Âûñòàâêè: "Ïðèâàòèçàöèÿ", Kunstwerken, Berlin, 2004
" Äóìà î ðîäèíå", Ìóçåé Àííû Àõìàòîâîé, Ñ.-Ïåòåðáóðã, 2004
Lifshitz Institute (Video)
Titian. ‘Tribute Money’
“In ‘Tribute Money’, Titian represents an Italian humanist of the High Renaissance, depicting him in the image of Christ, an image both subtle and aristocratic. He is opposed to a crude plebeian with a dark, muscular body, a real Caliban, tempting the libertine saviour with the famous question of whether it is really necessary to pay tribute to Caesar? And Christ answers him with a subtle, almost imperceptible smile, like Descartes when he wrote to Mersenne that he did not want to convince anyone or preach anything…”
Portrait 0 – 0.19
Mikhail Lifshitz is one of the most enigmatic and paradoxical figures of the Communist epoch.
No other Soviet thinker’s name has ever provoked so much outrage; no other name arouses as much interest as does Lifshitz today.
In 2003, a series of exhibitions was held in Lifshitz’ honor. One of them included a self-portrait by the artist Konstantin Bokhorov.
K. Bokhorov 0.43– 0.59
On this painting, we see the author walking away from the Russian “White House”, the former seat of the Russian parliament. His face seems to indicate that he is possessed by an idea. He has turned his back on both the symbol of the state’s power as well as on the anarchist revolt against it, personified by a group of people posing for a photographer by dropping their pants.
Radek-cover 1.05– 1.13
This performance was carried out by a group of radical Moscow actionists in the autumn of 1993, soon to be reproduced on the cover of the ultra-leftwing magazine “Radek”.
The “White House” in the background is charred.
This scene takes us back to the time when Wild Russian capitalism was only just taking shape.
On October 4th of 1993, acting on the orders of the President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, army troops stormed this building in order to disband the Russian parliament, which was resisting reform and refusing its own dissolution.
The central detail of the painting is the book that the artist is holding in his hand.
On its cover, one can see a fragment of an abstract piece by Vassily Kandinsky.
This is Mikhail Lifshitz’s book “The Crisis of Ugliness”.
Crisis-dustcover 1.43– 1. 59
This is the same book in a wraparound cover with a still-life by Picasso.
“The Crisis of Ugliness” is the most significant theoretical work of Soviet Marxist art criticism. It subjects the entire aesthetic project of the 20th century to a total critique.
This is an edition of the same book in German.
Recently, the author of this book has been at the center of theoretical discussions on art. Artists, political activists, critics, and historians come together in galleries, apartments, and studios to re-read the long-forgotten works of Lifshitz, which were written between 25 and 75 years ago.
Bulnygin (Hegel) 2.40- 4.06
One of these discussions took place in Moscow’s Institute of Philosophy and was dedicated to a text that Lifshitz wrote on Hegel in 1931. This text is called “Hegel’s Aesthetics and Dialectical Materialism” and marks the centennial anniversary of Hegel’s death. In the Soviet Union, the construction of a new society is in full swing. In setting its practical goals, socialism calls the rigid laws formulated by Hegel into question: periods of happiness are empty pages in history; the decline of art is inevitable and progressive.
Under these conditions, Lifshitz writes: “Today we face the question of whether the notions that lie at the core of the bourgeois world order will live or die. Hegel plays the same role in relation to this order as did Dante in relation to the Middle Ages.”
The twenty-six-year old author concludes his text with the following words: “Socialist society leads to the elimination of those causes that impelled the best representatives of the human intellect to search for solace in the idea of tragic fate.”
Socialism and the idea of fate’s tragedy will always be one of the central themes in Lifshitz’s work.
A film by the video artist Dmitri Bulnygin conveys the atmosphere of the discussion of this text rather well.
Most art critics assume that the activities of the “Lifshitz Institute” are in fact manifestations of an extreme form of extravagance and that its association with the name “Lifshitz” is a scandalous provocation.
This view is not entirely unfounded.
Mikhail Lifshitz was born in 1905, the year of the first Russian revolution, in a small town in Southern Russia by the name of Melitopol.
Two years later, in 1907, Picasso creates his first Cubist pieces and the revolution in art begins. This phenomenon will be at the center of Lifshitz’s attention for the rest of his life.
Dark and swollen with coarse substance, the painterly technique of the Cubists, as well as their conscious return to primordial barbarism, seemed to herald the onset of a mirthless century. In 1913, this was only recognized by very few.
But soon, it becomes clear to everyone.
Lifshitz is nine years old when the First World War breaks out. Lenin promises: “‘Civilized’ capitalism is heading toward an unheard-of collapse, which will inevitably tear all of the foundations of life and culture as we know it to shreds.”
“Bottle Rack” 5.17 - 5.24
In the same year, Marcel Duchamp exhibits his “Bottle Rack” as a work of art. As Lifshitz will write later on, “art has departed beyond the bounds of any rhyme or reason”.
A year later, Malevich shows his “Black Square”.
In 1917, the proletarian revolution erupts in Russia.
“Pissoir”. 5.46- 5.50
In the same year, Duchamp exhibits his “Pissoir”.
In 1918, Lifshitz is 13 years old. For the rest of his life, he will feel that it was a great blessing to come of age precisely in this year. The October Revolution becomes the central experience of his youth.
Titles: Death to the Bourgeoisie and Their Henchmen. Long live the Red Terror!
Civil war 6.07- 6.17
The only way to overcome the absurdity of existence is by abolishing the exploitation of man through his fellow man. In Melitopol, Lifshitz observes the realities of civil war: daily changes of power, banditism, occupation, typhoid fever.
This is a drawing that Lifshitz made in his youth.
He is already 15 when he first encounters the writings of Lenin.
However, his first and deepest impression of Marxist philosophy does not come from books.
For Lifshitz, Marxism becomes a means of seeking the truth.
In 1922, he moves to Moscow.
He is infected by the great enthusiasm of the time. He is 17 years old. He loves to read, to draw, and dreams of becoming an artist.
The art of those legendary years is quite well-known today.
Lifshitz falls under the influence of avant-garde tendencies,
, and enrolls in VKhUTEMAS in 1923. VKhUTEMAS is the center of artistic life in those years, a stronghold of the most radical innovations, the Soviet counterpart to the Bauhaus. By the way, it is located in a beautiful classicist mansion from the late 18th century.
Here, in the world’s only citadel of up-and-coming proletarian artistic culture, Lifshitz begins to disagree radically with his teachers.
Long before many of his contemporaries, he experiences the inner crisis of the avant-garde and openly begins to return to the classics of antiquity and the Renaissance, loudly proclaiming: “The time has come to say farewell to the mousy scrambling of reflection!”
Economic & Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844
During the 1920s, he begins to study the German language in order to read Marx and Hegel in the original.
The question that interests him most is Marx’s relationship to the Hegelian conception of the death of art. In general terms, this problem can be formulated as follows:
Greek sculpture or Renaissance painting can never be revived. This would be no great tragedy if the contemporary world could replace the artistic forms of the past with something or another equal to them in terms of aesthetic strength and significance. But why does capitalist society – the most advanced system in terms of economics – produce the “Pissoir” in the sphere of art? What is the nature of the piercing lyricism that the artist finds in sanitary porcelain?
It is at this point that Lifshitz makes his fundamental discovery: Marx had an aesthetic conception of his own. This is something that no-one suspected at the time.
Dante Aligyeri. Shakespeare
Working meticulously, he begins to collect all of the passages on art in Marx’ writings. He rejects the widespread opinion that Marx reduced art to economics as something very far from the truth. Quite a different conclusion follows from Marx:
Andreas Gursky. Hong Kong Stock Exchange. 9.12 – 9.26
the most effective means of production are a terrible terrain for art, especially if it turns the human being into a plaything for the otherworldly forces of market competition.
The avant-garde is a figure for the lack of freedom, the morbidity of the spirit, and the unhappy consciousness that reflect the contradictions in the period of class civilization’s ultimate decline.
If his goal had been to find the least appropriate time to propagate such views, then Lifshitz would have right on target. In 1924, Lenin dies and the struggle for power within the Bolshevik party begins.
Teachings on the primacy of antiquity and the Renaissance are brutally weeded out as bourgeois prejudices.
Many long years have yet to pass until such views become the USSR’s official ideology.
It is hardly possible to think of a worse place to assert such ideas than VKhUTEMAS.
By proclaiming the return to the classics, Lifshitz draws the consequences of his teachers’ central lesson, namely that the teachers themselves need to be rejected in full.
Further study at VKhUTEMAS becomes impossible.
In 1922, Lifshitz writes his earliest theoretical works, which are only published after his death. These include “Marx Views on Aesthetics”
“Dialectics in the History of Art” 10.30 - 10.38
and “Dialectics in the History of Art”
As the son of an epoch that pulled no punches, he formulates his ideas with desperate radicalism
capable of shocking us even today: “Contrary to the trivial phraseology of our century, absolute beauty exists, as does absolute truth”.
“Relativism is dialectics for idiots.”
In 1929, the collectivization of private agriculture unfolds. After yet another declaration in defense of the classical legacy, Lifshitz is accused of the political crime of “right-wing leanings in art”.
At the time, such an accusation is no joking matter.
In 1930, Lifshitz becomes acquainted with the Marxist theoretician George Lukasc, who is visiting Moscow.
Lukasc is the author of the legendary book “History and Class-Consciousness”, which had appeared in 1923.
For the next decade, they will continue an intensive dialogue, which takes place against the backdrop of industrialization, the Thermidore, and the Stalinist Terror.
In 1933, Lifshitz publishes the anthology “Marx and Engels on Art”.
It will be re-issued in 1938 in an expanded version, which you can see here. But in the 1940s, this book will be withdrawn from the libraries.
Later, it will be republished several times. This, for an example, is the edition of 1957.
Marx on art (G) 12.22 - 12.28
It has also been published in German and in other languages, often without any reference to its original editor.
The very beginning of the 1930s presented themselves as an extraordinary period, as Lifshitz liked to say, a gap between two repressive forces, between the vulgar Marxism of the 1920s and the dismal dogmatism of the late 1930s. It is this period that marks the peak of Lifshitz’s theoretical endeavors.
“Questions of Art and Philosophy” 12.49 – 13.03
The texts written in the period from 1931 to 1934 were collected in a volume published in 1935 called “Questions of Art and Philosophy”.
Winkelman 13.03 - 13.08
In these years, the focus of his attention lies on the humanist line in the history of world culture.
Diderot 13.08- 13.14
Lessing 13.14- 13.16
Goethe 13.16- 13.20
Goethe. He edits Eckermann’s “Conversations with Goethe”.
Hegel 13.20 – 13.31
And of course, Hegel.
Lifshitz sees his goal in the reconstruction of the classical line in the history of thought that led to Marxism.
Hegel 13.31 – 13.47
In the 1930s, Lifshitz is most interested in Hegel and his famous statement that “everything real is rational”.
Stalin 13.47 – 14.05
In those years of terror in the USSR and rampant fascism in Western Europe, it has become all too obvious that the world is a horribly irrational place.
But Lifshitz sees Hegel’s formula as a paradoxical expression of the distance between the demand for reason and the facts of the real world, which he calls the tragic understanding of harmony.
Lukach 14.05 – 14.23
In 1938, deeply involved in dialogue with Lifshitz, Lukasc finishes his book “The Young Hegel”. After the Second World War, it is published with the dedication “To Mikhail Lifshitz as a token of respect and friendship”.
Palace of Soviety 14.23 - 15.00
During the second half of the 1930s, many of Lifshitz’s ideas seem to be coming true. Notions such as “realism”, “the classics”, or “the beautiful” are forced into application with a great deal of ferocity. But Lifshitz does not receive any official recognition in those years; instead, he is accused of being too unorthodox, of being a follower of Nietzsche and Spengler.
Lenin on art. 1938 15.00 - 15.16
In the 1930s, Lifshitz prepares the anthology “Lenin on Culture and Art”, which is published in 1938.
Lifshitz photo 15.16 - 15.27
His interest is focused on Lenin’s battle with ultra-leftism and his defense of classical culture from the aggression of the avant-garde.
“The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx”
In the same year, an English translation of Lifshitz’ book “The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx” appears in New York. In its introduction, the editors write that “at the time of the October Revolution, Mikhail Lifshitz was a homeless waif roaming the streets of Czarist Russia. (This is an exaggeration. Lifshitz may have gone hungry, but he was no homeless – D.G.). Today this young man is one of the finest Marxist critics. (…) He has decided to integrate the various comments of Marx and Engels on art and literature with the mighty stream of Marxist philosophy.”
This stupendous effort has resulted in the present invaluable contribution which, without doubt, towers far above all previous attempts by innumerable writers. Today Lifshitz is not only one of the major exponents of Marxist aesthetics but also one of the chief enemies of the harmful crudities of vulgar sociologism…”
Literature and Marxism. A Controversy.
This anthology was also published in New York. It reflects Lifshitz’s battle against those who reduced art to a function of class-psycho-ideology.
But in the Soviet Union of 1937, Lifshitz’s literary activities have come to a complete standstill.
Vyshinsky 15.27- 15.43
Mass terror looms over the entire country.
Here, we see the speech of the attorney general Vyshinsky at a show-trial against the enemies of the people.
Giorgione 15.43 - 15.56
The New Renaissance that Lifshitz had been dreaming of since the mid-1920s is put off for a long time to come.
Moscow 15.56 – 16.08
The main quality of the Soviet 1930s is what Lifshitz called the “wormwood of inner conflict”. For this reason, this time is closed; the key to its secrets has yet to be discovered.
Hegel 16.08 – 16.23
Among other things, it contains an element of protest against the existent state of affairs that is far deeper than any Storm and Stress of earlier or later periods. But this protest appears as outer conservatism.
Train 16.23 - 16.36
Looking at this time, Lifshitz writes: “In the path toward the attainment of the goal that has been the center of my entire intellectual life, history went into an extremely complex and far-flung curve. But then again, history has plenty of time to spare”.
Works of the 30-ies 16.36 - 16.49
Lifshitz’s writings from the 1930s were to appear in Dresden many years later, in 1988. As always, their appearance was extremely untimely. It coincided with a moment in which the inhabitants of the GDR were least interested in the Marxism of the Stalinist period.
The War 1941 16.49 – 17.08
The biographies of the generation of the 1930s are interrupted by the war with fascism. Lifshitz departs for the front. In September 1941, he is wounded.
Crossing 17.08 - 17.20
He serves in the Dnepr Flotilla. The flotilla is defeated. Lifshitz finds himself surrounded by the enemy. He spends September and October of 1941 slipping through enemy lines.
Photo (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) 17.20 - 17.30
This photograph was taken when he finally made his way to friendly troops.
Photo (in Uniform) 17.30 - 17.35
By the end of the war, he has reached the rank of Captain.
His archive contains the following note: “When one officer was sitting under a bridge up to his belly in water as a German airplane strafed the road overhead, he saw a small frog with little green eyes and couldn’t help but smile.”
Mikhoels 17.35 - 17.50
Titles: The actor Solomon Mikhoels, Chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, killed in 1948.
During the late 1940s, the anti-Semitic campaign “against cosmopolitanism” begins in the USSR and other Eastern European countries. The members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee are liquidated.
Metro 17.50 – 18.14
“After the war”, Lifshitz will remember, “many things changed, and the times were not easy. Upon returning from military service, I felt that I had been completely forgotten. I had reached rock-bottom. Above me, there was an oceanic mass of murky water”.
Card 18.14 - 18.50
This is a postcard that Lifshitz received in later, far easier times, in 1964. It reads: “Dear Mikhail Alexandrovitch! In the days of the great October, I want to give you a firm aesthetic handshake and wish you new creative success with all of my heart. All the best! Astakhov”.
“The son of a bitch! In 1949, he was saying that I “had grown up in the Trotskyite underground”, and had “preached a murky, dirty, and sordid philosophy”, that I was “an ideologue of decadence”.
Landscape 18.50- 19.00
This is a landscape that Lifshitz painted in 1952. At this point, he had been silent for nearly fifteen years.
Stalin’s death 19.00 – 19.11
In March of 1953, Stalin dies.
Demonstration 19.11 - 19.33
After a brief interregnum, Nikita Khrushchev comes to power, displacing Beria. The period of reform that is known as the Krushchev Thaw begins with a series of publications in the journal “Novy Mir”, including a new article by Lifshitz, entitled “The Diary of Marietta Shaginian”.
Novy mir 1954 19.33 – 19.40
This is the issue of “Novy Mir” in question. The text itself was dedicated to Shaginian, a famous Soviet writer.
Shaginyan, posters 19.40 – 20.06
This polemic essay was a cutting satire on the Stalinist intelligentsia with its tinsel verbosity and its astonishing combination of epic exaltation and indifference to what it was actually writing. This publication provokes a frenzied response. The official reviews of the Soviet press accuse Lifshitz of “nihilism” and of calling our socialist ideals into question “in the thirty-seventh year of our path”,
Lifshitz, photo 20.06 - 20.20
of snobbism and the exhortation of anti-patriotic conceptions. For this text, Lifshitz is excluded from the Communist party.
He falls silent for another 10 years.
Khrushchev 20.20 - 20.40
Titles: The goals are clear. The aims are set. Let’s go to work, comrades. On to new victories of Communism!
20.40 – 21.02
This is Nikita Khrushchev on his notorious visit to the exhibition at the Manege in Moscow in 1962, where he denounces all deviations from socialist realism. Inset – caricature.
Titles: In the Ecstasy of Creation
The young poets of the time are rediscovering futurism
Âîçíåñåíñêèé (çâóê) 21.02 - 21.10
Titles: I am Goya. My house-martin eye-sockets were picked out by a raven.
The Beatles (sound) 21.10 - 21.29
The teenager of the time are discovering the best role models that pop-culture has to offer.
Titles: “Like any of fashion’s chosen few, they have immediately produced a slew of copycats, transporting their generation into a state of slight insanity.”
Lifshitz. Photo 21.29 – 21.44
But Lifshitz finds nothing better to do than to speak out against contemporary art as he did 40 years before. In 1966, he publishes the manifesto: “Why I am Not a Modernist”.
Kopelyev 21.44 - 22.41
Here is a letter that Lifshitz receives from the cultural historian, former inmate of the Stalinist GULAG and future dissident Lev Kopelev:
I am sending you my article, since I doubt that it will be published anywhere and want you to read it.
Until now, I have not found it necessary to argue with your reflections on art, since I highly value your other publications (such as the polemic against Shaginian etc.). But with your recent articles in “Forum” and “Literaturnaya Gazeta”, you have declared yourself as a proponent of the most reactionary forces operating in contemporary, international culture so that I cannot help but decisively take exception to your views in the strongest of terms.
I would like to hope that after all you have not taken on the role of the Protopope Avvakum of the contemporary aesthetic Old Believers so stoutly as to be unable to reflect critically upon your mistakes, errors, and prejudices.
Crisis (dust-cover) 22.41- 22.56
Wishing you the best of health. Lev Kopelev.
Lifshitz does not only refuse to heed this voice of reason, but breaks with the liberal intelligentsia completely and publishes the book “The Crisis of Ugliness. From Cubism to Pop-Art”.
Crisis (video) 22.56 - 23.21
No other work of the 20th century has put forth such an annihilating critique of not only the bourgeois world, but also of all forms of criticizing this world from the position of avant-gardism. As always, Lifshitz has chosen the least appropriate moment to publish this tour-de-force.
Czechoslovakia 23.21 – 23.43
Compiled in 1967, the book goes to press in 1968. On August 21st of the same year, Soviet troops invade Czechoslovakia in order to suppress the liberal reforms of the “Prague Spring”.
Anybody who still believed that socialism could have a human face now loses the last of his hopes.
Soljenitsyn 23.43 – 23.56
The dissident movement begins to take mass proportions. Solzhenitsyn derides Lifshitz as an Marxist fossil. Lifshitz responds that fossils can also be useful, like for an example, fossil fuel. and that it is better to be a Marxist fossil than a fossil who defends the Bourbon Restoration.
Marx (G) 23.56 - 24.19
In 1972, Lifshitz publishes the book “Karl Marx. Art and the Social Ideal”. In it, he presents a collection of his work from 1927 to 1967. He is fully aware of the reaction that these texts will provoke in the era of the Soviet intelligentsia’s massive rejection of Marxism.
Ìàðêñ. (G) 24.19 – 24.25
This book also exists in German translation.
Official Soviet culture is no longer concerned with the nuances of its contents.
Lifshitz. Photo 24.25 - 24.38
In 1973, Lifshitz, who is almost 70 years old and who bears no titles whatsoever, is awarded the degree of doctor of philosophy. Soon afterward, he is awarded the title of “Academic”.
“Art and the Modern World” 24.38 - 24.54
In 1973, Lifshitz also publishes “Art and the Modern World”, a new book against the avant-garde, which firmly establishes his fame as the most reactionary writer of the Brezhnev-period.
Suslov 24.54 - 25.05
The liberal Soviet intelligentsia declares Lifshitz to be Suslov’s main aesthetic theoretician. Suslov is the second man of the Party. As Stalin’s former secretary for propaganda, he is the Grey Eminence of the Kremlin. His name is connected with the persecution of the slightest deviation from Marxist orthodoxy.
Photo 25.05 – 25.15
“You must believe in yourself unflinchingly in order to disdain what you seem to be”, Lifshitz once wrote of Voltaire.
Bulldozer exhibition 25.15 – 25.34
In 1974, 27 Moscow avant-garde artists organize an unsanctioned exhibition on one of the city’s remote empty lots. The state’s security organs disperse the exhibition with bulldozers.
Unofficial art becomes a political force.
Works 25.34 – 25.46
Under these conditions, the defense of Marx’ and Lenin’s views on art definitively appear as a lost cause, which Lifshitz continues to uphold with desperate tenacity.
Lifshitz. Photo 25.46 – 25.52
For all of my life, he writes, I have been going to the bars to preach sobriety.
Posters 25.52 – 26.03
During these years, official culture takes on increasingly primitive forms.
Passport 26.03 – 26.19
A new generation comes of age. It has not only forgotten Stalin, but even Khrushchev.
Rewarding 26.19 – 26.50
Having taken place in a time beyond memory in order to decrease the distance between reason and objective reality, the October Revolution does not turn into a tragedy as it did in the 1930s, but appears as a senile farce.
Here, we see yet another decoration of the General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee Leonid Brezhnev in 1978. At the time, he receives new decorations almost on a monthly basis.
Rewarding (sound) 26.50 – 27.28
Titles: Dear comrades. Friends! It is easy to understand my feelings today. For me, as someone who experienced the entire war, from its very beginning to its very end, and then the following years, as someone constantly connected to the life of our armed forces, this medal of victory is an extremely honorable decoration. It touches me deeply.
Afghanistan 27.28 – 27.46
The beginning of the 1980s is marked by the deployment of Soviet troops to Afghanistan.
The state continues to wage its war on the dissident movement. Solzhenitsyn has already been in exile for a number of years.
Sakharov 27.46 – 28.04
In 1980, the physicist, academic, and preeminent human rights activist Andrei Sakharov is banished to the city of Gorky, now called Nizhny Novgorod, for protesting against the war in Afghanistan.
Death of Brejnev 28.04 – 28.22
Leonid Brezhnev dies in November of 1982. Yuri Andropov, the chairman of the KGB, takes the reins of power.
Lifshitz. Photo 28.22 – 28.38
In these years, Lifshitz is working on the systematization of ideas first voiced in the early 1930s, ideas that did not enjoy any further development due to the dramatic conditions of the time.
Apartment 28.38 – 28.58
In 1983, Lifshitz passes away unexpectedly. He does not manage to finish many of the undertakings that he had begun, nor does he live to see the publication of many of the projects he had completed.
His huge archive remains in a great number of file-folders. By the way, their execution reveals the hand of an artist trained in the school of VKhUTEMAS.
Folders 28.58 – 29.10
Here are a few of them:
Gorby 29.10 - 29.29
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev comes to power.
Titles: So I’ve been meeting with people on the streets and in the factories. With both academic and, now, with the kids and the students.
The Perestroika begins.
In the world of aesthetics 29.29 - 29.53
Lifshitz’s book “In the World of Aesthetics” is published in the same year. It includes one of his most important theoretical texts, “A Man of the Thirties”.
And if something seemed amiss during the author’s lifetime, then these posthumous publications became the apogee of untimeliness. Everyone was sick of the Soviet regime: its abolition was the order of the day.
Sakharov 29.53 - 30.05
This footage shows Sakharov returning from exile in 1986.
Three-volume edition 30.05 – 30.17
During the Perestroika, Lifshitz’s principal works are published in three volumes. The first volume is printed in 1984, the second volume in 1986, and the third volume in 1988.
At the same time, the country is galvanized by the approach of a new era.
Changes (sound) 30.17 - 30.27
Titles: In our laughter, and in our tears, and in the pulsing of our veins. Changes, we’re waiting for changes.
Fall of regimes 30.27 – 30.53
By 1989, the Communist regimes all over Europe are collapsing one after another like a house of cards. In Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany.
30.53 - 30.58
It is at this time that a number of artists discover Lifshitz’s texts, almost by accident.
Titles: Yeltsin for President! We demand to put on the air!
In the years of massive anti-Communist hysteria, it was difficult to find anything more non-conformist and blatantly incommensurate to what was going on at the time.
The epoch quietly went berserk.
Fight for vodka (sound) 31.07 – 31.20
“End of the XXth century” 31.20 – 31.38
This is the cover of the journal “The End of the 20th Century”, the first independent publication dedicated to contemporary art, created by artists themselves. It included a text by Lifshitz, with which he wanted to preface his book “In the World of Aesthetics”, but which was refused by Soviet censorship in the early 1980s.
Written long before the aforementioned events took place, this text presented a diagnosis of the Soviet intelligentsia. Lifshitz defined its mood as the wrath of a haughty petit bourgeoisie that wished to crush the Marxist tradition morally.
In 1990, yet another one of Lifshitz’s books is published. Banned by Soviet censorship, it bears the title of “To Grandfather in the Village” and is released in an edition of 300 copies.
During this time, it becomes impossible to buy anything at all. There is no food in the stores, and the population lacks even the most basic necessities.
In August 1991, a coupe-attempt aimed at putting a halt to the reforms fails. The Soviet Union has less than four months left to live.
The people dismantle the monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, the secret police of the early Soviet period.
From the early 1990s onward, everything that is reminiscent of the Soviet past is revoked. This takes place through the return to even more ancient, pre-revolutionary forms.
Nationalist sentiment grows rampant, beginning to color the ideology of Russia’s new Communist Party.
Capital 33.28 – 33.37
The awakening of interest to classical Marxism is not as apparent, but it too is taking form.
Kommersant. 1993 33.37- 34.24
On September 29th 1993, a brief note with the title “Mikhail Lifshitz has finally found his readers” appears in the newspaper “Kommersant Daily”.
“Yesterday in the Academy of the Arts, a meeting took place in memory of the ten year anniversary of the demise of the foremost theorist and perhaps even the creator of Marxist-Leninist aesthetics, Mikhail Lifshitz. Until very recently, this name was firmly associated with the persecution of the most infinitesimal deviation from realism and stood as a synonym for conservatism and obscurantism. Dedicated to the memory of Russia’s last Marxist, the meeting went unnoticed, even within the Academy itself. One could count those present on the fingers of one’s hand. As strange as it may seem, they included representatives of the most radical tendencies in contemporary art, for whom Lifshitz has unexpectedly become important today.”
This importance is not so difficult to explain. At the time, an intense battle for control over the immeasurable national resources is underway, waged with all kind of cold and hot weaponry. The period of the “primary phase of the accumulation of capital” that Marx once described is not a textbook case.
It is against this backdrop that the “Lifshitz Institute” is founded in Moscow in 1994.
One of its first events consists of an exhibition in the Moscow Center for Contemporary Art. It is dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Lifshitz’s birthday. The art critics of those years see the “Institute”
as a further manifestation of “the poetics of shock-effect”, as an eccentric, dare-devil gesture, doomed to general misunderstanding and ostracism.
But in fact, reality was so intense during the 1990s that it would have been difficult to surprise anyone at all.
Titles: Boris Yeltsin at the celebration of the pullout of Russian troops from Germany.
Putin 35.50 – 35.56
The hand-over of power to Putin was marked by a rapid decompression of the social atmosphere.
Titles: An Anthology of Contemporary Anarchism and Leftwing Radicalism
After the turn of the millenium, the world grew sick of globalization’s successes, and leftism came into fashion in Russian society.
By now, books like this one now have become a mandatory part of the average teenager’s reading list.
Under these conditions, the defense of classical Marxism once again appears as a form of conservatism, as it did in the 1920s.
Nevertheless, the “Lifshitz Institute” continues its work of studying and propagating Soviet Marxism of the 1930s.
This is a meeting of the “Institute’s” participants in March 2004 in a Moscow studio with the artist Hans Haacke. The discussion was about contemporary art, Lifshitz, and Marx’s views of aesthetics. It seems that Haacke is not accustomed to such debates, especially if they end at three in the morning.
This is another, more open event. It marked the appearance of the “Stella Art Gallery”, a venue that sells the most highly acclaimed artworks of the late 20th century at market price. This is something completely new to Moscow. The gallery’s first exhibition is called “The Classics of Pop-Art”. The “Institute” holds a discussion of Lifshitz’s article, “The Phenomenology of the Soup Can”, published in 1966.
The name of the text refers to Hegel’s “Phenomenology of the Spirit”, but the spirit’s place
Has been taken by Warhol’s famous “Campbell’s” soup-can and its thick Americanism.
The discussion at Stella Art Gallery centered on the following fragment: “It seems obvious that “pop-art” is the worst form of snobbery, a redundant, vacuous, indolent form of consciousness, capable of seeing through any naïve idea like an x-ray. It does not only consider simple ways of relating to the world as too naïve, but also refuses all direct forms of refinement. In short, its sophisticated, highly modern means of addressing the psychology of the “man in the street” assume a complex meta-structure of the spirit.”
The ensuing discussion leads to bitter disagreements.
37.23 – 40.47
Lifshitz. Photo 40.47 – 41.19
Mikhail Lifshitz was a follower of Marx and Hegel, both of whom the 20th century declared to false prophets. It is only natural that Lifshitz was rejected by this century as well. Nevertheless, he himself was sure: just as there is a law of the conservation of matter, there is also a law of the conservation of thought. Lifshitz saw this as a source of comfort for any idea that had not found its immediate and complete realization.
The undertaking that Lifshitz embarked upon with such deep and revolutionary energy cannot remain unfinished.
Titles 41.19 – 41.45
A Film by Dmitry Gutov
Translation by Nataliya Aksenova and David Riff
Narrated by David Riff
Edited by: Andrej Barishev
Video, Photography, Painting:
Many thanks to the Lifshitz family archive for the use of material
Sonata for Viola and Piano
Y. Bashmet, viola
S. Richter, piano
September 26, 1982
Moscow 2004 - 2005