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Oscar Rabin: A Happy Life Journey

Language: Russian
Translation: English subtitles
Running time: 52 minutes

A screening and discussion commemorating 45 years since the famous 1974 Bulldozer Exhibition that changed the course of art history in the Soviet Union. The afternoon will include a screening of Oscar Rabin: A Happy Life Journey (Оскар Рабин: Счастливый Путь) directed by Alexander Shatalov and produced by Marc Ivasilevitch. Rabin was the main organiser of the Bulldozer Exhibition and one of the Soviet Union’s non official leading painters. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Professor of Art History at Courtauld Institute, Sarah Wilson, arts patron, Marc Ivasilevitch, and art collector Sergei Revyakin.

The show that became known as the Bulldozer Exhibition, was organised by a small group of artists, led by Oscar Rabin, and took place outdoors in the Belyaevo region on the outskirts of Moscow. Thirty artists took part, among them Vladimir Nemukhin, Lydia Masterkova, Borukh Steinberg, Nadezhda Elskaya, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Yuri Jarkikh and Alexander Gleser. It was also attended by the famous art critic Victor Tupitsyn. The event was forcefully broken-up by the police, using bulldozers and water cannons. The police and military used the bulldozers to destroy the paintings, arrested and beat up the artists, journalists and other attendees. One of the policemen, Avdeenko is also known to have shouted at the artists: "You should all be shot! Only you are not worth the ammunition!" If not for the international outcry following this event, things could have turned much worse. Luckily, the organisers had invited foreign correspondents, and the New York Times featured the bulldozer article on their front cover, featuring paintings by Komar and Melamid. Alarmed by such publicity, the Communist officials promptly gave permission to hold the first-ever contemporary art show two weeks later in Izmaylovo Park in Moscow. This seemed like a victory of the unofficial artistic community, but it was unfortunately short-lived. Most of the artists who received permission to exhibit their works, subsequently had to emigrate from the USSR or died prematurely in poverty and despair having lost the support of the state. Nevertheless, the Bulldozer Exhibition has gone down in history as a major act of civil freedom and civil society that took place during the period of ‘stagnation’ in the Soviet Union.

Oscar Rabin (1928 - 2018) belongs to the generation of artists, writers and poets of the 1960s, otherwise known as the shestyadesyatniki. Rabin is one of the forefathers and originators of Soviet non-conformism, and organiser of the Lianozovo Group which grew up around poet and artist Evgeny Kropivnitsky.  Over a period of seven years (1958-1965), the former camp barracks in Lianozovo, where Oskar Rabin lived with his artist wife Valentina Kropivnitskaya acted as a centre of artistic intelligentsia. Together with Rabin they would organise spontaneous exhibitions and show their works at the Lianosovo barracks. As well as Evgeny Kropivnitsky (1893-1979), the artist and poet, father of artists Valentina Kropivnitskaya (1924-2008) and Lev Kropivnitsky, the members of the group included such legendary artists as Lydia Masterkova, (1927-2008), Vladimir Nemukhin (1925-2016), Nikolai Vechtomov (1923-2007), and Nadezhda Elskaya (1947-1978). They were also joined by poets Vsevolod Nekrasov (1934-2009), Genrikh Sapgir (1928-1999), and Igor Kholin  (1920-1999). Along with other members of the Lianosovo group, after the Bulldozer Exhibition Rabin became politically “undesirable” in the eyes of the Soviet regime. In 1978 he was exiled from the USSR and on a journey to France was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and ended up settling in Paris with his wife, the artist Valentina Kropivnitskaya, and their son Alexander, also an artist.