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Soviet Artist Surfaces at USC Gallery

FACES

“In art you need some tragedy. Where would we be without that?” asks Leningrad-based painter Gleb Bogomolov, referring to a 40-year period in which, he says, the development of Russian art was “completely cut off.”

Bogomolov should know about that tragedy in Russian art; he has long been recognized as a leader of the Soviet Union’s underground art scene. But Bogomolov was one of the lucky ones. He has been able to make an underground living through his work, which he has been selling to foreign diplomats and collectors for more than 10 years--long before Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms.

Now, he is included in “Keepers of the Flame: Unofficial Artists of Leningrad” at USC’s Fisher Gallery through Jan. 19. In addition, he has his first Los Angeles solo show at George Mayers Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard through Dec. 18.

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“My condition has not changed, except that now I can go abroad, I can travel with my works,” says the artist, who is currently on his first visit to Los Angeles.

Although his English is excellent, the 57-year-old artist with the ready grin insists on using an interpreter so that the “subtle nuances” of his conversation will be understood. Frequently, however, he finds himself helping out the interpreter with those very nuances.

In the past two years, since being officially “recognized” by the Soviet government, Bogomolov has shown at several prestigious Soviet institutions, among them the Russian Museum, Far East Museum, Museum of Leningrad and Moscow’s Museum of Modern Art. He has also shown in Norway and Sweden, and is currently featured in the large-scale exhibition “The Quest for Self-Expression: Painting in Moscow and Leningrad, 1965-1990" at Ohio’s Columbus Museum of Art. But times were not always so easy for the artist, who left his state job as an engineer 13 years ago to devote himself to life as an underground artist.

“I wanted to do something contrary to society,” Bogomolov remembers. “Before perestroika, we were to be a (slave) to what we were told. But I was always doing what I wanted to do. I was supposed to work officially, but I didn’t want to do it, even though they could imprison me for having no official job.

“It was very difficult trying to be an artist. They tried to stop my work,” continues Bogomolov, who had no formal art training, but began making art while still a child.

“I was always striving for avant-garde work,” he says. Bogomolov did not become an “official artist,” he says, because he did not want to always paint what he was told to, or paint in the official style of Socialist Realism.

He notes, however, that because his work relies heavily on old Russian icons, he may be seen more as following old traditions that new ones.

“I think that the avant-garde often leans on old traditions,” he says. “I always turn to the tradition of icon painting because I think our modern times and ancient culture are very connected to each other. We have the literal result now of what was happening in ancient times.”

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In his mixed-media paintings, Bogomolov often depicts “only vague remains of something that is not understood” thus causing the viewer to “guess” the piece’s meaning. Such is the case with “Shrine,” a work included in the USC show, which features only one clear element, a hand of playing cards representing “absolute mockery and a challenge that takes away from old history and culture.”

“I think (works like this) are a consequence of my experiences of spiritual tragedy,” Bogomolov says of the suffering he underwent as an “unofficial” artist in the Soviet Union before Gorbachev’s reforms.

CURRENTS

Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS, which mounted “The Indomitable Spirit” traveling exhibition seen at the L.A. Municipal Art Gallery earlier this year, has donated $350,000 to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. To date, the organization has raised nearly $1.2 million through the exhibition, catalogues and a connected portfolio. A second limited-edition portfolio featuring works by artists including Andres Serrano, David McDermott and Peter McGough is planned for release in 1991.

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HAPPENING

Artists including Leo Limon, Dolores Guerrero-Cruz, Ricardo Duffy and Michael Amescua will participate in Self-Help Graphics third annual Christmas Arts and Crafts Sale, to be held at the East L.A. gallery today from 2-6 p.m. Works will be priced from $5-$100. Information: (213) 264-1259.

A California Lawyers for the Arts-sponsored workshop to help artists with their year-end tax planning will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the law firm of Gold, Marks, Ring & Pepper (1800 Ave. of the Stars, Century City). Cost for the workshop, which will be lead by attorney Stephen Kramer, is $15. Information: (213) 623-8311.

Pasadena’s Art Center/College of Design in Pasadena will present campus tours, classroom visits and demonstrations during an open house for its Art Center at Night program on Monday from 7-10 p.m. The college recently received a three-year grant of $91,755 from the Weingart Foundation to provide scholarships for minority students and economically disadvantaged youths for both Art Center at Night, and Saturday High, a program which aims to expose young people to careers in the art fields. Information: (818) 584-5023.

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The Southwest Museum’s Annual Holiday Party, featuring free museum admission, refreshments and performances by Andean music group Yatiri and the American Indian Youth Theatre Ensemble, will be held Next Sunday from 2-4 p.m. Information: (213) 221-2164.

The San Diego Museum of Art on Saturday begins its “December Family Days,” with hourly tours of the exhibition, “A Golden Age: Art and Society in Hungary 1896-1914,” and workshops from noon-4 p.m. where families can create collaborative art works. The cost is $3 per child (parents are free), and similar events will be held next Sunday, Dec. 29 and Dec. 30. Information: (619) 232-7931.


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