21 April 2018 

Spectator of the 17th Exhibition for Young Art

Author: Anatoly Golubovsky

Anatoly Golubovsky is a Ph.D. in Art History, historian, sociologist, journalist; author, host and producer of TV and radio programs. He worked at the Center for Information in Culture and Arts of USSR State Library and State Institute of Art Studies. From 1991 to 1992 he was a visiting researcher at the University of Virginia. He is also one of the founders and Chief Editor of the KULTURA and KINO FM radio stations and one of the interviewers of an audience poll at the 17th Exhibition for Young Art (December 1986; Kuznetsky Most, Moscow).


We are publishing part of Anatoly Golubovsky's report at the "Contemporary art and its audience" round table. The discussion was organized by the Place of Art project and the MSSES’s Faculty of Social and Cultural Project Management and took place at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences on 21.04.2018 as part of the conference "Development vectors of modern Russia" (Section "Visitor Studies in Culture: research on audiences of sociocultural projects and institutions'').


Of course, the problem of the audience in the context of Soviet art existed before the 17th Exhibition for Young Art. At that time, in 1986, there were several types of audience. It was, firstly, the audience of ritual visits to the Soviet artists` personal exhibitions. Secondly, there was an audience of mass art like Shilov or Glazunov. At their exhibitions there were giant queues that encircled the Manege. One of the goals of the 17th Exhibition was to have the same queues as those at Glazunov’s exhibition[1], which was held shortly before. Thirdly, there was an audience of underground art. It was an audience of underground and semi-underground artists: Moscow conceptualists, artists who first declared themselves at the Bulldozer Exhibition[2] and Pchelovodstvo Pavilion[3], the audience of exhibitions in the Moscow City Committee of Graphic Artists on Malaya Gruzinskaya, as well as visitors of apartment exhibitions. I want to emphasize that all these audiences were extremely complex. 


The idea of the 17th Exhibition for Young Art was to engage people from all these audiences, offer them a completely new type of art consumption and see what will happen. To that end, every evening was devoted to parallel programs with the most contemporary and up-to-date in cinema, literature, poetry, and music, for example, Russian rock, which was already wildly popular at that time. The audiences of these programs also jumped at the bait of fine art, which was the reason to tell such a complex story.


This exhibition had unprecedented PR. For example, there was a program Addresses of the Young at the youth editorial office of Central Television, and young Slava Flyarkovsky, who is now a famous host, reported on the 17th Exhibition almost every day. 


The audience survey was an essential part of the exhibition. At that time, I worked in the Department of Sociology of Arts, headed by Gennady Dadamyan, one of the organizers of this exhibition, along with Leonid Nevler and Daniil Dondurey. I think that the questionnaires appeared together with the idea of ​​the exhibition because the 17th Exhibition was a serious institutional project, which, as it turned out later, laid the foundations for the institution of artistic life in Russia. Both the press and the art market were pledged and presented there: this was the first commercial exhibition and also for the first time one-day exhibitions were held without the permission of the art Council. It was a complete shock for everyone, no one controlled anything: people came and exhibited artworks. The organizers just said: “Well, cool, let's show it”, and the next day the exhibitions were gone.

The work with the audience at the exhibition was based on the classic research Perception of monumental art: types, mechanisms, effectiveness by Dadamyan, Dondurey and Nevler. Three authors and future ideologists of the 17th Exhibition for Young Art made an in-depth interview with 100 respondents, who were asked by students about Oleg Filatychev's mural at the Gubernsky Institute. Three types of perception of this mural were identified and then presented at the exhibition: artistic, ordinary and quasi-artistic.


The category of the artistic includes art historians as well as educated people. The ordinary type consists of several sub-categories: naturalist — a spectator, who is, first of all, concerned with authenticity and credibility; functionalist — one who is interested in the artwork’s function, what it should do: to form a world-view or to educate about morality, patriotism; hedonist — an ordinary spectator who wants to have fun and be distracted from reality; symbolist — a spectator who tries to unravel some hidden meanings. In the quasi-artistic type of perception, socially prestigious factors are important: fashion, belonging to a subcultural reference group, etc. In my opinion, this highly modified quasi-artistic type is now very relevant.


With this information in mind, the team created a survey at the 17th Exhibition for Young Art. Researchers were interested not so much in the perception of fine art but in the general organization of artistic life and how, according to the audience, it should be arranged. The questions were about the infrastructure of this life, channels for obtaining information about fine arts, reference points and opinions important for the art consumers. This was an unprecedented study, but, unfortunately, we were unable to process these questionnaires, since there was no funding, energy nor time. But, I think, this was not by chance because the experience and phenomenology that appeared as a result of observing how visitors and artists behaved, what tools and mechanisms seemed promising — managed by itself without referring to research results. Besides, in 1986 Russia was still a closed country, and life changed dramatically in 5 years. I'm not sure if a similar study would be relevant to a new situation.

We are now witnessing a crisis with the use of polls in sociology. The information environment connected with values ​​is aggressive: the person who answers the questionnaire's poll activates different types of communication in their life. For example, when they are asked a question related to politics, they turn on a TV in their mind. When asked a question about a cultural phenomenon, they recall a trusted publication. It is difficult to get to the actual value-behavioral foundations through the polling procedure. Therefore, in my opinion, such sociological phenomenology provides much more information than what is commonly called a survey.


The 17th Exhibition’s questionnaires looked like a traditional survey. They correctly and accurately revealed the relationship between social status, social context and ways of consuming fine art. In the questionnaires, for the first time, we tried to find ways of institutional development of the entire fine art sphere, which would include exhibition halls, museums, media, criticism. Therefore, the expertise was carried out from the visitors’ point of view because without them the artistic life cannot appear complete. 


For a long time, we dealt without a market, for instance. Even the contemporary art market was in a shadow. The antiques market existed partially in the legal sphere: there were shops, some types of auctions. It is noteworthy that the first gallery owners (Aidan Salakhova, Marat Gelman) earned their living by selling antiques, since there was no demand on the contemporary art market. Until now, a few galleries exist in a market situation, i.e. they pay off. But until the late 90s, contemporary art gallery owners were also antique dealers, which also says a lot about the audience. This is quite understandable: we were in a civilizational pit, since the normal course of artistic life is difficult to restore with constant rollbacks.


The severity of the situation was also due to the educational system, both general and professional. It was and still remains focused on traditional archaic art. Moreover, the interpretation of this art, for example, Russian realistic art of the second half of the 19th century, has absolutely nothing to do with the richness of meanings, contents and forms that distinguishes this art. The literature-centric and ideological education system, not oriented towards the development of a person's visual culture, produced an audience who was not capable of perceiving visual messages. This is still the case: misunderstanding in the perception of contemporary art is a consequence of the awful state of art education. General mass art (and music) education is focused on the upbringing of amateurs but could instead form viewers and consumers of contemporary art. The system of professional art education is also detached from the present context.


Unfortunately, we will not have any audience for any art until we have built, even remotely something resembling a civilized education system, focused not only on texts, but also on visual images. An education system, whose main goals are to form an understanding that contemporary art is an integral part of life and quality of life. Today, the visual arts audience is a community of frustrated people with a torn consciousness, who are eternally insecure. People who cannot seem to understand that they should be guided by reproductions in school textbooks or by posts of newsmakers on social networks. 


  1.  Ilya Glazunov’s exhibition To the 30th anniversary of creative work opened at the Moscow Manege on June 9, 1986.
  2.  The Bulldozer Exhibition was an “unofficial art” exhibition, organized by an artist Oscar Rabin and took place on September 15, 1974 at the intersection of Ostrovityanova and Profsoyuznaya streets. The exhibition was forcefully broken-up by a police force that included bulldozers, hence the name.
  3.  The painting exhibition at the Pchelovodstvo Pavilion at VDNH was held from 19 to 26 February 1975 and was organized by artists Vladimir Nemukhin and Dmitry Plavinsky. This exhibition was the first official show of "unofficial" artists like Boris Turetsky, Oscar Rabin, Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, Vladimir Yankilevsky, Lidiya Masterkova, Valentina Kropivnitskaya, Gnezdo (Nest) and Volosy (Hair) groups and others.