Genius Needs an Orgy
01.02.2013 – 19.02.2013, Triumph Gallery

Louis XV: “Any of them, but first bathe her and take her to the dentist.”
This makes for an amusing comparison with Tatyana’s waiting: “the soul awaited … someone.”
Human boundaries are defined by this in any sphere. There is nothing higher than the coming together of lives, the pieces torn asunder of a living whole, striving for unity. The myth of the androgynes is a deep subject. Is there nothing in mythology that would anticipate Schiller’s “Embrace, millions!”? What religious thinkers term “presence” — here it is! Read John Reed’s description of the proclamation of Soviet power.
November, 1967
Mikhail Lifshitz


Tell us about the exhibition’s title. I believe its source is a quote from Balzac.
Dmitry Gutov: I remember that Balzac said it, though I don’t remember where. And if I’m not mistaken, Mikhail Lifshitz once used the quotation. An orgy, at its peak, is like the wonderful phrase of Empedocles: “Drawn by love, everything comes together.” It’s the warmth of close-range interaction that a person experiences at the point where he forgets himself, and is overtaken by a shared impulse. And that’s where John Reed comes in.

So your project has a political subtext about meetings, unity, about our situation?
DG: When I’m working, I don’t think about anything at all: I don’t try to put in any political, erotic or cultural meanings. I’m torn by certain images and thoughts and I reconstitute them and then that goes into the work — what is making the noise out in the street, on the other side of the window.
Yes, I can say that I was very interested in this theme, relating to pornography at the very beginning of Perestroika. I did a project dedicated to Russian folk sayings collected by our wonderful Dahl. I can quote them here. They’re along the lines of: “Don’t be shocked, Vasilisa, that four legs intertwine; be shocked as to where the fifth went” or “On a Wednesday up the front, and on a Friday up the backside,” or “Every breathing thing loves a poking”.
I was attracted by all this, because in society — I sensed this — there was a certain erotic excitement that ended the way we all remember it ended, and then came an entirely different 1990s that was subjected to entirely different energies. But now there’s some kind of return of all this, perhaps it’s from the noise of the streets.

So, I’m right in thinking that the crowds at meetings have an erotic subtext? Or is this linked to the word “orgy”?
DG: No, the erotic is, you know, Boucher and certain French people of the 18th century. No, that really is an orgy. I sensed it especially strongly on December 10, 2011, on my birthday, on a square where people had gathered, people who in life hate one another — anti-fascists, nationalists, liberals, communists. It was a communal rising, there’s something orgiastic in that, of course.
Why does the image refer us back to the Ancient Greeks, then, or do you also see their lives in a prolonged orgy?
DG: The fact is that I’m obsessed with that culture. As Boris Groys once said in a conversation: “Who today loves the Greeks? Only tourists and Gutov.” But I really do love the Greeks a great deal, and that whole culture has now been dumped, if you don’t take the tourists into account. Everywhere there is talk of the Western European projects tearing apart at the seams, that it’s over, that Democracy is finished, that art as an unobtainable ideal has ended. But it’s what’s closest to me of all. That’s where the Greeks come from in their finest manifestations. There’s a fairly large amount of coarse and vulgar Greek vases and objects decorated with primitive erotica. But there are also magnificent works, from the 5th century, for example, and I’m guided by them.

In your project there are two sections — one dedicated to Greek vases, and the other to Picasso, although that section also features Greek images. Why did you need a person who again invokes that culture, a third reference, as it were? What was the primary source?
DG: When you’re working on a project, different offshoots appear. From the point of view of conceptual purity, I had to prepare a project dedicated to antiquity, then think about how it transfers to Picasso in the period when he was involved in that neo-classicism, and do a second project. But I couldn’t stop by then. Also I’d already heard how some priests had come out against Picasso’s drawings, and that also urged me on somewhat.
Actually, I’d already begun working before the priests, it was simply a coincidence.

Can you in some way term your work? For example, neo-classicism? Realism?
DG: If we’re looking for terms, then I’m attempting strict archaism. I don’t mean the way in which our founding fathers referred to crudeness and primitive iconic depictions. I mean archaism as all culture that has simply been dumped. I remember a wonderful instance here: Picasso spoke of it. In the 1930s, or perhaps even the 1920s, in Paris, the Dadaists or the Surrealists got together to walk through the streets and offend public opinion – the priests, the bourgeois — and to do it in such a way that they’d definitely be put in jail. And the only person that wasn’t arrested was Joan Miro. “What did you do, lad?” “I walked through the streets and shouted: Down with the Mediterranean!” “Have you gone nuts?” “You’re all attacking the consequences, whereas I’m attacking the cause.”
So, for me, that archaism is actually the Mediterranean, to take it now, defamed, to take it back out and start working with it.
If not archaism, then ultra-conservatism — that’s where my interest in all texts, theories and everything that has been forgotten and nobody needs any more comes from. I adore that. If we take, for example, my library, it’s difficult for me to find the books I need – not only do the second-hand booksellers not take them, they don’t even offer them on That’s why my works are like junk; it’s as if you’ve been walking somewhere and you’ve seen some rusting metal reinforcements for concrete, and there appears to be something interesting in it.

But they’re actually reinforcement rods for concrete? You find these materials? Or are they actually specially made?
DG: Originally, when I started doing this work (it was in 2006, an exhibition with hieroglyphs) I really did pick over scrap metal warehouses and choose crooked pieces, with traces of paint remaining on them. I had a truck, I’d fill it up with selected pieces, drive them off, and then take what I needed from there. If something turned out to be too neat, then I’d throw it in the snow and pour acid over it to give it the required appearance. I work with assistants — labourers, welders — and, of course, there’s a workshop for all this. My assistants saw the way I was treating the works, and when a German company came along that transports all sorts of Chinese vases and the like, and people in white coats and white gloves took my works, my assistants changed their approach. When they saw how after all those manipulations the works were then placed in special boxes. It was pretty funny. But the character of garbage ideas was what I was after.

But those last series — they weren’t done in that way?
DG: No, this is such subtle work that it’s not possible to pick it out, and everything is simply bent into shape, but the character is the same. Here, for the first time, in the Picasso works, I’ve used a different kind of welding that prevents rusting, and the works are cleaner, colder, more sterile. But the works in the ancient series still have red rust.

Now you’ve moved in the direction of aestheticism?
DG: Yes, I was worried that I would be accused of that, but the thing is, you know, that if you’re working with something you must take pauses and leave it for awhile. It’s not a case of me having simply come along and bent something up because I’m drawn to cruder things.

Do you plan on returning to painting?
DG: I’ve really started missing it, now it’s just a technical question. I need a special space with light, I’m working on that now so that I can get that space. I’m not planning on ceasing that side of life. I’ve got certain considerations, now I’m thinking about how to embody them. I was recently in China, in Shanghai, and it turned out that you could take not 23 kilograms but 46 kilograms, and I used those 46 kilos to buy books. So my library of works on Chinese calligraphy and inks really expanded and it’s a very large source of inspiration.

How did you get the idea for the three dimensions in your work with the drawings?
DG: When I look at graphics, for example Rembrandt’s sketches, I already see them in volume. But when I see something in volume, I perceive it as a sheet. That’s just optics of a certain kind, the way nature made it. On top of that, I like to observe everything in motion, when I’m walking. It’s like my own video, a sliding camera. I’ve got a series, Parallax: you’re walking and everything changes from your point of view. So with me everything’s cranked up.

When you were exhibited by Gelman there was such strong lighting that there were shadows on the walls, a patterning. Then later, when there was the Modernicon in Turin, there was none of that. With Gelman it looked like it was planned that this graphic patterning would be created, but at Modernicon it had been removed.
DG: No, the essence was that there were never any shadows. If you’re going to work with shadows then it has to be a separate project. It’s a good idea, maybe one day I’ll get round to it. When we discussed how we were going to hang the exhibition, the first thing that I said was that there shouldn’t be any shadows. Everything is created by counter-relief: the wall is flooded with light, making the work stronger.

How do you think they should be viewed? If you look at them directly, then they’re very realistic, referring to a concrete period, but a little further off they turn into abstractions. I saw “Drawings of Rembrandt”.
DG: Yes, that’s the way it was planned. You have to look at them in motion, you have to move the way you move in life, everything around you changes, and there are different angles the whole time. I remember that way back in early childhood I came back from the Black Sea and looked through the window, and everything was flashing by, changing. It was a captivating spectacle! When I came to Moscow, I tried to draw a picture. Naturally, it was a single picture, and it had to convey the movement. Nothing worked. I thought of breaking it down into shots, the way you used to be able to see it in film stock when you took it in your hand.

I’ve also noticed in your work, as in the “Russia For All” project, that there’s a certain national subtext. Is it in this project? The subject is very topical in connection with the current political meetings.
DG: Basically, the subject of the fate of the country really presses on you, you get the impression that it’s all collapsing before your eyes. As a result of my age I’ve already seen how it all collapsed, and I’ve seen how the country went into agonies. I have a younger brother, and when in the middle of the 1970s my mother would shake him in the morning to get him to go to school he would ask: “Mum, hasn’t the country collapsed yet?” And now the same process is underway before our eyes, and that’s all in this project. The image of a collapse is present in the works.

In this case how, in your opinion, people who don’t live in this country should comprehend your works?
DG: It’s delightful that it comes apart at the seams, wherever I am, even where there’s some kind of boom, where incredible construction of skyscrapers is underway, there’s nevertheless some sort of general sense of instability. It’s what Marx wrote about 150 years ago — the ground is moving away from beneath your feet and everything has to change. We were promised that it would happen in 15 minutes, but it’s worked out that it’s taking a little longer. Look at how it happens in history, without a rush, over the course of 200 – 300 years. For Russia, it’s now a very pressing issue that the country will simply disappear because of idiocy and human meanness. It’s a very serious threat.

Do you attend the meetings?
DG: Yes, for the most part. Unless there’s something else that I have to do that I really can’t put off. I like to find myself at the points where passions, energy are bubbling up. It really charges you up.

Why have Picasso and Lifshitz been chosen as characters?
DG: Lifshitz inspires, he’s a real heir to the ideas of the avant-garde, in terms of his uncompromising stand, his consistency and his criticism of the bourgeoisie, no one can compare with him. I love Picasso too.

Let’s talk about orgy in this project. The meaning of orgies that the works are imbued with appears to me to be fundamental.
DG: Yes, perhaps. But when I’m working I don’t think about what’s fundamental or what isn’t fundamental. I can abstract myself and imagine that I am in no way myself and write some kind of art history or art criticism text. But I don’t want to do that in relation to myself. There are so many intelligent people around. As far as orgies are concerned, I like that. Those spectacles and those emotional experiences are a very powerful source for life. I remember that back in my youth I had an acquaintance who simply couldn’t find himself a girl. He wrote poems, he had one that went something like this: “I need love like a spring. Even a grubby one. But let it push me into life!” I didn’t write that. I didn’t write poems. If we’re talking about the meaning of all that, globalization, politics — that all recedes into the background before one simple thought: All this is fuss and yearnings of the soul, but human relations remain. A hundred or even two hundred thousand years will pass, and maybe there won’t be people any more, there will be insects, but this will carry on all the same, and actually it will be very similar. No doubt that’s the most important thing.

Doesn’t this idea come to you: An artist may be a genius, but outcast and overthrown he is in any event a loner. But with you it’s the other way round — there’s unity. That’s a somewhat disturbing factor. Is this one man in the midst of the crowd?
DG: That’s actually the meaning of the phrase — “genius needs an orgy.” Not in the sense that I’m a genius, but in the sense that a person focused on some idea and his work lives in a condition of total, deep solitude, cut off from all acts of communication. It’s this that allows him to merge with other people, preferably in the closest form, in an orgiastic form. An individual who lives in the crowd and is busy with communication, no doubt, doesn’t require this. But here you have to break down your borders, to tear them apart, you have to understand that you are not alone, you are not bound by your body.