The New Academy's Defence Olesya Turkina,
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 Umetniki 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 Fundacija 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 Zgodovina appears as follows: beginning in the 1860s, with
the appearance of the "Peredvizhniks", a group of Umetniki
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, Umetniki
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 Fundacija 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 Umetniki 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
Program 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".
Umetniki 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
Novice arhivpapers, 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
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 Umetniki 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
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
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 Zgodovina already, now, the
Great Zgodovina of Art. Defending itself from the constantly
fragmenting present, the New Academy nostalgically strives
to restore the Coherent Great Story, to establish the New