-academism, this artistic movement was born in 1988, when he created a series of collages and photo-montages, dedicated to Oscar Wild. He organised the first neo-academist exhibit in 1989 in the House of Culture "Svyazy", where he presented a kind of proto-neoacademic painting – "Portrait of a Youth with an Oar". At the origins of neo-academism, apart from Timur Novikov, stand Georgii Guryanov, Denis Egelskii, Andrei Medvedev.
The New Academy of Fine Arts primarily has established itself on St. Petersburg traditions. It is largely a matter of the archtitectural and museum contexts of the city. St. Petersburg has the symbolic status of the most European city in Russia and the cultural capital. It is considered an architectural monument, famous for its empire-style ensembles, palaces and museums, park sculpture and classical ballet. Neo-academism has singled out for itself these traditions.
An academy presupposes the transmission of traditions: "continuity will become a symbol of the 1990s among us, schools and school pupils appeared, the concept of the limited significance of knowledge arose, the platonic approach to knowledge" (T. Novikov). The artists of the New Academy are its professors and students. The neo-academists Oleg Maslov and Viktor Kuznetsov create large paintings, Denis Egelskii, Egor Ostrov and Stanislav Makarov are reviving the traditions of gummiarabic photography, Olga Tobreluts and Yuliya Strausova work with computer graphics and sculpture. The foundation of the New Academy is not technologies that may be the most diverse, but ideology, founded on the idea of the ideal image.

Ideology of the New Academy
In St. Petersburg the Academy of the Arts is still functioning, the first one in Russia, founded in the 18th century. However, the neo-academists reproach the "old academists" for the loss of classical traditions. From the viewpoint of neo-academism this history appears as follows: beginning in the 1860s, with the appearance of the "Peredvizhniks", a group of artists who shifted from academic themes in painting to genre pictures on subjects contemporaneous with them, the Academy of Arts gradually moved away from academism. After the revolution of 1917, when new revolutionarily-minded professors, artists of the Russian avant-garde, came to the Academy of Arts, the whole system of teaching changed fundamentally. Mythological personages were finally banished from the "academic swamp", as K. Malevich called it. The "academic image" was denied the opportunity to reproduce itself in the revolutionary epoch. For example, in the 1920s the genitalia of antique plaster statues were repressed in the Academy. The plaster statues were at first "dressed", then castrated.
Thus after some time they were forced to order genital moulds specially from Italy. With the emergence of socialist realist art, "academic" principles were established anew in the Academy of Arts. However, in the 1960s, together with the thaw of the ideological climate in the USSR, tendencies percolated into the Academy that were alien to it, first impressionism, then expressionism. Thus the task of neo-academism in art is ecological: protection of the repressed, displaced, forgotten. Ecological protection presupposes a conflict of minority and majority discourses, conflict with the master. The role of such a master in the drama of neo-academism is played by Modernism. Modernism in the broad sense of the word, including postmodernism.
It is interesting that from the point of view taken in criticism, neo-academism itself is perceived as modernism with the struggle for truth, ideals, the sublime, that are inherent in it. At the same time the appeal to classical art, to traditions, appeared just in postmodern conditions. It is perceived precisely as a pastiche and separate works of the neo-academist school, in particular the paintings of Oleg Maslov and Viktor Kuznetsov, who insert themselves and their friends into the myth of the golden age. However, the chief ideologist of neo-academism refuses to distance himself from the object of irony. Neo-academists are the "new serious ones". The "new seriousness" is analysed in a modernist key: "It is impossible to create authentic art in chattering, it is creation, when the artist is immersed into himself" (Timur Novikov). The foundation for seriousness is oppositions, working as markers of the territory of art, as lighthouses for rationalisation and a projecting charting of the world.
The appearance of market relations is related not so much to modernism as to modernisation of the territory of art. The ideology of Timur Novikov warns against worship of the golden calf. It is necessary to oppose the market. The market is criticised in the discourse of the gospel tradition, expelling the "traders from the temple", in this case, from the temple of art: "if Russian postmodernists need Western money, then the "new serious ones" need nothing of the kind, they work with a pencil on paper" (Timur Novikov). The majority of neo-academist exhibits take place in the hall of the New Academy of Fine Arts. Incidentally, such an ideological aim does not signify that artists of the New Academy refuse to collaborate with Western and Russian galleries.
Another opposition exploited by neo-academism: modern and contemporary American art and European tradition. The ecological programme of neo-academism is called upon to preserve classical traditions of European art, protecting them from Coca-Cola culture and Campbell's tomato soup. The opposition that is drawn up and the calls to defend the European population do not prevent Timur Novikov from carefully keeping in his collection a "Campbell's" label, signed and sent to him by Andy Warhol, along with a fragment from an installation by Joseph Beuys and other "modernist" artefacts.
Within the framework of Petersburg art, neo-academism is opposed to necro-realism. If the first preserve traditions as the source of life, then the second are concerned with the problem of death in art. Incidentally, the very appeal to traditions, to the museumised canon, presupposes a return from modernity to what has already been.
The regular constituting of oppositions in neo-academism defends from relativism that disorients the subject, from the heterogeneity of postmodern art, from uninterrupted circulation of goods on the art market. Neo-academism, for Timur Novikov, does not belong to contemporary art. In other words, it belongs to non-contemporary art. The struggle with time as a necessary condition of market art should be overcome in neo-academism. Appeal to the past protects against the presence.
Opposition turns out to be a successful instrument of neo-academist propaganda. The mass media, both Russian and Western, perceive and master neo-academism within the framework of their own binary picture of the world. Thus, in a number of Western mass media, the New Academy was presented as a direct heir of the totalitarian ideology, as before, not yielding in the struggle with Western democracy.
The ideologism of the New Academy is emphasised by the conspiralogical type of discourse developed by Timur Novikov: "The relationship of the USSR and the West was constructed already in the 1940s by John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. Then the fundamental positions and priorities were formulated, the West's tasks with reference to Russia. Then the first seeds were sown for the germination of the fifth column, on the shoulders of which the West was supposed to enter our land and carry out a cold occupation.… Now it is clear that the whole action with the dissemination of American modernism is relevant only for the countries of Western Europe, that are members of NATO. And Russia is necessary for the West in the image of the enemy". Artists of the type of Aleksandr Brener and Oleg Kulik play the part of this enemy-for-the-West. However, it must be said that neo-academism itself is built into this paradigm. Conspiralogy protects the interests of neo-academism.
The importance of ideology in neo-academism is underlined by propagandist work. The New Academy regularly publishes newspapers, magazines, books. Among the publications are the manifestos of neo-academism, articles, and books, exposing Western modernism as a general project of the 20th century, ecological appeals, calling for the rescue of genuine culture. The author of most of these works is Timur Novikov, the chief ideologist of neo-academism.

The New Academy and Russia in new conditions
The New Academy emerged in the transitional period, at the moment when the new state system of Russia started to take shape, and the new apparatus that served it was beginning to form.
The New Academy in its own way reproduces this process. This sort of mimesis may mean not only ironic distancing from state bureaucracy but also the modernist desire to reconstruct the world, engaged in a struggle for an idea. We are a new bureaucratic art, says Timur Novikov. The New Academy is not simply a circle of artists who are friends. It includes not only professors and students, but the academic secretary (Andrei Khlobystin), and the director of the Museum of the New Academy (Timur Novikov), and the press secretary (Vikentii Dav), and the manager of the publishing department (Aleksandr Medvedev), and the manager of the educational section (Andrei Medvedev), and the manager of the research department (Denis Egelskii), and the director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Olga Tobreluts). Every year an awards ceremony is held for those distinguished by honorary diplomas from the New Academy. The New Academy imitates not only state structures but also the political movements that are so relevant for today's Russia. The New Academy has its own network of adepts and agents in Moscow, Berlin, Vienna, and other cities. The New Academy pursues an active exhibition policy in different regions of Russia. The New Academy, in accordance with Novikov's doctrine, acts not only according to the East-West axis, but also according to the North-South axis.
On the one hand, North-South in the neo-academic discourse is a diachronic axis of tracing traditions from Athens in the south to Petersburg in the north. On the other hand, it is a synchronised axis, along which moves the generation of so-called "new Russians" parallel to the neo-academic course in art, among whom one awaits the appearance of connoisseurs, patrons, collectors. Novikov characterised the taste that is being formed among this new social class as New Russian Classicism.
New Russian Classicism is classicism for new Russians who revere the empire style and collect antiques. New Russian Classicism as the rising state style of New Russia already appeared in the neo-classical style of commercial structures and public monuments of the 1990s. A certain part of the new Russian population is adapting to the rapidly changing reality, by means of rebuilding their living quarters "in the old style", they concentrate on conservation of "authentic" traditions, on investing capital in "old" art. The identity lost after the disintegration of the USSR is being restored by way of "the time connection", and the sense of empire is lived through anew.
Incidentally, the New Academy appeals not only to new Russians, but to the hypothetical masses, setting them against the few critics who serve the Western market.
This gesture points to the neo-academism's genetic-chronological connection to the epoch of the postmodern, that erases high and low. Timur Novikov's interest in the so-called mass culture, advertising, fashion is not accidental, since it is precisely in this sphere that he discovers a return of the classic image that has been supplanted in high culture. Mass art exploits classical aesthetics, which has become "generally accessible", published, recognised everywhere, having lost the aura of authenticity during the 20th century. Neo-academism, on the one hand, confirms "high" art, the appeal to refined European traditions, on the other hand, it finds corroboration of its ideology in the universal accessibility of its aesthetics. It is just the populism of neo-academism that frightens critics, who see in it attempts to manipulate mass ideology.
The way to the future for the New Academy lies not in the pursuit of time but in the desire to go out of time, in a paradoxical way to become part of history already, now, the Great History of Art. Defending itself from the constantly fragmenting present, the New Academy nostalgically strives to restore the Coherent Great Story, to establish the New Aesthetic Order.


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