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Nonconformism Receives Museum Status

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

A museum dedicated to nonconformism opens in Moscow

By Elena Rubinova

(Translated by the author from the original article in Russian published on the website

General View of the Museum

Although the new private museum officially opened on 24 June, the hospitable exhibition space occupying the ground and basement floors of the historic building on Myasnitskaya Street is well known to both the art community and the general public. In the 1920s the building hosted the dormitory of the Stroganovsky Art Institute and the teachers' flats, while in the beginning of the 21st century contemporary art made a presence in these premises.

Museum founder Nadia Brykina

Nadja Brykina Gallery is a Moscow venue of the renowned Swiss gallery focusing on Russian art from the second half of the 20th century up to the present time – since 2010, exhibitions and retrospectives of Soviet nonconformist artists and young Russian artists have been held here. Today, the gallery owner and collector Nadja Brykina, founder of the Nadja Brykina Foundation, continues what she has been doing for more than a quarter of a century.“ Preserving our history and cultural heritage has been important to me from the very beginning of my path as a gallerist and collector,” she emphasizes. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the gallery and the foundation have long been operating as an independent research institution – in addition to arranging the exhibitions, the foundation runs numerous publishing projects, releases documentaries that explore the work of selected artists, and organizes collaborative projects with other Russian museums. Now all of them will be continued at a more eminent status. The decision to establish the museum was made a year ago, becoming a logical continuation of the gallery's operation, but the opening fell on this summer.

Guests at the opening ceremony;

Nadja Brykina and Leonid Bazhanov speaking

One of the main goals of the new museum, as well as of the foundation established back in 2018, is to contribute to the popularization of nonconformist art of the 1960s-70s and the recognition of its significance in the global context. Nonconformism is known internationally both as the “Soviet underground” and as a direct heir to the Russian avant-garde. However, it’s a much broader notion. Nadja Brykina, the museum founder, is deeply convinced that art has a special value when it is born against all odds. “In my view, nonconformism has always been important. Everything significant in art was once nonconformist, a revolutionary phenomenon that society condemned and forbade. Now it is being acknowledged as an asset and a cause for pride”, she explained.

No less important is the broad interpretation of “nonconformism” in the new reality. This is exactly what Leonid Bazhanov, a well-known art historian, curator and art historian, and the founder of the State Centre for Contemporary Art, was talking about at the opening: “The mission of the museum is not only to collect things that belong to a particular period of life in the Soviet Union. There have been attempts to create similarly orientated collections in Moscow, Europe and America. What is more important is the living spirit and life of this museum. A museum associated with a particular epoch has a future due to the multiple meanings of the term ‘nonconformism’. It is still necessary to theoretically comprehend what it is to understand what kind of independent existence it has and what are the differences between nonconformity and imposed forms. What stands for ‘artistic’, ‘intellectual’ and ‘spiritual’ nonconformism?”

Sculpture in the foreground No comment by Olga and Oleg Tatarintsev,

chamotte (grog or firesand), glaze, 2013

The museum utilizes the artistic resources of the Nadja Brykina collection that includes works by such well known nonconformist artists as Vladimir Andreyenkov, Valentina Apukhtina, Igor Vulokh, Anatoly Zverev, Yuri Zlotnikov, Francisco Infante and Nonna Goryunova, Alexei Kamensky, Andrei Krasulin, Mikhail Krunov, Igor Novikov, Boris Otarov, Vladimir Soskiev, Oleg and Olga Tatarintsev, Igor Shelkovsky, Marlen Shpindler, Valery Yurlov, Vladimir Yakovlev, and many others. Painting, graphic art and sculpture form three independent but at the same time interconnected sections of the collection, although the main role is played by painting, which acts as a unifying media.

Subbotnik by Igor Novikov, plaster, oil, 2001

But what makes the collection special is not only in its scale and representativeness, but also the way it has been formed since the 1990s. It is fairly true that an art collection often bears the imprint of the personality and views of the collector. According to Nadja Brykina, her top priority always was“to have deep spiritual and sometimes even friendly ties with artists” whom she supported, collected and promoted. Unlike many collectors who relied primarily on auction listings and purchases on the Western market, she systematically built her collection by discovering artists – first for herself and then for connoisseurs of Russian art in the West. Many of these artists stood out from the underground art scene. The focus was mainly on those nonconformists who, while living in the USSR and then in Russia, pursued their own artistic pursuits. It was this immersion into art practice that determined the highest artistic level of their works.

Another goal of the new museum and its research activity is to move beyond the simple binary metaphors of “us v. them”, i.e. underground as opposed to official art. Late Soviet culture abounded in spaces, practices and individuals who existed “in-between”, without joining either the ruling party and its mainstream art or the dissident movement.“At the same time, the artists' desire for freedom and self-expression sometimes dooms them to a difficult path, which does not promise them material wealth but only breeds enemies and adversaries complicating their lives. This is the destiny of strong and courageous individuals relying on the heritage of their ancestors. Artists with a great gift of intuition. Works of such artists who were devoted to what they were doing are at the core of our collection,” Brykina added. Sorbonne professor Jean-Claude Marcadet wrote in his preface to the catalogue of the Russian Museum, where one of the Nadja Brykina Gallery exhibitions was held, that the artists of the collection "possess a painterly vision of the world and touched by a creative power of spirit". For example, Marlen Spindler, whose legacy is yet to be reinterpreted, has a monographic representation in the museum's collection: works from different periods make it possible to see his artistic pursuits in their entirety.

Northern Summer by Marlene Spindler, tempera on paper, 61.5" x 86", 1982

Moreover, Nadja Brykina has emphasized time and again that as a gallery owner and collector she sees her task as finding the real and talented in contemporary art and showing the continuity of traditions: “When everything is falling apart, it is important to create. To strive for freedom of self-expression. This is exactly what happens in art: first an artist receives an academic education, and then he resists tradition, looking for his own language, giving birth to something new and independent.”

The museum founder Nadja Brykina and Igor Novikov

Alongside the classics of nonconformism, the collection as well as the current exhibition include works by the generation of disciples of the 1960s-70s artists who have retained their philosophy but have adopted a contemporary artistic language. Among them is Mikhail Krunov, whose mentor was Alexei Kamensky; such artists as Igor Novikov, a couple and art duo Olga and Oleg Tatarintsev, who, with their universal graphic language, respond to everything that is happening today in society and in the world. The works of these artists are included in the current multi-genre and polyphonic exposition, the first one in the museum format.

Right at the entrance are laconic abstract canvases by Yuri Zlotnikov, bronze sculptures by Vladimir Soskiev and paintings by Marlen Shpindler.In the spacious vaulted basement visitors will find virtuoso portraits by Anatoly Zverev, fine geometry and minimalism by Igor Vulokh, and colourful rhythms by Vladimir Andreenkov.

Cosmic Composition by Yury Zlotnikov, oil on canvas, 1987

Composition by Igor Vulokh, oil on cardboard, 1963

The new museum has big plans to collaborate with other Russian cultural institutions in the very near future. For example, already in mid-July, Igor Novikov's exhibition "Levitation" will open in Vladimir (Vladimir Art Museum) where a presentation of all the Foundation's publications will also take place. “Within the framework of our main activity – you may call it popularizing– we publish catalogues, monographic editions and art books. It's hugely important for us. I know this feeling so well – when you discover something, you cannot keep it only to yourself but what to share it and these books in three or four languages are exactly the way, which allows to do that. Over the years, we have published about 30 monographs and catalogues,” Nadja Brykina explained.

Catalogues and books published by Nadja Brykina Foundation

The importance of further study and popularization of 20th century culture in Russia was also highlighted by the current director of the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, Elizaveta Likhacheva, in her interview with our magazine: "Huge layers of culture are disappearing precisely because the majority of the country's population do not understand the value of the 20th century heritage – the value of avant-garde, post-avant-garde and nonconformists. A competent, systematic display of this art, including outside Moscow and St Petersburg, is a very important process . . . We have a chance to make our culture attractive first and foremost for ourselves. What Nadja Brykina is doing is the right trajectory, and I very much hope we will continue to develop joint projects.”

The Foundation has considerable experience of such cooperation – in 2019 the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow Successfully hosted the joint exhibition “Vertical – Horizontal: Richard Paul Lose – Vladimir Andreenkov”; last summer the Ryazan Museum of Art introduced its viewers to the artist Igor Novikov, presenting his "classic" Russian landscapes with pictograms.

Nadja Brykina and composer Vladimir Martynov

Speaking at the opening, Leonid Bazhanov noted that "art should not be switched off when the cannons are talking, it lives its own life always, it is an independent substance. The term "nonconformism" is worn out, but today it acquires new sounds and meaning, which is to be studied in this museum . . . A form of opposition, confrontation, independent existence of projects will always exist. No matter what happens.”

Two Transformations by Valery Yurlov, oil, wood, 1961

The global situation of today with its eternal confrontation of forces and pressure on countries

having a rich national culture creates conditions for further development of nonconformism.

Answering my question in what way nonconformist practices could appeal to a young audience, one of the guests, the artist Valery Yurlov, who himself was among the first "nonconformists" –

abstractionists, and who remained "on his own" throughout his long creative career, said:"Nonconformism is first and foremost about individuality. Why today, when we speak of nonconformists, do we think of the 1960s? Because they were all rebels in art, each of them was an individual. And I very much hope that the new museum will actively contribute to the birth of new non-conformists in the best sense of the word.”

(Photo credits: Alexander Gradoboev; ourtesy of Ekaterina Kartseva, Museum of Nonconformism Press Service)

Link to the original article in Russian on the website


Elena Rubinova is a Moscow-based art journalist working across media, professional philologist, teacher, and translator. She started her career as an English language teacher before joining ABC News as a translator and producer. She has produced documentaries for BBC, National Geographic, Arte, Discovery Channel to name a few, including the three-part series The Art of Russia (BBC2, 2009). She has been a regular contributing writer for Russian magazines and on-line media such as ArtandYou, Artguide, Dialogue of Arts, International Life, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia Profile, Passport Moscow.

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