Hermitage Exhibits Timur Novikov

Timur Novikov, one of the foremost figures in the world of St Petersburg art in the 1980s and `90s, died a premature death in 2002. A Hermitage exhibition for his 50th birthday, under the name "Timur's Space", reflects his avant-garde and Neo-Academic styles. S7 Airlines named a jet after the artist.

His name is displayed on the airliner fuselage in the spontaneous lettering style and under a rising sun, which was Novikov's trademark when he sought inspiration from Mayakovsky and other icons of the early 20th century Russian avant-garde. Novikov's interests later moved to Apollo and religious garment embroidery.

Moscow connoisseur Pierre Brochet and other inventors of this museum-airliner want its passengers to feel like they are inside a museum installation. They are treated like art connoisseurs travelling to this exhibition and other places in the city connected with the artist.

Some of the most memorable episodes in the bohemian life of St Petersburg were connected with Novikov-the Expressionist shocks of the New Artists, the ironic decadence of the New Academy of Fine Arts, the mischievous Pirate Television, the merry abandon of Sergei Kuryokhin's Pop Mechanics band and the budding Russian rave and Neo-Academic festivals. Kino, Russia's most original rock band, owed its style, down to the smallest detail, to Timur, and charismatic Viktor Tsoi, its leader, copied a scenic image from the artist. Novikov epitomised the spirit of perestroika-just as did Sergei Solovyev's film Assa, whose art director he was. Timur and his friends appeared in the cult movie. That was a time when the artistic underground, confined to private homes in the Soviet years, rushed into the open. One street exhibition followed another. Paintings were hung on the Palace Bridge when it was lifted.

The Hermitage retrospective is subtitled "St Petersburg-New York" to specify the geography of the artist's life and his place in the art world. Part of it is dedicated to the art college where Novikov studied.

Though Timur and his friends were not blind to the classic traditions of St Petersburg, they saw it as a studio and home not a museum. Its Dostoyevskian despondency was alien to them. It was a friendly place in which to live and work. Art shows travelled from the Palace Bridge to the Nicholas Palace. Cityscapes are pronounced in Novikov's heritage. Novikov escaped two typical pitfalls waiting to ensnare artists in St Petersburg-the banality of scenic postcards and the magnetic influence of Silver Age painters.

Neo-Academic period works are exhibited in another room to present Timur as a man-about-town and an indisputable leader of the city's artistic life from the mid-1980s to his dying day-a troublemaker, ideologist and producer all in one. His circle led a life much more exciting and dynamic than any major gallery, museum or fashionable studio would have.

Another part of the exhibition is dedicated to Novikov the globetrotter, art missionary and collector. His shows travelled all over Europe and America after the Iron Curtain was lifted. Timur lived a long time in New York. Whenever he revisited St Petersburg, he brought with him breathtaking samples of world art for local artists to compare their own work with art from London, Berlin or San Francisco. An avid traveller, Timur started his acquaintance with a new city not with tourist attractions but with quiet nooks and high spots. His art trophies are among the most interesting exhibits. His famous photograph collection is also on show.

The exhibition closes on January 11, 2009.

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