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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Art Remembers Being Bulldozed

Twenty years ago, a group of young, rebellious artists set up an outdoor exhibit at Izmailovo Park. Moscow's museums and galleries would not show their abstract paintings because at the time avant-garde art was illegal. The show did not last long. Within 30 minutes, the police came with bulldozers and demolished the display, and several of the painters wound up in jail.

This event quickly became known as the Bulldozer Exhibit, and participation in it gave an artist a certain degree of prestige in underground circles and in the West. To commemorate its 20th anniversary, 11 artists who took part in it have organized a show at the Malaya Gruzinskaya gallery, which was the focal point of the abstract movement in the 1970s.

Now that artists can show what they want without worrying about bulldozers, the city is filled with galleries that display sometimes outrageous, often rather bad art. This exhibit, called Abracadabra, is a refreshing exception. From Boris Bich's curious cubist planes to Dmitry Gordeyev's humorous group portraits, the art is compelling and professional.

The 11 painters whose works are on view in Abracadabra are part of a group called Twenty, which was formed shortly after the Bulldozer Exhibit. All of them have had shows and sold canvases in Europe and North America. As the name suggests, there used to be twenty members in Twenty, but some have emigrated and a few have died.

"The artists say the group is falling apart," says Marina Golinskaya, who runs the Malaya Gruzinskaya gallery, where Twenty had several secret exhibits in the 1970s and 1980s. "But it is not. It is fluid. These are no longer young painters. They have become masters, teachers."

Golinskaya admits that there are some conspicuous omissions in the exhibit. Two artists who were important to the group -- Oscar Rabin and Vladimir Nemukhin -- emigrated to Western Europe and do not have much to do with the Moscow art scene any more.

Nevertheless, the quality of the show is quite high. The most intriguing canvases are by Sergei Bleze, who combines classical themes with surrealism. His pictures often have elements of Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. Or in the corner you might see a smooth, Dutch face reminiscent of a Vermeer portrait. All this in a chaos of lines and shapes, as if Bleze painted on metal grating.

Although Twenty has mainly been losing members over the past few years, in 1988 they gained a talented one. Danila Zhirov, who trained as an icon restorer, paints large, strange canvases that look like marble. Most of his pictures depict fantastical scenes from Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita." Zhirov was not involved with the Bulldozer Exhibition, but he has fit in with the group so well that Dmitry Gordeyev painted his portrait.

"He saw my works at an exhibit and just called me," Zhirov says. He has been with Twenty ever since. "It is a loose group. We meet like friends."

People do not pay so much attention to Twenty any more. It is no longer a clandestine group, as the underground movement disappeared with the Soviet Union. Golinskaya, however, thinks that the group has just as much direction now as it did in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"Do the artists feel lost now? No. If anything, they feel more secure than ever. They have the chance to exhibit and sell their works now," Golinskaya says. "Maybe they miss the attention, but not in the form of hatred and bulldozers."

"Abracadabra" will be showing at the Malaya Gruzinskaya gallery until March 13. The gallery, located at 28 Malaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa, is open from 12 P.M. to 7 P.M. Closed Monday. Tel. 253-3688. Nearest metro: Barrikadnaya.