OCTOBER 27, 2017 – FEBRUARY 4, 2018
On October 27, the ZARYA Center for Contemporary Art will launch “Assa En Masse,” a retrospective exhibition dedicated to the underground movement, “Assa,” which flourished in Leningrad in the early 1980s. The exhibition is open to the public free of charge and will be accompanied by a parallel educational program, which will continue through February 4, 2018.
“Assa” originated as a battle cry that first rang out amid the Necrorealists but then spread like wildfire across Leningrad’s bohemian scene. “Assa” was the name that Timur Novikov gave his gallery, and the word that punctuated the paintings of legendary artist Oleg Kotelnikov. “Assa” was used both as a street tag, and as a label on the clothing in Beatnik fashion shows. The avant-garde catwalks on display in Sergey Kuryokhin’s Pop-Mekhanika performances were lovingly dubbed “Assa-Parades.” Together, these rock-n-roll “happenings” mobilized a rollicking community of musicians, underground artists, club kids and poets, all under the banner of “Assa.” This freeform art movement reached its apex with the eponymous film, which even today is considered one of the most iconic movies of the 80s generation.
“Assa En Masse” is curated by Mikhail Buster, a graphic artist, illustrator, designer, and head of Kompost, an online archive of the subcultures of the late Soviet Union. His previous exhibitions include “The Last Romantics of the Soviet Union,” (Zverevsky Center, Moscow, 2007); “Hooligans of the 80s” (Central Manezh, Moscow, 2009); “Street Style-80” (V.D.N.Kh., Moscow, 2010); “Alternative Fashion before the Glossies: 1985-1995” (Garage, Moscow; Etazkhi, St Petersburg; Dom Kino, Dubrovnik, Croatia; Fashion Biennale, Varaždin, Croatia; KIM?, Riga, Latvia, 2011-2013); “Untamed Fashion in the U.S.S.R.” (Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam, 2013); “On the Roads of the CIS” (Museon, Moscow, 2015); “Motorockers. Moscow-Berlin” (V.D.N.Kh., Moscow, 2017)
“Specially for Vladivostok, we prepared an exhibition that delivers a deep dive into the internal side of this process, as seen through the prism of art and fashion,” Mikhail Buster explains. “Under the banner of the underground ‘Assa’ movement, which was born in Leningrad at the beginning of the 80s, we witnessed Perestroika’s first surge of alternative culture. This exhibition is dedicated to this still little-known history of counterculture fashion and the art of the ‘Red Wave.’”
As an exhibiton, “Assa En Masse” draws primarily on Buster’s archive of historic documents and Russian street and fashion photography, which is then supplemented by works from artists Timur Novikov, Gosha Ostretsov, Inal Savchenko, Evgeny Yufit, Sergey Shutov, and members of the collectives “Champions of the World,” “New Artists,” and “Necrorealists”; loans from the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Art4Ru Museum; and selections from the personal collections of Shutov and Garik Assa, among others. As a special gesture for this exhibition, participants from the Soviet underground have contributed a series of objects, spanning wardrobe elements, records, posters, and hats. Also accompanying the exhibition is a media-installation of multimedia materials (animations, short films and features, video art, video documentation of performances and fashion shows) as well as sessions and screenings of parallel educational programs.
Over the course of the Perestroika years in Moscow, autonomous “Assa-Parades” were frequent aesthetic dive-bombers of myriad cultural events, starting from the grand-scale exhibitions at the Manezh to the trendy youth clubs. The mission of these actions was basically the same as that of the 1920s-era agitprop theater collective, the Blue Blouses: expansion and propaganda. Similarly, this brand of propaganda was aimed at the dissemination of new art, new names, new aesthetics, and a new era – vibrant, bold, and occasionally shocking.
“Underground culture in Russia and the U.S.S.R. is now fertile ground for the rise of many cult figures and projects across art, film, music and fashion,” observes Alisa Bagdonayte, chief curator of the ZARYA Center for Contemporary Art. “For us it was important not only to be the first to look at this period on this kind of scale, but to also show this material in the cultural context of the Far East.”
The catalyst for many of the processes that would jumpstart the culture of the Far East and spark a powerful rebuilding of the scene was the father of Soviet punk-dandyism, Garik Assa (Oleg Kolomiychuk). Born in Khabarovsk, Kolomiychik picked up the nickname “Assa” for his role in organizing fashion shows. Leaving his home coast in the 70s, Garri joined the ranks of the Leningrad bohemian scene, before discovering the delights of the Tishinsky flea market in Moscow. Using accessories picked up at the market – wardrobe elements reminiscent of Soviet spies and party bigwigs – Garri quickly made the “dead spy” look all the rage. Timur Novikov appointed Garik Assa the “Minister of Style” for the government of the New Artists, and from within the ranks of participants in his fashion shows and look books sprung up the improvised fashion house, “Ay-da-lyuli,” (“Oh-yes-people”) which took as its motto, “All you crazy people, twist and shake.” The brand aimed to blur the boundaries between avant-garde fashion and what was actually “wearable” on the street. Thanks to Garri, the tradition of “Assa-Parades” (and the new wave of art and music accompanying them) ventured from Leningrad to Moscow. Within this exhibition, Garik Assa and his collection of paintings will be featured in a special display, as a particular point of connection between the various disciplines of alternative culture and activities of the 1980s and 1990s.
Flourishing across Soviet concert and theater stages, towards the end of the 80s the happenings of “Ay-da-lyuli” would inspire many designers and performance collectives, including the duo “Blood and Milk” (Katya Ryzhikova and Irene Burmistrova), “The Laboratory of Experimental Models” (fronted by designers Sergey Chernov and Svetlana Petrova), “POST Theater” (Boris Yukhananov and Kamil Chalayev), and “North” (Katya Ryzhikova and Alexander Lugin), which made performances in the spirit of shamanistic or neo-pagan rituals. Among “Ay-da-lyuli”’s models, one could find many famous artists and musicians: Timur Novikov, Sergey Shutov, Gor Chakhal, Zhanna Aguzarova, Sergey Anufriev, members of the band Kino, Kolibri’s lead singer Natalia Pivovarova, and many others.
The key testament to the impact of the underground on the mainstream and its recognition as a significant cultural phenomenon was Sergey Soloviev’s film Assa, which opened on the big screen in 1987.