Erik Bulatov - Important Contemporary Russian Art–Property from a Foundation London Wednesday, February 27, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Phyllis Kind Gallery, Direct from Moscow!, May, 1987; Kunsthalle Zurich, 15 January – 28 February, 1988; Portikus Frankfurt am Main, 24 March – 24 April, 1988; Kunstverein Bonn, 2 May – 4 June, 1988; Amsterdam, De Appel Foundation, 11 June – 6 July, 1988; Kunstverein Freiburg, 12 July – 19 August, 1988; Paris, Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne, Galeries Contemporaines, Centre Georges Pompidou, 28 September – 27 November, 1988; London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, 22 February – 23 April, 1989; Boston, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 6 May – 2 July, 1989; Newport Beach (California), The Newport Harbor Art Museum, 27 July – 1 October, 1989; The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 8 October – 25 November, 1989, Erik Bulatov Moscow; Prato, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Luigi Pecci, Artisti Russi Contemporanei, 10 February – 14 March, 1990

  • Literature

    M. Tupitsyn, ‘From Sots Art to Sovart' in Flash Art, November – December, 1987, pp. 75 – 83; C. Jolles, ed. Erik Bulatov, Zurich, 1988, n.p. (illustrated); E. Bulatov, C. Jolles, V. Missiano, N. Ouvrard and S. Zadora, Erik Bulatov, Paris, 1988, n.p. (illustrated); Flash Art, no.141, 1988, front cover (illustrated); H. C. von Tavel and M. Landert, Ich lebe – Ich Sehe. Künstler der Achtziger Jahre in Moskau, Bern, 1988, p.241 (illustrated); E. A. Peschler, Künstler in Moskau, die neu Avantgarde, Zurich, 1988, p.95 (illustrated); B. Groys, Artisti Russi Contemporanei, Prato, 1990, p. 114 (illustrated); N. Divona, N. Godzina, A. Kharitonova, I. Lebedeva, and A. Yerofeev, Erik Bulatov, That's It., Moscow, 2006, p. 102 (illustrated); E. Bulatov, Freedom is Freedom, Bielefeld, 2006, p.18 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    This cult picture is one of the most important in Soviet unofficial art, a succinct and extremely precise formula of the totalitarian state. Glory to the CPSU is a work of defining importance for the artist, for it is to this work that he usually refers when explaining his artistic method: ‘The letters are written not in the sky, but rather on the surface of the picture, while the sky exists in a different space, the space of freedom. The aggressive letters assault us and prevent access to the endless blue sky. When I painted the picture, our most progressive philosophers almost damned me, crossing themselves: how could such letters be spread across our Russian sky? The space was interpreted as an accompaniment, and what was important was what had been painted. You just have to look into the picture a little and you'll see that the letters disintegrate into the space – this is why I spent such a long time on the work. It is very important to me that this disintegration should not be in some way theoretical, but that a person should suddenly sense how distant these letters are. This must be proven; not declared, but proven. Nowadays these things are understood more clearly, particularly since many years have passed and a large number of other works have appeared which show how my paintings should be viewed.'
    The portrayal of words is one of the most important subjects in Bulatov's œuvre. The slogan Glory to the CPSU, known to every Soviet citizen, is painted in a harsh, hyper-realistic manner in red letters on a blue background, something which in Bulatov's work serves as a sign of freedom. The red, which was used by the Soviet powers for the majority of their symbols, designates a social space – the bright red curtain was a kind of internal analogy of the iron curtain.
    The task facing the artist was to show things that were paradoxical in their obviousness. The numerous intrusive slogans which hung here, there and everywhere, appearing in the most unexpected places, were understood by Soviet citizens as an integral, even essential part of a landscape littered with ideology and signs of power; that is, they passed practically unnoticed, and even less where they consciously included in a cultural context. In a paradoxical way, their portrayal in a painting was taken almost as a heresy. The red letters, reproduced with absolute precision, without any anecdotal commentary or attempt to exalt or debase, could be treated in two ways: either as apologetics, unthinkable in the time of stagnation and thus extremely cynical, or as a piece of hidden mockery. Reason automatically chose the second interpretation, if only because the first was simply unbelievable in the cynical time of stagnation. The content of Bulatov's picture was automatically taken as being anti¬Soviet. The criticism was in the subject itself, because the artist had made the obvious explicit. The picture demonstrates the absurdity of the very existence of these enormous, dazzling letters, while the contrast in logic and colour with the eternal, natural blue of the sky merely underlined the absurdity of the subject.
    "My constant theme is the consciousness of contemporary people, which I have tried to portray not through the terrible or the wonderful, but through the everyday and the mundane.The contemporary consciousness defines what is considered self-evident, absolutely natural... the space of our lives was completely deformed by ideology, and this was understood by our consciousness as the norm, because that was how it had always been. And it was the abnormality of this normality that I wanted to show.
    "The system could not withstand tests of its durability, and the attempt to analyse its symbols of faith led only to self-debunking, followed not long afterwards by dismantling. It was enough to treat the slogan entirely seriously, to position it on the flat surface of a picture, to place it against the background of the sky, for the sense of the slogan to disappear, and with it its ability to manipulate minds, to agitate, to influence and pervert. Although Bulatov is entirely without irony, his works are close to Sots Art in the way that the artist works with propagandistic myths, ideological advertisements and the sense of the global babble of everything around. But Bulatov goes further than Sots Art, for he is interested not just in the surrounding reality and its political and social manifestations, but also in what lies beyond the boundaries of this artificial life – eternity itself. Today, when the bitterness of social contradiction has long since mellowed, a new generation has appeared for whom the slogan has a mysterious sound, but ‘it may be that in some sense it has become clearer for the audience. Because at that time the slogan itself was so aggressive and provocative, that it was the only thing the viewer could perceive. But what I was doing with it remained outside the field of people's vision, and when I tried to talk about the problems that worried me, people thought it was just waffle.'The content of the picture is much broader than the relationship of the individual and the totalitarian system. ‘Of course, the social space cannot be the space of freedom, however remarkable that may be. But at that time we thought we knew exactly where all the evil of the world could be found. And this clarity of position was in some sense a blessing – there was no feeling of bewilderment; and we were right, too – perhaps not about all the evil of the world, but that there was evil, without doubt.
    Well-versed in the possibilities of the traditional classical form of the picture and with a virtuosic painting technique, Bulatov reveals these gifts in a work which at first glance is reminiscent of a primitive poster; with great care he creates an illusory landscape, with the letters bearing down on the flat surface.
    An author's copy of this painting was specially created for a solo exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in 2006.
    Faina Balakhovskaya


Glory to the CPSU

Oil on canvas.
229.5 x 229 cm. (90 3/8 x 90 1/8 in).
Signed twice, titled and dated ‘Eric Bulatov E.V.BULATOV GLORY TO CPSU 1975 [in Cyrillic]’ on the reverse.

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Sold for £1,084,500

Important Contemporary Russian Art–Property from a Foundation

28 Feb 2008, 6pm