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Contemporary Art Archive - Tbilisi

Archive of Academic Writings

2021 Edition of the Project is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Youth of Georgia

Georgian Art of the 1970-80s

It is quite difficult to define the Soviet Georgian art of the 1970s based on its composition, content, context and of course, preconditions. The decade of so called “stagnation” is considered to be a starting point and “axis of changes” for the world. Today one can argue about the fact if this used to be a “period of stagnation” for the Soviet Union or on the contrary led to internal, obvious or almost secret movement that gave birth to the events of the 1980s and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.

In the Western art the Modernism [1], which continued its existence until the end of the 1960s was replaced by so called Post-modernism or contemporary art. It was frequently associated with Deconstructivism and Post-structuralism. This indicates at the changes that happened in modernist environment and its political, historic and cultural context – a process that is explained as a move of a society to “post-economic”, “post-industrial” state. State of the art and philosophy at the end of the 1960s and 1970s are described in numerous important and popular texts that were published at the beginning of the 1980s: Hans Belting’s The End of the History of Art[2] (published in 1983 with a question mark at the end of the title) and Arthur Danto’s The End of Art (published in 1984 in Berel Lang’s book The Death of Art)[3] Neither of them bears apocalyptic signs. Neither of the authors talks about the end of the art or its history, death or disappearance. Instead they both discuss the radical changes that took place in the field and rethink the methodology of research, which naturally differs from the art of the modernist period and specific nature of its study.

Erwin Panofsky has an interesting consideration concerning the events and cultural processes that take place during the same period of time but happen on different territories (“stagnation” of the 1970s in the Soviet Union in parallel to the “axes of changes” in the West that should also mark the culture and art): «Each historic concept is based on the categories of a space and time. <...> If I date a picture with 1400AD, this information will make no sense if I do not indicate where it was created. <...> Similar to the natural cosmos, cultural cosmos too is a structure of a space and a time. <...> Two historic events happen simultaneously and are somehow related to each other if they both fit into the common “framework of the view”. In the case this framework does not exist the concept of simultaneous existence loses its meaning for the history and physics». [4] This is true. According to Danto’s own example Sistine Chapel which was painted by Michelangelo in 1510 and an African sculpture that was created during the same period of time can’t be considered to be the art pieces that are contemporary to each other. 

What happens in this respect in the Soviet art of the 1970s when it was stretched over an enormous territory and among other numerous slogans expressed its strategy through the notion of “national in form and socialistic in content”; what was going on with art that determined the framework of an artistic form and considered its violation to be an illegal act? Despite these questions the problem of contemporaneity with the Western art remained a much more complex and ambiguous issue than Panofsky’s scheme… 

In1970s the country remained fundamentally isolated though a crack in the wall that was built to separate it from the outer territories started to widen since 1960s. It became possible to peep through it and vaguely see what was happening on the other side. To avoid a deep, detailed, political, ideological and social analysis we can name one of the most vivid examples from the field of culture – printed press. In 1956-1994 the Soviet Union started to import a Russian speaking magazine “America”. Number of copies amounted to 50,000 and it was practically not possible to freely subscribe to it. The magazine was available to the Soviet bureaucracy. However the population of Georgia somehow managed to get hold of it and get familiar with an American lifestyle, culture and art on a very superficial level, within the limits of allowed amount of information. The magazine became more available to a wider circle of people from 1960s. In 1962-1993 another Russian speaking magazine “England” started to get imported from the Great Britain. In parallel “Japan” arrived from Japan. They all served the analogue function. In parallel, so called Public Library (National Library), Technical and the other Libraries, among them the library of the Institute of History of Georgian Art periodically subscribed to famous magazines «Art in America», «Art News», «L'Architecture d’Aujourd’hui», «Domus», «Décoration», «Architectural Design», «Japan Architecture», «Canadian Architect», «Architectural Record».The magazines mostly represented the field of architecture and not arts, a fact which was very symptomatic. At this time the authorities also allowed import of a French comic magazine «PIF» etc. Periodically and with interruptions the country introduced leftist and communist newspapers «L’Humanite», «Paese Sera», «Morning Star»and the others. Most of the magazines and newspapers originated from the socialist countries. Some of them were distributed freely, some had to be purchased through acquaintances because of the limited number of copies. These were the magazines from the German Democratic Republic “Bildende Kunst» and «Filmspiegel»,“Müvéscet” from Jugoslavia, Polish «Vitvarne Umeni» and «Projekt», Hungarian «Film Színház Muzsika» and «Filmvilag», from Czechoslovakia«Umeni», «Tvar», several editions about the Czech photography. This was the information that managed to get in even if it was for the professionals and limited to the visual images (in case the magazines were not in Russian language), not to mention selected imported films and contemporary literature, which was mostly published in Russian magazine «Иностранная литература» (“Foreign Literature”) or printed in limited number of copies. For example, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Furyfrom 1929 that was first published in the Soviet Union in 1973 in the magazine “Foreign Literature” became a subject of sensation among Georgian readers who became entangled in discussions on its understanding, acceptance and non-acceptance of the form of the novel. [5] At that time the Soviet scholars published in Russian language critical articles about contemporary western culture. The Soviet professionals became very skilled in reading between the lines. They learned how to ignore the “rubbish” and memorize the facts, concentrate on the visual materials that were attached to the critical texts. Already in the 1960s (most probably towards their end) thanks to the magazine “America” information about influential Abstract Expressionism from the period of the WWII and the beginning of the 1960s leaked into the Soviet Union. One says that it was a baby of the cold war and was used by the USA to confront Soviet Social Realism through its cultural policy. Information reached the Soviet professionals and especially art lovers with delays. One way or another, freedom of choice that should have been based on the interests of a specific person was naturally as good as nonexistent. Though existence of a crack in the wall was undoubted.

This is the time when vinyl LPs are brought into the country illegally: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix. Queen is already more or less famous, though people are not familiar with its videos as they were not accessible in the Soviet Union until 1980s. Moreover, people did not know about the existence of video cameras and players, which at that time have been around for almost 15 years. But despite these limitations the Soviet citizens still managed to see Andrew Lloyd Weber’s/Tim Rice’s rock-opera «Jesus Christ Superstar». There existed rare and very expensive jeans clothes by «Lee», «Wrangler», «Levi Strauss» and shirts by «Batten»... It was possible to buy drugs and criminal elements who hunted for the jeans and the “Batten” shirts operated equipped with the knives and thin metal wires… 

In 1960s a chain of retail stores called “Beriozka” opened its doors in the Soviet Union. It sold foreign products and cloths. There was one of the stores located in Tbilisi on the Rustaveli avenue. At first it was accessible to the diplomats and the Soviet citizens who worked abroad only. One could buy there the goods and pay either in Dollars or special certificates, so called “cheques”. From the mid-1970s this somewhat “under the counter capitalism” became accessible to ordinary buyers as well. They just needed to be courageous enough to buy the “cheques” on the black market from the second hand dealers who usually operated next to the stores. Each of the shops was monitored by the representatives of the state security services. In any case this became one more additional paid hole to see the world behind the wall. For a Soviet citizen purchase of consumer goods in these stores was the same as to come in touch with the capitalism, fulfillment of a dream…

On March 19, 1970 Sergei Sakharov, physicist Valery Turchin and historian Roy Medvedev wrote an open letter to request democratization of the Soviet society. Today this letter and its quite diplomatic text are considered to have been a very bold step forward. However on the other hand it does not mention anything about the constitutional right of the national republics to leave the union or exercise the other rights. On the contrary, one of the recommendations concerned abolishment of indication of the nationality in the passport, which under the circumstances meant erasing of the borders between the national republics. After 5 years this act manifested in unsuccessful but still an attempt to introduce Russian language as the main language of education at the universities. After 8 years the Soviet Union tried to implement its official policy and declare Russian as the only state language. In Georgia, Tbilisi the initiative was met with massive protest demonstrations on April 14, 1978. As a result a new paragraph about Georgian as a state language was added to the new constitution of the USSR. 

Ideological part of Sakharov’s address also included information about the situation in the fields of culture and education and gave an important insight into the spirit of ambivalent, ambiguous period. It demanded uninterrupted broadcast of foreign radio programs, free sales of foreign books and periodicals, abolishment of any censorship on publications, mutual extension and simplifying of international tourism and correspondence with the foreign countries. In parallel the address requested establishment of public control on prisons and psychiatric hospitals and advocated for amnesty of political prisoners...

1970s was a period when the Soviet dissident movement became stronger. It was followed by use of psychiatric hospitals for repressive reasons; number of political prisoners increased. Dissident movement was active from the beginning of the 1960s (though there are some known cases of it even from an earlier period) and until the end of the 1980s. In Latin the term dissident stands for an outsider, an isolated person who does not agree with the commonly accepted ideas. The word was for the first time used during the times of reformation when it was applied in the case of a person with unorthodox religious ideas. In the 20thcentury the term was given a political reference and was mostly applied in the totalitarian Soviet context. Dissidentism in the Soviet Union was a controversial act. It housed its own internal ideological differences, which was a natural thing considering a huge mix of nations that was created through involuntary accession of different countries into one union. In this case one can also talk about the differences between the dissidents from the center (Russia/Moscow) and the republics (periphery). Later dissidentism in the republics was considered to be a nationalistic occurrence. By the way, at the end of the 1970s Georgian dissidents dissociated themselves from their counterparts in the so called center.

In 1974 a “Georgian Initiative Group of Protection of Human Rights”, which suffered repressive consequences for its actions, was formed. Since 1976 illegal dissident magazines “The Golden Fleece” and “The Georgian Bulletin” were published; Kartvelological scientific magazine “The Fate of Kartli” (Bedi Kartlisa. Revue de Kartvélologie) that was funded by Kalistrate Salia in 1948 became subject of import from France (starting from 1958 it was also published in Georgian language). On September 29, 1976 Tbilisi Stadium hosted the first international football match between Dinamo Tbilisi and the team of Cardiff City from Wales. 

In 1970s and until the mid-1980s modernist painters Clara Kvess and Otar Andronikashvili (frequently cooperating married artistic duo), Irina Stenberg, Tamar Tavadze were still alive. Preceded by Kiril Zdanevich in 1967, in 1973 Vasily Shukhaev and Soso Gabashvili passed away. All these artists became victims of the Soviet reality: modernists and avant-gardists of the first and the second generation were forgotten during their lifetimes and belittled by the Soviet cultural policy. In the 1970s there was only a handful of people left who would be able to identify them as artists. However the situation did not change much ever since.

In 1971 Avto Varazi decided to organize his first personal exhibition in a non-official space – Elene Akhvlediani’s apartment. Before that, in 1969 it was Vasily Shukhaev who launched there his exhibition. The works were already ready for transportation when Varazi suddenly decided to call off the exhibition for an unknown reason. We can only guess the logic behind the decision. This fact turned into a separation line between the 1960s and the 1970s, when a period of non-official apartment exhibitions started. 

In 1974 Moscow hosted so called Bulldozer Exhibition with participation of one non-official Georgian painter Otar Chkhartishvili. There exists a lot of controversial information about this event and of course, it was an important happening from the historic perspective, but in this particular case we remember the exhibition as something that happened in the context of the Soviet art when non-official art moved to the outer space of still unfinished Belyayevo street. At the same time this was an attempt of unofficial art to invade official space - the case, when failure of the day turned into a success for many of the artists. The action-exhibition, which was organized by Oskar Rabin, Komar and Melamid (Ilya Kabakov and Evgeny Kropivnitski refused to participate) became a surreal event that was visited by the western diplomats who arrived in long black diplomatic vehicles, foreign photographers who were equipped with their cameras and recording devices, mixed groups of people, art lovers, relatives of the artists, “strange” persons in civil cloths, cars with the saplings (it was “planned” to plant the trees on the territory). As soon as the painters decided to present their works, they were attacked by the “gardeners” who tore, trampled down, burned the works and started to beat people. One of the participants of the exhibition Mikhail Rochal-Fedorov later recalled that there were no bulldozers, but “mobile detachments” of the irrigation machines ZIL-10 instead. However when these machines started to move towards the artists their huge baggers and knives absolutely made an impression that those were bulldozers. According to Vitaly Komar there were bulldozers too. 

But this does not matter now. The most important thing is that the action was planned in a protest against repressive policy of the artists’ union and in a hope of the leaked information that Brezhnev was planning to sign Helsinki Agreement. That happened on August 1, 1975 when the Soviet Union signed an international agreement that among the other issues also foresaw taking responsibility for securing of the human rights and the other major freedoms including movement, contacts, information, culture and education.

As already mentioned the failure of the “Bulldozer Exhibition” became success for many of the participants. The western press reported about the non-conformist artists, foreign collectors and gallerists started to purchase their works. Many artists left the Soviet Union. About six months later Alexander Gleser emigrated to France, creators of the “socialist art” Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar relocated in 1977 to the USA.

In 1975 a City Committee of the Union of Graphic Artists was established in Moscow. It operated an exhibition hall at the Malaya Gruzinskaya street and showed there the works of Oskar Rabin and the other non-conformist artists. They were given an official space by the government. 


Arthur Danto writes that Chinese painters of the Zen Dynasty learned about perspective from a missionary painter, Father Castiliogne. But they had a feeling that China still lacked the artistic space for its application. This means that the structure of Chinese painting resulted from an absolutely conscious choice as it knew about the existing alternative. [6] This happened at the dawn of the Zen Dynasty, in the second half of the 17thcentury when the contacts between Europe and China became especially strong. Without any doubt, Chinese art was familiar with the notion of perspective but did not apply it. Decision to do so was based on the vision and certain style of expression, but more importantly on the need to preserve absolutely structured rules of a goal and a function.

Similar to China of the 17thcentury, the 20thcentury Soviet Union with its ideologically and linguistically structured cultural policy, decided not only to ignore new information but also prohibit artistic experiences of the beginning of the 20thcentury, ban Modernism and Avant-garde, thoroughly forget and erase them from the memory. This prohibition turned out to be the longest and lasted almost until the 1990s. Of course, what happened beyond the borders of the country and the Soviet art that existed in the “parallel universe” were never supposed to cross their ways. Actually they never did between 1930 and 1970. However, the second half of the 1950s was marked by a slight breakthrough: official Soviet museum spaces started presenting of the western art works. Of course, these changes applied only to the paintings that were produced in the 19thand early 20thcenturies. Selection of the works from the early 20thcentury was made with a special care as they would have included Modernism and more importantly Avant-garde too. In 1955 Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow organized the exhibition of French art of the 15th-20thcenturies. In 1956 naturally in Russia again, Hermitage museum in Leningrad hosted the exhibition of French art of the 12th-20thcenturies. [7] These shows were followed by presentation of Cezanne’s 25 and the same fall and winter Picasso’s 98 works. The exhibitions displayed only those works that were stored at the depositories of the Soviet museums. The exception was Picasso’s show, which along with the works from the Soviet depositories also demonstrated 40 new paintings that were handpicked and sent to Russia by Picasso himself. In 1957 the exhibition of an American painter Rockwell Kent is organized. [8] The same year the French exposition with participation of the Second School of Paris takes place in the frames of the 6thinternational festival of the youth and students. In 1959 it is followed by the presentation of art from the socialist countries, in 1959 exhibition of the national art of the USA, in 1961 once again the show of the French national art. Since 1962 organizing of similar exhibitions was put on hold again following the show of the local studio “New Reality” in Manezh (Moscow). After its harsh criticism an exhibition policy became very strict again and remained as such until 1980. The same year (1962) in the Soviet Union art has been separated into official and non-official sections. 

We also need to remember that in the middle of the 1950s the Soviet Union started to screen Italian films that were made after the WWII. Those were neorealist works, which had their impact not only on the Soviet Georgian cinematography [9] but lifestyle as well. [10] Life of the artists in 1960s became bohemian - a fact that was reinforced even more by getting familiar with the lifestyle of the painters from the Paris School. Bohemian way of living of the Georgian painters in the 1960s, its features and beginning are a quite interesting topic to be explored.

The Soviet citizens seized a chance to see abstract paintings that were displayed during the exhibitions of the American and the French art in 1959 and 1961 respectively. This genre had been well forgotten in the Soviet Union after the 1930s and became a discovery for the visitors of the shows.

A wave of international exhibitions of 1955-1961 was naturally restricted to certain geographic regions. The shows took place in the center of the Soviet Union, mainly in Moscow and Leningrad. The displays were never relocated beyond the territory and did not extend to the Soviet republics. The Soviet media was very laconic and practically did not disseminate any information. The exhibitions could only be seen by those who visited Moscow.

Somehow information about the Impressionism, Abstract Art and later the Abstract Expressionism still leaked to Soviet Georgia. It was immediately reflected in the art of the 1960s. During this period of time Pirosmanashvili was once again remembered as a bohemian, romantic, poor painter who drifted from one tavern to another, painted and consumed alcohol. Parisian School, Neorealism and such interpretation of Pirosmanashvili determined a lot in Georgian creativity of this period, changed the language, the form and attitude towards art, its function and as already noted defined the lifestyle of artists as well. From now on it became possible to set a clear line between the “Soviet art” i. e. Social Realism and the “art of the Soviet period” from the periphery. The system itself was split in two parts: a. non-official art (the term is still mentioned reluctantly) and b. intermediary art that was more skewed towards the official version, so called art of the “third world” as it was conditionally named by the Russian art historian Alexander Yakimovych to describe the “official” art that was created by the so called intellectual artists. 

Despite lifestyle, rethinking of the language, form, function of arts and attempts to unite these components into one, the art of the 1960s demonstrated very few, but to be more correct, different cases of clearly manifested non-official features.

I personally have Otar Andronikashvili’s abstract painting from 1964 hanging on the wall. The style of the painting is very close to the Abstract Expressionism, but Otar Andronikashvili was a different case as he belonged to the older generation, had his own experience with Modernism and Avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s, preserved historic memory and conscious attitude to general and national experiences. He was far from mythologizing and romanticizing the topics - a feature that was very common among the non-official painters from the generation of the 1960s. Do we know anything about his work? No… 

Art, which emerged on the periphery of the Social Realism of the 1960s, was interested in formal studies, rejection and softening of pathetic and didactic features of official culture, demonstration of an ordinary, well known everyday life of an ordinary person. This happened through application of lyrical nostalgia, depiction of old household objects, their transformation into cultural assets. As Temo Japaridze says about Pirosmanashvili this was the time of “turning an everyday object or event into a poetic one”, “revealing of internal attitude towards the objects”. Naturally, these actions were connected to an attempt to create counterpart values of the Soviet Social Realism and reminds us of Italian Neorealism (according to the Russian poet Evtushenko the generation of the 1960s did not grew up nourished by Marxism ideology. It was fed by Italian Neorealism, which taught the Soviet people that there are no such things as small sufferings and small people [11] ) and art of the so called “Cursed Painters” (Les Peintres Maudits) from the Parisian School of 1930s. [12] The influence of Cezanne and Cubism are obvious. Important painters of these times who worked on the periphery, away from the social realism were: Otar Chkhartishvili, Albert (Aleko) Goguadze (worked in Moscow, called his working method “color to color”), Temo Japaridze, Amir Kakabadze, Karlo Grigolia, Zurab Sekhniashvili, Temo Japaridze, Shota Samkharadze, Lev Baiakhchev, Albert Dilbarian, Vakhtang Rurua, Neveli Jikia. In this period film director Alexandre Rekhviashvili demonstrated a completely different style of painting. 

These times need a study and hopefully, one day someone will get interested in exploring it.

As already mentioned Avto Varazi’s first personal exhibition that never took place in an unofficial space of Elene Akhvlediani’s apartment (1971) served as a kind of a threshold between the 1960s and the 1970s. From the mid-1970s artists started to organize non-official apartment shows that led to forming of the non-official art. It confronted the Soviet Social Realism with its content and ideology. 

Writing about the non-official art of this period resembles wondering in an unknown thick forest. This period has never been studied before despite the fact that it determined the trends in the artistic development of the following decades. We have certain understanding of it because of the fragmented, limited or superficial studies of the scholars. However the non-official art of the 1970s remains the least appreciated, the most ignored and forgotten of all periods. 

I would like to recall one fact concerning Varazi. In 2000s his paintings that haven’t been included in any catalogue or a book, and if I am not mistaken, have never been documented in photo archives, were sold. But what is so special about them? Since long art history mentions a Soviet version of pop art – Social Art. I will spare you explanation of what the Social Art meant. It is a well known phenomenon anyway. I will just mention that it did not manage to become part of the Georgian reality. The exception was Otar Chkhartishvili with the closest contacts with the Russian artists (the fact also manifested through his participation in the Bulldozer Exhibition). Varazi’s lost paintings that were presumably produced at the end of the 1960s (they are most probably preserved in someone’s collection now) presented the Soviet version of pop art. However, obviously they demonstrated closer resemblance to the western movement than to its Soviet counterpart. The Soviet style was manifested only thanks to the objects he used: matches of the Soviet origin, its stems, a box of cigarettes, the cigarettes and the other Soviet household items. His works brought together elements of American and British pop-art too. [13] Of course, they included the ready-made elements of cubistic collages and Dadaism as well. But as we know pop art itself was also based on the same experiences. 

Why did I suddenly remember all this? Because, the works of Avto Varazi demonstrated that the process of filling the gap with the western art definitely started. Strengthening of the process became subject of the non-official art of the 1970s. 


As already noted the attitude of the Zen Dynasty towards rejection of an outside information and resistance against any changes to its strictly structured culture resembled the strategy of the Soviet Union. Naturally, the Soviet system of the 1970s acted the same way – it knew, but did not accept. However, this was also the time when a non-official, marginal layer emerged to reject this principle once and for all. It started to break through the Soviet experience of structured culture primarily through change of orientation. In the existing situation it was impossible to avoid amendments. Above in the text I already tried to present a short description of the so called “stagnation period” of the 1970s. But we should also bear in mind that beyond the borders of the Soviet Union this decade was also known as the “axis of changes”. The term mainly referred to economic shifts that were so well presented by pop art. There are a lot of changes taking place in the world and of course, they have their impact on the visual art as well. Tom Wolfe named this period „Me Decade“. [14] This title was specifically applied in connection with the events that took place in the US and had to do with a shift from communitarianism to individualism, establishment of a contrast to the mood of the 1960s and its focus on the social issues. According to Wolfe turn towards individualism and self-determination was supported by the counterculture and New Leftist movements of the 1960s. They managed to restore value of a personality. Interestingly enough, he discusses the 1970s and excitement with LSD in the frames of a counterculture, which in his opinion can be reviewed on the same level as a religious ecstasy because of being part of a process of discovery of a real “self”.

In any case the period of communes, collectivism and among them international communes and counterculture of the 1960s was practically over. Economic and social upheaval showed its results and impacted the art market, which reached its peak in 1980s.

In 1960s Georgia did not have any well-formed communes that would be established by artists and bear artistic, political or social function. Instead one would unite under the similar interests, friendship and shared bohemian style of living. Even creation of these informal groups already represented opposition to the Soviet mytho-pathetic culture and art. 

What happened in this regard in the 1970s? The situation changed. I believe in this case we can also talk about a local version of „Me Decade“, which manifested in enhanced individualization and differed from the Russian non-conformism of the 1970s and bohemian lifestyle of 1960s. From this time on the mono-system of the Soviet culture and monopoly of the modernized Social Realism in Georgian art experienced a downfall and was followed by a dynamic flow of the process. Despite the closed borders, lack or complete absence of information Georgian non-official art directed its gaze towards the west and not the center of the Soviet Union - Moscow [15]. Moreover, it was not marked by aggressive collectivism or aggressive striving to scandals, which occasionally happened but still made non-official art in Georgia and the other republics operate in conditions different from the center. [16]

As already noted, Georgian non-official art emerged in 1974-75. Differently than the Russian non-conformism, which was linked to social and political issues, it expressed itself as historical, political, aesthetical and conceptual protest. The issues of Georgian annexation in the 1920s, mass terror of 1924 and the 1930s, arrests from 1950-51 and 1954, March 9 in 1956 during a so called period of liberalization by Khrushchev, mass shootings of Tbilisi demonstration, disappearances of people that played a crucial role in starting the processes of “stabilization” and “normalization” in the 1960s prepared grounds for the beginning of the dissident movement. After the public uprising of 1956 in Hungary, Prague Spring of 1968 and invasion of the Soviet troops on August 5 into the socialist Czechoslovakia, the 1970s were marked by a process of “normalization”, which in reality meant expansion of special monitoring activities from the side of the Soviet Union. The period lasted through entire 1970-80s. In May 1968, Parisian students also took to the streets.

At the beginning of the 1970s, one Georgian citizen decided to cross the Black Sea in a boat in order to defect to Turkey and attend a striptease show for at least once in his lifetime. The attempt was followed by spending several years in the Soviet jail. But the goal was worth the risk: a Soviet tragicomedy was created. Indeed, like Groys, an ordinary Soviet human perceived the west <...>as a kingdom of sexual freedom, wealth, temptation and sweet decay. In Georgia (and entire Soviet Union) the art of the 1960s non-officially but still accepted propaganda of francophone art (Impressionism, Post-impressionism, selected works of the Parisian School as it was an international movement but remained part of the francophone world); from non-francophone movements the Soviet art was friendly towards Italian Neorealism that influenced the works and life of the artists who were not affiliated with the Social Realism forming their political baseline and worldview. 

Non-official art of the 1970s brought some changes with it. It demonstrated obvious gradual emergence of interest towards German, American and in general, so called Anglo-Saxon culture and art. This interest meant rebellion of the worldview as the cultures, art and even the languages of strong enemies – Germany and USA belonged to the prohibited fields. But this interest was of great importance for contemporary Georgian art, which in parallel tried to restore tabooed or forgotten Georgian Modernism and Avant-garde from the beginning of the 1910-20s. 

I have already mentioned Avto Varazi’s work and failed apartment exhibition twice as a threshold between the 1960s and 1970s. Along with him, special importance has to be given to Shura Bandzeladze’s art, which not only is of a self-sufficient value but played a significant role in forming of generation of non-official artists in the 1970s. Newly established group of artists did not unite around one concept. It was marked by individual artistic features and worldviews that came together next to Shura Bandzeladze instead. Similar to the other artists, his striving towards abstract painting in the 1960s practically meant a return and if we may say under the circumstances, even a progressive return to Modernism, which had been interrupted by Social Realism almost 30 years ago. This was a comeback to expressive, frank attitude. If we consider the context and apply Arthur Danto’s interpretation this should have been related to release of previously repressed and prohibited feelings, liberation and at the same time turning around to the story-telling, modernist tradition and abstraction that offered a manifestation of the freedom of expression. [17] It’s hard to say if this return to Modernism happened as a conscious act or not. The Modernism itself was strictly banned. However striving towards so called frank self-expression and scarce but still available information that leaked in from outside in the 1950s definitely led to emergence of the relevant impulses. The artists were also more or less familiar with David Kakabadze’s works.

The main feature of art from the 1960s and 1970s that confronted Social Realism was linked to the following fact: while the west was busy discussing the crisis of Modernism and its end, Georgian art at the periphery of official Soviet culture made a break-through thanks to modernistic language. Despite total discrepancy between the cultural time periods of the west and the Soviet Union, in existing political and cultural context this striving came close to dissidentism. [18] The fact is proven by the value of Abstract Expressionism, which according to Hans Belting became subject of interest for Clement Greenberg who tried to canonize it in 1940-50s. [19] This movement of the New York School practically finished the period of Modernism in the west of the second half of 1950s.

Non-official Georgian art of the 1970s appreciates Modernism and advances even further. It does not limit the art and specifically painting (that maintains a status of the main field) to a happening taking place in the realm of art. To be more correct, it does not consider art and specifically painting to be a bearer of its private, independent truth any more. According to Belting, art can be discussed as a self-sufficient phenomenon only when we focus on its aesthetics or metaphysics – notions that take it outside the frames. A similar trend is present in non-official Georgian art as well. It also bears one characteristic feature which makes it similar to the western art of the 1960-70s. This is some kind of denial to perceive the art from the past (and not its specific direction) as one whole old, obsolete unit and replace it with something new. Interestingly, this act also demonstrates the difference from the artists who were not affiliated with the Social Realist style of the 1960s. Logically they used experiences of Impressionism, abstract painting, Abstract Expressionism, Parisian “Cursed Painters” and considered them to be a novelty and the only necessity with a self-sufficient function.

Differently than in the 1960s, non-official Georgian art from the 1970s focuses on different things that lead to its registration as a non-official phenomenon. It develops a concept that naturally precedes creation of a work. This way from now on the art work is based on initial concept. [20] From this point of view, overlapping with the western 1970s becomes obvious after consideration of diverse contexts, historical and political conditions. Georgian creative reality is added new ideology and its representation. In order to understand the situation in the artistic field of the 1970s it is important to see how the ideology is expressed in the discourse and the language (in this case artistic language), [21] realize what gains importance for the artists, how non-official Georgian art of 1970s makes the western long-term, five century long representative and illusionistic trend disappear (according to Danto it was formed by Vasari in a verbal form; it lasted in Georgia for only one century) and why does it refuse to cultivate self-sufficient artistic tools, which are so important for the 1960s in Georgia? For example, in the drawings (and more or less the other fields as well) from the 1970s the painting process, “frank style of painting” and so called “goals of painting” – a flat surface and the colors (search for colors) or lines (tools for creation of surface based images), specific distribution of pigment configurations do not belong to the priorities and do not determine the drawing itself any more. Neither the almost necessary requirement of Modernism – to work in the frames of the only selected medium, seems to maintain its importance any more. However painting still remains the determinant element of the work. Non-official Georgian art of the 1970s resists this process in its own way. Separation between the mass and “high profile” culture is still maintained. [22] On the other hand non-official art of this period denies self-sufficient character of a painting as a tool and shifts its preferences towards the concepts and ideology.

In order to make this issue clearer, I would like to share with you one example. For a short period of time Nicolas de Staёl’s drawings from the later years became very significant for non-official Georgian artists. In 1972-73 the second and third year student of the Academy of Arts Levan Chogoshvili creates several works that resemble style of de Staёl. This is his only manifestation of interest towards the artist. Later in the middle of the 1980s abstractionist artists once again demonstrate certain interest in his works.

The use of de Staёl’s style is very symptomatic from the point of view of compromising. Why? He applied the impasto technique, which was used by the impressionist painters, first by Van Gogh in order to enhance expression and aesthetics and later by the representatives of the Abstract Expressionism Willem de Kooning and Hans Hoffmann. Impasto is made with the use of thick brush paints, or so called palette knife strokes and produces patterns with strong colors. It became practically the most popular technique for the “third world” and semi-official art of the 1960s. During this period it was partially even allowed as a method at the Academy of Arts. In parallel it became legal to produce abstract works despite the fact that figurative painting still maintained the status of a leading style. For de Staёl who mostly focused on abstract works, since 1940s semi-figurative painting also emerged as an option. It offered a compromise and an opportunity to tailor it to the Soviet education system. The artists managed to move towards the abstract style at the same time maintaining figurative, so called fine art as a discipline and its self-sufficient character. They tried to solve the issues that were related to color, space, surface and texture and remained busy with the themes which were important for the teaching methodology of the Academy. 

In the context of self-sufficiency of fine arts, Clement Greenberg, an apologist of Modernism, emphasizes its self-critical character and considers it to be a self-determining event.As a prove for that he mentions certain self-purification and “holiness” as a guarantor of quality standard and independence: „Realistic, illusionist art had dissembled the medium using art to conceal art. Modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting - the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of pigment were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly. Modernist painting has come to regard these same limitations as positive factors that are to be acknowledged openly. „...“ Cezanne sacrificed verisimilitude, or correctness, in order to fit drawing and design more explicitly to the rectangular shape of the canvas.“ [23]

In these compromising works of Chogoshvili, which are made in the style of de Staёl, the artist rejects the self-imposed boundaries of fine art (this is also a characteristic feature of de Staёl’s works) and gives them purely utilitarian function – impasto turns into a tool of presenting the Soviet urban and architectural anomalies.

Hereby I would like to note two aspects that are related to the above mentioned important changes. They took place in Georgian visual art and became part of its rapprochement to the contemporary western culture. [24] Therefore I would like to a. remember Gogi Chagelishvili’s two works and b. once again discuss the western movements and the other main characteristic features of this period. 

In 1969 Gogi Chagelishvili, artist from the generation of the 1960s, produces a drawing called “The Butchers” - a seemingly trivial topic with ordinary, well known scene from the market of that time. However this topic was not common for the Soviet art at all, especially when it was translated into the language of art as something grotesque. The image was even more enhanced through deformation of the shapes. As long as the biography of the artist is part of his work (and therefore part of art history), it is also interesting to get familiar with the story of this work. The artist (at that time still a student at the Academy of Arts) was informed that he became a target of discontent. However, despite this fact in 1972 the work somehow was sent to Moscow to the all-Union exhibition. There it was rejected by the jury whose motivation sounded as follows: “At the moment the country experiences shortage of meat products and it is not necessary to put on display the similar works“. [25] Another case took place in 1976: “I see the iron buckets, which melt in the hands of the workers. I polished a bucket that was “eaten” by cement, placed it on the plywood, covered the background with oil colors. I installed the work in an old dingy frame and wrote: Long Live the Labor!” I was summoned to the state security office (KGB) for a long interrogation. “You tried to exhibit a rusty bucket. Wanted to present the country in a negative light. You also gave the work a title: Long Live the Labor.” [26] The title placed the work into a context that was alien and unacceptable for the official authorities, Soviet cultural policy. In 1976 Chagelishvili created his self-portrait as well. After the bucket (“Long Live the Labor!”) this was one of the first objects that was produced as part of the Georgian art of the decade. Self-portrait was made with quick strokes and placed in a natural frame: the upper part of the figure was created as a flat geometric form of local colors, hands were made in a simple “primitivistic” style with the use of contours. Instead of the legs one would see a jeans fabric (anti-Soviet image/language).


The art, its language, theme and politics became interwoven with each other in a hostile way. A brutal, absurd, dirty image of a bucket was transformed into an example, non-romantic object of our Soviet living (reference to pop-art). It was immediately perceived as an anti-Soviet piece of ridicule. One way or another, the art broke through its boundaries commiting an act, which was unacceptable for existing reality because deliberately or accidentally it turned into a dangerous message that lacked aesthetics, mythologizing and optimism. If we revisit the context of rapprochement to the contemporary western art we will see it as a beginning of the process, emergence of a new genre, rejection of limitations of the field and the language that is now based on intuition and “inner demand”. These issues are obvious in the works of Avto Varazi, Amir Kakabadze, Otar Chkhartishvili and some other artists from the generation of the 1960s. 

As for the western movements of the 1970s and their main characteristic features… Similar to the early Modernism and Avant-garde this period was also marked by kaleidoscopic interchanging of new movements and concepts, and to be more correct co-existence of the movements that emerged in the 1970s: Post-minimalism, Feminist Art, New Subjectivism, London School, Graffiti etc. The 1980s was naturally a period when more new movements and genres were born: pop art, conceptualism, performance, installation, video art, minimalism, photo realism, land art, contemporary photography, French supports/surfaces, which came from the 1960-70s. Despite existence of these movements the decade became “widely perceived as the one of artistic fragmentations” [27] when neither painters, nor composers/musicians and representatives of other fields established a solid “style” that would be united under one common shared umbrella.

The non-official Georgian art of this period followed the same trend. Here we didn’t have any specific movements. Everyone worked following his own “style” and based on his own personal concepts. That’s why like in Tom Wolfe’s ”Me Decade” the processes of inner fragmentation and individualization became obvious in the cases of non-official art. The fragmentation did not imply radical incompatibility of worldviews, a fact which made it similar to its contemporary counterparts of the western art. We already mentioned the movements that emerged in the 1960s and existed in the west in the later period as well. Naturally they were united by the same language (“style”), methods and attitudes. Several groups, which came together as a result of pursuing the common interests were formed in Georgia too. They were comprised of the artists, art historians and representatives of the other professions. However existence of these groups did not imply existence of a shared “style” too. They were based on the common attitudes. I already mentioned one of them – Shura Bandzeladze’s group (Iliko Zautashvili, Temur Tskhovrebadze, Gia Edzgveradze). Starting from the 1980s it was joined by Luka Lasareishvili. Another group united Levan Chogoshvili, Dimitri Tumanishvili and Giorgi Marjanishvili. It actively discussed the function of arts and the members often expressed diverse individual opinions. 

The main feature that brought the non-official Georgian art of the 1970s closer to its western counterparts of the 1960-70s was a counterposition that opposed the reality through artistic and intellectual tools. They differed from each other based on the topics of opposition, but still shared the same desire to radically reject existing official monologue, develop a dialogue based art, resist a unified system of worldview. Therefore non-official art also considered it important to oppose the official culture through its fragmentation as well. From the point of view of artistic language in the west Modernism became a subject to controversy. In the Soviet Georgia it was replaced by the Social Realism. In the west social, racial, gender issues counted to the most urgent ones, in the Soviet Georgia the society focused on the topics of political independence, dramatic history, memory, liberation of arts, rapprochement to the west and combating of margilisation. Both sides had to deal with their own independent problems, however they also shared political aspects of counterposition (in the west the trend was primarily and intensely manifested in the 1960s, less in the 1970s). In any case in this period many taboos were abolished or became questionable turning the whole process into a starting point and this way destroying the common taste and the common habits. That significantly influenced the art of the next decade. In the west the process was legal, in the Soviet Union and Georgia it took place non-officially, illegally. It is interesting that non-official art of the 1970s confronted not only the Soviet Social Realism, but partially opposed non-official, “frank” bohemian lifestyle of the 1960s as well.

Ushangi Khumarashvili graduated from the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in 1973. The process of issuing his diploma proved to be quite challenging. According to the materials of the Georgian State Archive he was not allowed to present the diploma in 1972. The same happened in the case of Irakli Parjiani and Levan Chogoshvili in 1973. Presentation of Khumarashvili’s diploma was shifted to 1973. The work focused on Vsevolod Vishnevky’s “Optimistic Tragedy”, which on the one hand should have been quite acceptable for the ideology, but on the other hand artistic approach to the work proved otherwise. According to the artist he was interested not in the ideology of the text, but its technical side (Ushangi Khumarashvili was enrolled in the division of theatre painting) – a fact that was not understandable to the commission. [28]

Khumarashvili is known as one of the true „underground” artists. It is interesting that starting from the mid-1970s he did not limit himself to the visual arts and started to write as well. Later he destroyed almost all his writings, in 1977 burned the diaries. I believe, his first theatre piece was written after he started to work as a painter at the Telavi theatre (1974-1980). Khumarashvili combined Goethe’s “Faust” and Molière’s“Tartuffe”, mixed up the dialogues, decorated the stage with Aivazovsky’s sea landscapes and made Tartuffe arrive from Poti on a panzer. This was a purely literary and theatrical experiment where Molière’scomically described human, earthly weaknesses, falsity, hypocrisy, stupidity, fake noblesse and Goethe’s internal fear for inability to understand universe of the protagonist of a tragedy, realization of imperfection of earthly knowledge and a deal with the antithesis of truth – the devil in order to combat it (manifested in the main political, social, psychological, historic, mystical and philosophical themes) were united in one fabula. The theatre piece (as already mentioned it was destroyed) was important because of diverse aspects: biography, creativity, politics, time. Despite the fact that this text is about the painting, for me this piece had a special importance. At the beginning I mentioned that contemporary art is associated with deconstructivism. This work should have been a clear example of this notion, which was expressed in Georgian visual art of the relevant time period. It rejected and deconstructed the concept of the genre. The opposites (“Faust” is a tragedy, “Tartuffe” - a comedy) were united in one piece of a grotesque text with no affiliation to any specific genre. In my understanding it should have been a hyper drama, certain web where the texts jumped from one piece to another and were added Khumarashvili’s own original sections as well. The continuity and symmetry had to be interrupted; the author introduced to the audience a story of compiled structure, a plot, which had to be unstable thanks to the playing and improvisation elements. The whole play was supposed to take place on the verge of misreading and/or personal interpretation. 

In this case it would have been logical to remember the theatre of absurd, general principals of Jerzhy Grotovsky’s “Poor Theatre” or Antonin Artaud’s earlier “Theatre of Cruelty” where one could already trace the elements of deconstructivism. Importance of Khumarashvili’s connection to Artaud’s ideology was linked to the fact that Artaud in his theory focuses not only on physical cruelty, but cruelty of life as well. It “became futile <…> and expresses everything that is connected to the crime, love, war or insanity”, in order to plant in us the ideas of permanent conflict, spasm and this way damage our life. It establishes itself as a counterpart of our predestined state”. [29] „The theatre was created to unite our forces and get rid of the pus.” [30]

In 1969 Grotovsky staged “Apocalypses cum figuris” in Wroclav’s Poor Theatre. The play united and interlaced the texts from the Bible, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Juliush Slovatsky, T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil. This way production of Khumarashvili’s play coincided with the period of (de)construction when the principles of Grotovsky’s theater were unknown in the Soviet Georgia. But the life taught us that it was not as smooth as it seemed. It was full of dramatic tragic contradictions, traumatic experiences and personal isolation, difficult relationships with socium and dangers that went beyond the artistic genres, uninterrupted harmonious texts, “geometric” configuration. In reality this may have meant an attack of an introvert, but at the same time internally free human, a creative person towards political orthodoxy; reaction to severe political, social and fear dominated situation. This would lead to applying of a structurally ambiguous nonlinear language, which had a complex composition, destroyed logical and rational construction of original texts (Faust, Tartuffe), has got enriched with associations, metaphors, ironic and grotesque sub-texts and became absurd. In the case of staging the play would definitely turn a viewer into a person who experienced empathy to the actions. It could also result in development of a confrontational attitude. In any case an absurd way of acting would have placed the audience face to face with the strictest manifestations of political and human situations. 

The author himself referred to the play with humor what makes me think that the audience expressed its empathy towards the strict facts through laughter. I have allocated so much time to a destroyed play only because it united all elements I mentioned above – introduction of a concept into art, deconstruction and rethinking of the function of art from the perspective of political, aesthetic and conceptual protest.

During these decades Khumarashvili created his works in Telavi, in an isolated and closed provincial town. Naturally, he suffered from isolation and experienced the feelings of alarm. For some reason the whole situation reminds me of Knut Hamsun’s “Mysteries” and Johan Nagel’s life in a provincial town where anything can happen and in fact happens as well. After a conflict with the director of the Telavi theatre police escorted Kumarashvili to a psychiatric hospital (not jail). The next step included a plan to forcefully send him to a mental facility of Tashkent for further medical treatment.

Obviously Khumarashvili’s way of thinking and his works were unacceptable for a provincial Soviet town (and not only this particular town). The fact of his placement in the psychiatric facility demonstrated a harsh reaction of the Soviet repressive system. I already mentioned that use of mental hospitals as a tool of political repression became even stronger in the 1970s. Ushangi Khumarashvili has never been a political dissident. He was an artist whose way of thinking did not fit into the system and clearly scared it. Especially because at this time he created the objects, collages and abstract works, which were absolutely unacceptable for official artistic circles. The largest part of the works was destroyed by the artist soon after their creation… In 1980 he spent a New Year’s Eve at a hospital. Since then he mostly continued to work in the field of fine art and referred to his work as Neo-Expressionism. During review of the art of the 1980s we will return to Khumarashvili once again...

As already noted this decade brought a lot of memories to the surface. Therefore we can consider it to be a period of a historic, political, aesthetic and conceptual protest. In this context I will try to revisit Levan Chogoshvili’s work. At the beginning of the 1980s he starts to shoot a film about an absolutely tabooed topic of Saingilo. The idea belonged him and art historian Giorgi Marjanishvili. It was considered risky to touch this theme as it was a closed topic no one talked about. Most probably many haven’t even seen the film as it was screened for a very short period of time and soon banned for the audiences. The preparation phase proved to be complicated. It was difficult to find funds for a cameraman and travel and most importantly ensure security for the crew members. It was not less difficult to find a director either. After a long search for a suitable person it was decided to invite Niko Tsuladze. 

In Levan Chogoshvili’s career this film became a logical act that confronted existing reality from the historical, political and conceptual points of view. In 1973 after having lost interest in de Staёl’s painting method, Chogoshvili started to change his language completely. He began to work on the development of a concept primarily building his complex new language on the basis of photography. The artist introduced a new working method already in 1971 when in one of his new works he used photos of two female models from the French magazine (it belonged to his uncle who was sentenced to death in the 1930s) and painted them. This work was followed by another one that showed the images of elderly representatives of communist bureaucracy who were dressed in black and stood between the columns of the Stalinist classic building and the plump Soviet grotesque female dancers. In his first work the artist used the photos for production of the paintings for the first time. Quite soon the technique became one of the most important and defining signatures of his style. In the second work the concept became weaker. It introduced the topics of the power and eroticism and gave start to a series. At the beginning the series were called “Venus and Mars”, but in the 1980s when because of the Soviet censorship Chogoshvili belatedly learned about the album of the same name (Paul McCartney and the band Wings produced it in 1975) he changed the title to “Venus and Mar(x)s”. Except for application of the photographs these two works from 1971 and 1973 are also important because of interpretation of two directions. One of them is connected to the use of Stalinist classical architecture and so called classical columns as a symbol of entourage and spatial form of the power. In 1980 Foucault will write that as early as in the 18thcentury the architecture already expresses the governmental power. To be more correct, maybe it has always expressed the power but from this time on politicians and political figures themselves start to discuss urbanism, arrangement of space, system of regulations [31] at the same time demonstrating huge interest in architectural forms – a phenomenon, which is so well expressed by the authoritarian states of the 20thcentury (especially strong was the interest in the Soviet Union that based its architectural concepts on so called classical style and classicism). According to the writer Alexey Tolstoy the purpose of this architecture is to serve the masses; its impulse of grandeur does not oppress, it just demonstrates universal character. Shchusev said that we, as a socialist society, are direct successors of Roman classical architecture. According to him it is only up to the socialist technology to achieve large scale artistic perfection. These verbal statements that were made by a writer and an architect are prompted and created by the governmental power and have an ambition to work on the idea of eternity. [32]

Is it really necessary to write so extensively about such small scale work? Of course, it is. First of all because, as I said, it gives origin to the series and symbolically interlaces the repressive signs of the Soviet ideology reducing them to irony and farce – features, which Chogoshvili links to eroticism. This is a Soviet totalitarian discourse of patriarchal power that officially acknowledges gender equality and at the same time prohibits expression and any form of eroticism in different fields, especially in art. These trends and ideology in reality operate under control of eroticized power and differ from (secret) lifestyle of high ranking officials. Already in mid-1980s this phenomenon was more clearly demonstrated in the works “Kalinin and Ballerinas” (based on a real story that took place in Tbilisi at Stepko’s Tavern where sexually dysfunctional violent authorities and manifestation of their power crossed all possible boundaries) and “Revolution” (both works are part of the series “Venus and Mar(x)s”). Chogoshvili purposefully uses Kalinin’s photo from the western communist newspaper [33] and erotic photographs and turns them into paintings. This way he demonstrates ironic attitude towards tabooing of erotic issues in the Soviet Union, emasculation of the society by the authorities (application of the technique of dominating) and dramatic absurdity of exercising perverse, almost romanticized and idealized violent power. [34]

It would not be correct to use the thematic associations for talking about the relationship of these series with the Russian social art. Social and related political context has never been and still isn’t a leading issue in Chogoshvili’s work. He is interested in political and historic topics that determine the present and modernity. I would also like to mention that except for some specific cases, social art has never managed to gain popularity among Georgian non-official artists. Chogoshvili’s works from this period present art on the verge of Capitalist Realism, pop art, conceptualism and even bear some features of Modernism. [35] As a matter of fact pop art and Capitalist Realism are also located between Modernism and contemporary art. 

It is difficult to place Levan Chogoshvili’s works in the frames of one specific style, movement or method. He makes what he thinks is correct and how he thinks it should be done. He does not look for either identity of art or his personal symbolism. His works are neither fine art not graphics as he finds an intermediary language. Chogoshvili is close to the Capitalist Realism, which is not a movement but a position that emerged in divided Berlin and is known through several features: first of all, Chogoshvili’s cultural value is more political than economic or social like in the cases of pop art and Russian Social Art. Secondly with the series “Venus and Mar(x)s” he opposes Social Realism (presents it as a tragi-comic anomaly) as well as purely abstract art and accordingly Abstractionism (strangely enough for the Soviet Realism of this period). [36] Thirdly he rejects the formula of “art for the masses” that is so common (from radically different angles) for social realism and pop art with its ambivalent attitude towards increasing consumerism. It is the interest in the trivial and to be more correct, use of the trivial that brings the artist close to the Capitalist Realism and pop art. However, this interest derives from political and relevant social reality and not vice versa like it happened in the cases of pop and social art. Chogoshvili is ironical but he does not produce kitsch; he is critical but does not turn to breaking down of the boundaries between “high” and “low” art. Besides he does not create political art and caricatures (method, which is so common for the Soviet Social Art). So, how is Chogoshvili’s interest in the trivial manifested? As already mentioned he “translates” into creative material on the one hand trivial and on the other hand political images, which are created with the use of mechanical tools and materials he finds in the Western magazines and newspapers. Transfer of the trivial and political topics into the fine arts and graphics, their “transformation into art” through so called valorization is a method that is used to enhance ironical attitude towards reality. Moreover, in this case Chogoshvili’s works do not directly represent empiric reality or put on display historical and political facts. He uses the images from mass media and photography as a primary source for his works. 

Work on the trivial issues brings Chogoshvili to creation of an “Apartment Work” in 1978. He develops a concept of ephemeral to produce an object that is not eternal and may change or even disappear in the future. The work is comprised of a bookcase at his friend’s house and two photographs, which are placed by the artist on the shelf in front of the books. The upper corner of the bookcase houses a photo of Alexander Blok. On its opposite side Chogoshvili puts a photo of Deng Xiaoping. The images remained preserved on the shelves for a long time. However, after a while they were not perceived as art works any more; they became part of the living environment, an invisible work. With these two photos the artist wanted to remember the past (Blok’s photo was associated with his poem “The Scythians”) and connect it to the present (Deng Xiaoping’s photo referred to the political crisis of 1969 between the Soviet Union and China, China’s attempt to return to the international politics in 1970s and newly launched economic reforms; according to Edward D. Berkowitz„a link to China became a permanent part of America’s diplomatic baggage.“). [37]

There are two aspects to focus on here. According to the first one the invisible “Apartment Work” introduces the concept of ephemeral, which Paul Virilio defines as „aesthetics of disappearance“. [38] In the western art of this period the concept of ephemeral was actively applied during the happenings, actions and installations as something that would disappear and leave behind documentation and possibility to reproduce a copy of the work (for the museum where historic linear time is still applicable). Photography tried to seize a moment and show something elusive. Video art made it disappear in order to unite and create the real/unreal through the moving images again. These are all textbook issues that take their origin from the 1960s and are related to initial confrontation between the Modernism and Post-modernism. That’s why we are interested in movement of the reality concept of Post-modernism and artistic forms towards totalitarianism – the issue, which is shown in this work. 

Another aspect is connected to placement of famous persons into a context that makes them disappear. In order to achieve the effect the artist uses an ordinary living apartment, items of mass production or photography and an ordinary bookcase. The act may remind us of Andy Warhol’s images of famous people, which are made with the use of silkscreen technique. They unite hundreds of portraits of Mao Zedong (1972) that are produced as a reaction to totalitarian propaganda of a personality cult. [39] But in this case we deal with something quite opposite: apolitical Andy Warhol makes hundreds of Mao’s portraits with application of the silkscreen technique and decorates the leader of a totalitarian regime with flashy colors like a Hollywood star. [40]

Apartment exhibitions became popular among the non-official artists from 1970s. They were organized at the flats of art historian Giorgi Marjanishvili, Shura Bandzeladze, artist Gia Edzgveradze. This was a logical solution to the problem as it was impossible to show these works in official art spaces. One of the exhibitions took place at the hall of the Tbilisi Actors House (1978) – a semi-official space that did not attract a huge number of visitors. This was not an exhibition of groups. The show presented young artists: Irakli Parjiani, Levan Chogoshvili, Iliko Zautashvili and the others. Zautashvili’s works – paintings that were made on paper and resembled pop art were put on display for the first time. 

The show was followed by a discussion with participation of the students of the Academy of Arts, Faculty of Art History. 

In his personal letter-memoire art historian Samson Lezhava mentions introduction of Abstractionism in the non-official art of the 1970s under the title of the “New Wave of Abstractionism” and says, that the process was guided by a demand for using a living language of art. According to him everything that opposed the Soviet ideology and happened in the west was idealized and perceived as something very eclectic. The new wave of Abstractionist artists valued Heidegger, Steiner, Christianity, Buddhism, yoga, jazz, rock music, dissidentism and the other things equally. Of course, this “eclectic” mix was united under an umbrella of striving for freedom of creativity, resistance to the “control from above”, right to personal choice.

Even this fact and the processes taking place in the field of arts demonstrate that so called “period of stagnation” was in fact internally tense and rich at content and diversity. In this tense form it gradually and actively approached the western art of the 1960-70s, which tried to break free from the boundaries of the Abstract Expressionism. On the other hand, despite introduction of new ways and forms of expression in the non-official Georgian art of the 1970s (object, collage, photography etc.) art and painting still remained synonyms – a notion also shared by the west at the beginning of the 1960s. [41] In this regard the break-through happened in Georgia towards the end of the 1980s. The time gap, which was mentioned by Panofsky slowly but steadily dissolved between the non-official Georgian art and the west. The cultural times came as close to each other as it was possible for the Soviet reality. The discrepancy primarily resulted from the Soviet policy (i. e. cultural policy) of the second half of the 1930s and was not linked to the Georgian cultural experiences as local Modernism and Avant-garde of the 1900-1920s were absolutely adequate to the western and global trends.

As already mentioned, since the second half of the 1950s the Soviet Union started to sporadically import limited numbers of social, cultural and arts magazines („Art in America“, „Art News“, „Décoration“ etc.) providing the youth and still studying non-official artists a chance to get familiar with the artistic practices and youth movements in order to form their style of alternative living. This did not manifest in organized scandals or events specifically made for foreign eyes (ex. the western media or the Embassies) like it happened in the case of the Russian non-conformists. A glimpse into the western world led to introduction of a certain lifestyle, which was occasionally expressed in scandalous behavior. It united a free style of living, more or less focused on gender issues and political anti-Soviet trends. Iliko Zautashvili and his lifestyle did not fit into so called accepted norms. His public scandals or conflicts were always related to demonstration of personal freedom and the anti-Soviet attitude. Hereby it should be mentioned that he has never been involved in any political activities. Moreover, he never thought that “stagnation” and stability of “normalization” would give Georgia a chance to escape the Soviet Union.

The 1970s were known as an epoch of long hair and blue jeans. At the end of the 1960s the generation of the decade still argued if it was acceptable to wear blue jeans – a fabric that counted only a century of its existence. As an argument one would mention a story of the Latvian tailor, Jacob Davis who emigrated to the US and in 1871 together with the Levi Strauss & Co produced trousers for the plant workers, farmers and cattle breeders. During the WWII American soldiers were added to the list as well. Thanks to James Dean’s movie “Rebel without a Cause” (1955) jeans became a symbol of rebellious youth of the 1950s. Later they turned into a more casual piece of clothing of the 1960s and since 1970s became part of an everyday life. But the Georgian generation of the 1960s was not familiar with all these developments. For the next generation of the 1970s jeans were already associated with the freedom. At the same time they also gained a status of a desired object with the young criminals. Blue jeans were hard to get, most of them were imported from the foreign countries semi-legally or were sold by the second hand handlers at a fantastic price.

But let’s return to Iliko Zautashvili’s art from this period. He himself refers to it as an epoch of non-certainty, which was similar to the times when one lives in an isolated reality, tries to get information from outside, wears jeans, has long hair, listens to the smuggled album of Janis Joplin, studies art history, yoga, attempts to develop his personal consciousness and reflects on his own path. This lifestyle is an art in itself or at least offers alternative and adds challenge to commonly accepted Soviet life. It presents performative character of life and hopefully the future scholars will realize that change of the way of living is a prerequisite to introduction of a performance - one of the forms of contemporary art. 

In the mid-1970s Iliko Zautashvili creates a group called „Sly George, Mystical Canon & a Fish“. It consists of three members: Iliko Zautashvili – percussions (Mystical Canon), Gia Edzgveradze – solo (Sly George) and Vakhtang Iakobidze – bass guitar (a Fish). To some extent the experimental group used Dadaist, rhythm-and-blues and rock music experiences to explore the boundaries and possibilities of a musical language. Vakhtang Iakobidze who was neither a writer nor an artist wrote stories that were based on the surreal stream of consciousness.

In the first half of the 1970s, during his studies at the Faculty of Art History and Theory of the Academy of Arts, like Chogoshvili Iliko Zautashvili also spends time at exploring (and not search) of the language and function of art. He started to study drawing as a child with a Russian painter of German origin Gleb Dick who taught at the Tbilisi Polytechnic Institute. In parallel he practiced yoga. Therefore two different philosophies, two diverse images of the reality (in a wider sense – universe) started their existence for him almost simultaneously. For a certain period of time he became good friends with the painter Edmond Kalandadze and shared with him his creative philosophy. The same way as Chogoshvili who has got interested in de Staёl but rejected his method after production of two works, Zautashvili finds himself in the same situation. For a while he becomes part of Edmond Kalandadze’s intellectual field and worldview. This is an artist from the 1950s generation who becomes the first one in the decade to reject brown paintings of the Soviet realism, opposes its methodology and creates his own philosophy, which perfectly fits five century long narration of the function of art. [42]

There is one interesting thing that Edmond Kalandadze transfers to a new generation of artists and among them Iliko Zautashvili: he resembles the 1960s of the west in rejecting the notion of Abstractionism as an idea of self-purification of drawing and the philosophy of dying Abstract painting. In the west the 1960s were not only a period of new actions but permanent questioning of reality as well. Is it possible to continue the abstract painting forever or is it time to abandon production of modernist and abstract drawings? [43] Time of Greenberg’s apologetics of modernist abstract drawing almost reached its end in the west as it became confronted by ordinary objects from ordinary life. [44]

In parallel to expressing the skepticism towards abstract art – an act that seemingly brings Edmond Kalandadaze close to the western attitude of the 1960s, he moves backwards in time and develops the idea of self-purification of drawing to a level of an uncontested absolute. For the artist the self-purification is based on a triangle: nature, artist and material (fine art). Fine art is perceived as a certain representative “abstraction”. For Kalandadze representation of a primary source (i. e. the nature) is of a special importance. The artist perceives himself as a mediator between the nature and art and correspondingly “confronts” the nature (the primary source) through the material / language of a drawing. The material needs to use its capacity for representation of nature. At the same time it has to be openly representative, pure and “aggressive” to demonstrate itself. Does the self-representation of material transform the work into abstraction? To some extent, yes, because full revealing of material, demonstration of the self and the meaning are practically the same as the self-represented nature. Therefore it becomes a recognizable “abstraction”. The main condition or a triangle containing the nature, artist and material is maintained. The viewer is left face to face with a task to understand what is the work about and what is it at all. The work unites in itself representation as well as self-representation. This is very much connected to Greenberg’s point of view, which only partially refers to Harold Rosenberg’s concept that a canvas should betreated “as an arena in which to act… What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” [45] The artist finds himself between the narrations that existed before Greenberg and at Greenberg’s times, takes a path through Impressionist and Post-Impressionist methods and arrives via Cezanne to Georges Rouault. [46]

If according to the west a Modernist abstraction happened to be the last instance of the truth, which offered an opportunity to finish the talks about art, in this case the final truth is connected to moving in the backward direction. To put it in simple words, it means return to the Parisian School, Expressionism and Fauvism, involvement in the process of self-purification of the material and more acute and clear forms of self-representation. The triangle of the nature, artist and material put Iliko Zautashvili face to face with a dilemma. He decided to temporarily stop working. A creative gap lasted for about a year. So, what was the dilemma for an art historian and artist who was more or less familiar with the western art of the 1960s and 1970s? Dilemma was of a conceptual character. Zautashvili obviously was not and could not be satisfied with what the older generation had to offer him. He understood the function of art and its place in a different way. And still, when he returned to work, he decided to draw the landscapes. Zautashvili disrupted the principles of easel painting which was experiencing a crisis as it was already mentioned at the end of the 1930s by Greenberg (in favor of abstraction). Greenberg rejected the strokes, so called pasty fine art and gave his preference to the “post-fine art Abstractionism” and local, flat colors. It was important for Zautashvili to break free from the suggested scheme and pasty drawing method, unilateral violence of the material. [47] The landscapes proved to offer such opportunity. Does art significantly depend on material, texture, strokes, gestures or is it a product that is created through touching, hand movement, masterly acts (as according to Yve-Alain Bois)? Does it start its independent life and can be different as well as the other? The issue is of course, not limited to the technical or aesthetic side. It is more of a philosophical character and asks a question of what is art and what purpose does it bear? Is it only a color? Should we treat it as a collection of colors that creates relief, is clean, rich, applied to a surface with a palette knife? Should the color be placed at the center of the discussion? Use of the landscape genre pursues a certain goal to reject this genre and in general a genre as such.

Iliko Zautashvili spends summers of 1976-78 in Gulripshi together with Gia Edzgveradze and Temur Tskhovrebashvili. All three of them work with Shura Bandzeladze. As I already mentioned he focuses on drawing of landscapes. Here I would like to recall one example, which may happen to be too ambitious, but demonstrates the essence of the process and can refer to the aspects of another cultural and artistic context. According to Danto at the beginning of the 1960s pop art emerged in a “sneaky way”. Sneaky in a sense that its impulses were masked as drops of color that resembled Abstract Expressionism – a genre at that time considered to be an emblem of artistic legitimacy. In 1964 pop art revealed its true face“. [48] Thanks to two experiments Iliko Zautashvili removed this mask of landscapes in 1978. One of them stated that form is all about the content and not the feelings, it is material and not abstract. Another experiment said that the image does not appear on the surface through a contrast of dark and light colors. It results from a process of search – an act that is far from covering a surface with strokes of a thick brush or palette knife. This kind of materialistic approach that did not relate to understanding of Greenberg’s superiority of color would necessarily end with the lyricism. At the beginning of the 1980s following the experiences from the 1970s it all was formalized in a form of a “Lyrical Conceptualism”. Why would the process end this way? Because at the first glance the above mentioned two experiments overlapped. But they also contained certain controversy in themselves: content vs feelings, materialistic notions vs abstract ones. At the same time the process included search for a drawing through the act of painting which naturally also meant use of intuition and imagination. If we turn the process into a relatively rough one, we will clearly see the logic, rationalism and at the same time quest that unites non-logical irrational actions and is characteristic for formal art. “It may make a jump to the result that can’t be pursued by logic.“ [49] This is already far from formalism and comes close to Conceptualism (in this case Lyrical Conceptualism). It is interesting to note that this is a period of emergence of Lyrical Abstractionism in the West and specifically USA.


[1] There are several versions of the date when Modernism ended. 

[2] Hans Belting, Das Ende der Kunstgeschichte?Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1983.

[3] Arthur C. Danto, The End of Art. In The Death of Art. Ed. Berel Lang, NY: Haven Publishers, 1984.

[4] Erwin Panofsky, The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline, in the book The Meaning in the Visual Arts. Doubleday AnchorBooks, N.Y., 1955,p. 6.

[5] It is interesting that I. Gurova’s version of the translation of the novel, which had to be printed by the publishing house «Художественная литература» was already available in 1970. But at that time the handwritten copies had to wait for their turn to be printed for years. Instead «Иностранная литература»published translation of the work by O. Soroka – a fact that made it impossible to print another version of the translation as well. This was prohibited by the decree of the Ministry of Culture and the Committee of Printing Affairs. Existence of different parallel versions of translations of the same literary work was considered impossible in the Soviet Union due to the shortage of paper.

[6] Arthur Danto. 

[7] The exhibition became a real sensation in the west where it was well covered by media unlike the Soviet Union where it was practically forbidden to disseminate information about the show as the Impressionism, Post-impressionism and Cubism were subject to strict censorship and collections were kept away in the closed depositories.

[8] Rockwell Kent was an American modernist painter; transcendentalist who continued traditions of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Emerson. He was a member of the socialist party of the USA, member of the Organization of the World Industrial Workers (Wobblies), member of the American Labor Federation (AFL)and most importantly member of the National Council of the US-Soviet Friendship (1957-1971). Kent was awarded the international Lenin Premium for “Fostering Peace among the People” and he became a honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Arts in 1967. 

[9] The first Georgian film that was made under the influence of Neorealism was “Magdana’s Donkey” by Tengiz Abuladze and Rezo Chkheidze. The plot was based on Ekaterine Gabashvili’s story of the same title. However, apparently because of the influence (and of course, ideology) the movie ended differently than the original text. “Magdana’s Donkey” became the first Soviet film to be awarded the prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 in the category of short film. 

[10] Common depiction of the “Italian yards”, which belong to the organic pattern of the Tbilisi housing should be related to the 1960s, introduction of neo-realistic films and urban lifestyle they described.

[11] Евгений Евтушенко. ПисьмоВитторио Страде. Inthebook: Vittorio. Международный научный сборник, посвященный 75-летию Витторио Страды. М., 2005, p. 16. 

[12] Donald Kuspit writes about the “Cursed Painters”: “In reality they were doomed to show homelessness of a human soul in the modern world. They are cursed, because they live in the universe, which looks so soulless and because <...>they wanted to create contemporary spiritual art. However, differently than Rousseau, they knew that traditional religious images would not be well received here: everyday life should have been shown secretly as a spiritual one». Donald Kuspit, A Critical History of 20thCentury Art, Artnet Magazine, 2006.

[13] On the one hand American art (as an obvious return to the representation), which is made of everyday household objects, consumer goods, ads in mass media, comic, technologies and is a reaction to the Abstract Expressionism is drained from personal symbolism. Americans did that in a very rectilinear way through application of commercial methods like silkscreens. In some other cases they created small scale identical objects (multiples)andeveryday trivial ordinary images that were loaded with huge dose of irony and resourcefulness. This can also be seen in Avto Varazi’s works and their certain romantic and poetic overtones of the British pop art. 

[14] Tom Wolfe, The "Me" Decade and the Third Great Awakening,published in the collection of essays: Tom Wolfe,Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, New York, 1976.

[15] To my surprise I have discovered a strange statement in the book From Gulag to Glasnost, Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union,which was published in 1995 as a collection of articles of different authors and is dedicated to non-official art of all former Soviet republics. According to Iossif Bakschtein non-official art is a purely Russian event that did not exist in the other republics. The statement is strange with consideration of the fact that the publication is dedicated to non-official art of the Soviet Union and tells about the non-conformist movements in almost each of republics. If this statement is true it turns out that mildly said, all other texts in the book are presenting the incorrect stories. Alla Rosenfeld and Norton T. Dodge, From Gulag to Glasnost, Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, Thames and Hudson, First Edition, 1995. 

[16] Alla Rosenfeld and Norton T. Dodge, From Gulag to Glasnost, Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, Thames and Hudson.First Edition.1995

[17] Arthur Danto, p. 78. 

[18] Shura Bandzeladze recalled that he did not attend the American exhibition in 1956. However he saw an article in the Moscow based newspaper that criticized it. The article contained black and white photo from the show. An abstract image most probably presented a painting by Jackson Pollock, leader of the Abstract Expressionism. The image served for Bandzeladze as a proof that he was following the right path (Samson Lezhava, Interview with the Painter Alexandre Bandzeladze, magazine Spectrum, Tbilisi, 1990, #2)

[19] Hans Belting, Art History after ModernismThe University of Chicago Press / Chicago & London, 2003. 

[20] The same principle is discussed by Hans Belting as well. For understanding of art at the end of the 1960s please, see Hans Belting, Art History after ModernismThe University of Chicago Press / Chicago & London, 2003. 

[21] Ideology as such is often discussed from the negative perspective. It is presented as an unshakable, stable, imposed idea, which is hard to change. Marxism describes it as a “false consciousness” or a mistaken viewpoint that is disseminated by the dominant groups. This attitude is still popular in the social sciences and separates “our” true knowledge from “their” ideology. Naturally, this leads to separation of the dominant ideology and opposing anti-ideologies from each other. But the anti-ideology is an ideology too. As it turns out, as soon as the ideology is awarded a dominant status it becomes a tool for strengthening of the diverse forms of power (first of all political), loses its positive features and becomes a negative concept. “Our” true knowledge (so called anti-ideology) becomes a subject to transformation. See Teun A. van Dijk, Ideology and Discourse. An internet course for the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University), 2000. 

[22] Abolishment of the boundaries between the mass and high art happened thanks to the Social Realism, which directed art into the path of folklore and ethnography. 

[23] Clement Greenberg, Modernist Paintingin the collection of articles: Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1982, p. 6.

[24] Quote is taken from Khatuna Khabuliani’s text about Bazhanov. 

[25] From autobiographical notes of Gogi Chagelishvili. Album Gogi Chagelishvili. Painting, Graphic, Object, Installation. Tbilisi, Magticom, 2014 (ალბომიგოგიჩაგელიშვილიფერწერა,გრაფიკა,ობიექტი,ინსტალაცია).

[26] The same.

[27] Michael E. Silver, A Decade of Decadence: Arts of the '70s. The Harvard Crimson, 1980.

[28] Maybe his interpretation was also unacceptable:

[29] Gorelick, Nathan (2011), Life in Excess: Insurrection and Expenditure in Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. Discourse, 33(2): 263.

[30] Brockett, Oscar G., History of Theatre. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2007.

[31] Michel Foucault, Space, Knowledge, and Power. In the bookPower. USA, The New Press, New York, 2000. 

[32] From the side of the authorities and based on the decree of the Central Committee “About Transformation of Literary and Artistic Organizations” it was ideologically registered in 1932. 

[33] Of course, there existed a large number of Kalinin’s photos in the Soviet Union too, but those retrieved from the western communist media enhanced ironic reference to eroticism and repressive nature of power of the Soviet bureaucracy. 

[34] The title of the series “Venus and Mar(x)s” was not selected by an accident. Chogoshvili is very knowledgeable in the field of mythology. As a child he often painted the scenes from Greek, Persian, Roman mythologies and eposes, stories from the Middle Ages. He chose Mars as the most famous god of war and military power in the Roman mythology. At the same time he was interested in philosophical discussions about Venus and Mar(x)s. 

[35] It should be mentioned that despite the fact that pop art and Social Art are often compared to each other they bear significant differences. Discussion of these issues goes beyond the format of this research. 

[36] „Capitalist Realism“ is an attack towards the capacities of the Social and Capitalist Realisms. This term somehow attacked both sides: It made Socialist Realism look ridiculous, and did the same to the possibility of Capitalist Realism as well,”Gerhard Richter. 

[37] Edward D. Berkowitz,Something HappenedA Political and Cultural Overview of the SeventiesColumbia University Press, New York, 2006.

[38] Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance. This edition ©1991 Semiotext(e), Printed in USA. 

[39] Silkscreen technique, which was used by Warhol for his series was at that time unknown in the Soviet Union. 

[40] In 1972 the President Nixon visited China. The trip was followed by a statement of the magazine Life that Mao Zedong was the most famous person. The statement triggered Warhol’s interest in Maoism ideology and his cult. Mao’s portrait was the first one for Warhol to express his political views. He said: “I have been reading so much about China. They’re so nutty. They don’t believe in creativity. The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen’.

[41] Arthur Danto.

[42] As already noted in the 1950s (until 1962) the Soviet Union hosted the exhibitions of Western, mostly French art (Cezanne, Picasso…). They introduced into the Soviet art new methods of painting and perception of the reality influencing significantly the generation of the 1950s.

[43] Yve-Alain Bois,Painting as Model. An OCTOBER Book, MIT press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England,1993.

[44] Arthur Danto.

[45] Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters.In the book: Art in Theory. 1990-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA,1993.

[46] Rouault’s Paintings („contoure escapes me“, p. 106, MysticMasque:SemblanceandRealityinGeorges


[47] The fact that the artist did not produce any abstract paintings during these decades demonstrates that the genre for him was neither associated with the last, absolutely necessary stage of painting nor its apocalyptic end whose funeral as well as resurrection was exercised by Neo-Abstractionists (Yve-Alain Bois,Painting as Model). The rebirth of abstract art and its resurrection started almost 10 years later in the 1980s in a quite different context. But let’s return to this issue during discussion of the 1980s. 

[48] Arthur Danto.

[49] Sol LeWitt. Sentences on Conceptual Art.In the book: Art in Theory. 1990-1990. An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA,1993.