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Oscar Rabin: A Happy Life Journey

Oscar Rabin: A Happy Life Journey
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Courtesy @Mikhail Abrosimov.jpeg

Join us for an evening commemorating 45 years since the 1974 Bulldozer Exhibition. The evening will include a panel discussion with Professor of Art History at Courtauld Institute, Sarah Wilson, arts patron, Marc Ivasilevitch, art historian Kirill Svetlyakov, and art collector Sergei Revyakin. The discussion will be followed by a drink reception and screening of Oscar Rabin: A Happy Life Journey (Оскар Рабин: Счастливый Путь) directed by Alexander Shatalov and produced by Marc Ivasilevitch.

nvitation to Bulldozer Exhibition of Paintings @courtesy of Vitaly Komar.jpg

Oscar Rabin (1928 - 2018) belongs to the generation of artists, writers and poets of the 1960-s, which was later called shestyadesyatniki. He was one of the forefathers and originators of the Soviet non-conformism, an organiser of the Lianozovo Group which grew up around poet and artist Evgeny Kropivnitsky.  Over a period of seven years (1958-1965), the former camp barracks in Lianozovo, where Oskar Rabin lived with his artist wife Valentina Kropivnitskaya acted as the centre of artistic intelligentsia. Together with Rabin they would organise spontaneous exhibitions and show their works at the Lianosovo barracks. Apart from  Evgeny Kropivnitsky (1893-1979), the artist and poet, father of artists Valentina Kropivnitskaya (1924-2008) and Lev Kropivnitsky, the members of the group were such legendary Russian artists as Lydia Masterkova, (1927-2008), Vladimir Nemukhin (1925-2016), Nikolai Vechtomov (1923-2007), Nadezhda Elskaya (1947-1978). They were also joined by poets Vsevolod Nekrasov (1934-2009), Genrikh Sapgir (1928-1999), and Igor Kholin  (1920-1999). As well as other members of the Lianosovo group, after the Bulldozer Exhibition Rabin became politically “undesirable” for the Soviet regime and had to immigrate, Interestingly, some of his works were not allowed to be taken abroad, e.g. his “Pomoika N8”, which is now in the collection of Tsukanov Family Foundation. “Bulldozer exhibition” brought Rabin  into a serious conflict with the Soviet system. In 1978 he was exile from the USSR to France, then stripped of his Soviet citizenship and ended up settling in Paris with his wife, the artist Valentina Kropivnitskaya, and their son Alexander, also an artist.

The famous Bulldozer Exhibition  was organised by three underground artists, Oscar Rabin, Yuri Jarkikh and Alexander Gleser and took place in  the Belyaevo forest at the intersection of  Profsoyuznaya Street and Ostrovityanova Street, Beliaevo on the outskirts of Moscow. It featured over 30 artists, among them Vladimir Nemukhin, Lydia Masterkova, Borukh Steinberg, Nadezhda Elskaya, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. It was also attended by the famous art critic Victor Tupitsyn. This event was forcefully broken-up by a large police force, bulldozers, water cannons and dump trucks, all heavily packed with military men and policemen. They destroyed the paintings with bulldozers, arrested and beat the artists, journalists and visitors. One of the policemen, Avdeenko is also known to have shouted to the artists: "You should all be shot! Only you are not worth the ammunition!" If not for the international outcry, things could have turned much worse. Luckily, the organisers invited foreign correspondents, and the New York Time featured the bulldozer article on their front cover, with Komar and Melamid paintings. In their turn, the Communist officials, alarmed by such publicity, promptly issued a  permission to run the first-ever  contemporary art show  on 29 September in Izmaylovo Park in Moscow. This seemed like a victory of the unofficial artistic community, but unfortunately a short-lived one. Most artists, although having obtained the permission to openly exhibit their works, subsequently had to emigrate from the USSR or died prematurely in poverty and despair. Nevertheless, this was a major act of "civil freedom" and  "civil society"  documented in the Soviet Union.