Gruppa "Kollektivnye dejstvija". Akcija "Lozung-1977". 1977. © Foto: Andrej Monastyrskij

Gruppa “Kollektivnye deistviia”. Aktsiia “Lozung-1977”. 1977. © Pic: Andrei Monastyrskii.

Dates: beginning of the 1970s–early 80s

Place: Moscow

Members: Il’ia Kabakov, Viktor Pivovarov, Dmitrii Prigov, Lev Rubinshtein, Vladimir Sorokin, Vsevolod Nekrasov, Erik Bulatov, Timur Kibirov, Andrei Monastyrskii and others

Moscow Conceptualism, one of the most important artistic movements of the second half of the 20th century in Russia, was born in the attic-atelier of Il’ia Kabakov, where in the early 1970s a group of painters and writers identified a shared poetics and artistic practice.
The name appeared in an article in 1978 entitled Moskovskii romanticheskii kontseptualizm [Moscow Romantic Conceptualism], by the critic Boris Grois and published in the samizdat journal “37” (and immediately reprinted in Paris in A-Ia). Russian Conceptualism combines Western influences (such as the works of artists like Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt), from which the movement originates, with the social and existential specificities in which it operates (cf. Caramitti 2010: 108). The focus of discourse shifts from the artistic object, depicted without any aesthetic intent, to everything that surrounds it: the idea, the concept it represents, and the public, an integral part of the artistic experience thanks to the logical links that the spectator is called upon to weave (cf. ibid.: 108-109).
The boundaries between art and byt’ dissolve: the more classical transposition of reality into aesthetic form is replaced by the registration of objects and images that are ordinary and prosaic, but capable of revealing a deep meaning thanks to the emotional charge they have and the context to which they belong (consider, for example, the official iconography and slogans used in the paintings of Ėrik Bulatov). The use of unusual languages, such as socio-political or scientific (or even pseudo-scientific) discourse, is a founding element in Soviet Conceptualism, not in the form of quotations but in the very structure of the work (cf. Prigov 1998: web).
The proximity of artists and poets who shared an artistic method made Conceptualism a perfect example of artistic synthesis; it was a project pursued by the historical avant-garde to which underground groups also aspired. This figure of Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Prigov is a symbol of this synthesis, as an artist who excelled in the disparate fields of poetry, narrative, sculpture and visual arts, exploring strands of Conceptualism and dismantling the cultural stereotypes produced by the alienating Soviet universe. Less identifiable with the often ironic, mocking, and goliardic spirit of the movement is the theoretical seriousness of Vsevolod Nekrasov (cf. Caramitti 2010: 111-113), a former member of the Lianozovo circle and sometimes considered the father of Conceptualism.
Another important literary personality was Lev Rubinshtein whose so-called ‘cartoteca’ is still very famous. Rubinshtein was a professional librarian who, at the end of his working hours, staged performances in which he recited aphorisms, reflections, and short narratives in verse and prose composed on cards from the library catalogue, apparently unconnected to one another, in front of impromptu audiences (cf. Carpi 2016: 301).
During his performances, there were moments of pause, symbolic of emptiness, a central theme of conceptualism, representing a point of connection with postmodernism (cf. ibid.: 299, 301). With the passing of the years and the parallel, growing subordination of the role of the artistic object, the philosophical component of the movement gained more weight, represented primarily by the theorist Boris Grois (cf. Caramitti 2010: 111), but also by the poet and artist Andrei Monastyrskii, founder, and soul of the artistic group Kollektivnye deistviia (Collective actions), which promoted happenings and artistic exhibitions.

Federico Iocca
[30th June 2021]

Translation by Marta Capossela


To cite this article:
Federico Iocca, Conceptualism, in Voci libere in URSS. Letteratura, pensiero, arti indipendenti in Unione Sovietica e gli echi in Occidente (1953-1991), a cura di C. Pieralli, M. Sabbatini, Firenze University Press, Firenze 2021-, <>.
eISBN 978-88-5518-463-2
© 2021 Author(s)
Content license: CC BY 4.0