Viktor Pivovarov

Meditation by the Window


Not on display

Viktor Pivovarov born 1937
Original title
Razmyshleniia u okna
Enamel paint on fibreboard
Frame: 1181 × 1407 × 57 mm
Presented by the artist's family 2015


Meditation by the Window 1972 is an enamel painting on fibreboard. It depicts a number of isolated images of a featureless man in a black suit set against a background that is largely plain. A stylised landscape of green fields and darkening sky (in which the man’s blank face and suited shoulders appear) is painted in an irregular strip down the left-hand side. The remaining two-thirds of the picture plane is painted grey. In this section the image of the man reappears at intervals moving diagonally downwards across the painting, from top left to bottom right, turning and shrinking as it goes. His body is first covered by a circular shape in which an abstract landscape and another figure are depicted, then by a suitcase, then as if seated at a desk, the surface of which is a pencil. The sequence of images of the figure ends in the bottom-right of the painting with the man seated on a simple chair in a white house with a grey roof. In front of him, an open book lies on a desk before the window of the painting’s title. Beyond the man is a long, green corridor that extends towards a far door. Outside, from the right wall of the house to the edge of the picture, another simple landscape appears with three trees in a row set within it.

Meditation by the Window is one of Viktor Pivovarov’s early works and the imagery and symbols used in it would, over time, become part of his pictorial language. The symbols and themes already present in Meditation by the Window would later be explored in the series Projects for a Lonely Man 1975, charting the genesis of a faceless ‘Lonely Man’ in his confined airless environment. Pivovarov would develop these ideas further in the new graphic genre of the conceptualist album, where image and text combined to form a visual narrative. Such albums were pioneered in the 1970s by Pivovarov and fellow artist and exponent of Moscow conceptualism Ilya Kabakov. Later Pivovarov would combine image and text in his series of paintings examining life in the Soviet Union, Apartment 22 1992–6 (see Tate T14797T14799).

Pivovarov’s medium of choice – household enamel paint on fibreboard – refers to the visual environment of the Soviet Union in the 1970s, ostensibly free of advertising but filled with official information signs and notice boards bearing slogans or warnings. Executed in their thousands, these placards were produced by hand by specially trained graphic designers (khudozhnik-oformitel) but were made to look as if they had been mass produced. The extensive use of stencils and templates to achieve this ‘conveyor belt’ finish was noted by Pivovarov and other Moscow conceptualists and reflected upon in their own work. In Pivovarov’s paintings of the period 1970–5, the picture plane is dominated by a flat, boldly coloured background that, like a warning sign, appeals to the viewer to take the message seriously. However, Pivovarov’s imagery reverses that of the notice board or sign, expressing a subtle encoded message rather than a bold statement. The viewer is invited to decipher this message from a number of codified images placed in spatially challenging environments.

When Pivovarov painted Meditation by the Window he was working as an illustrator of children’s books. Around 1972 he was engaged in producing images for a series of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, including Ole Lukøje (published in Moscow in 1971) and Stories (published in Moscow in 1973). In 1972 Pivovarov’s delicate world of children’s books and fairy tales collided with the realities of the outside world when Richard Nixon visited the Soviet Union, marking the first visit by an American president since the start of the Cold War in the mid- to late 1940s. In the same year Joseph Brodsky, a dissident poet and future Nobel Prize winner, was expelled from the country. The atmosphere of Brezhnev-era ‘stagnation’ triggered a new wave of nonconformist art that would come to be known as Moscow conceptualism.

Following the earlier years in which he produced standalone paintings like Meditation by the Window, Pivovarov began to work in series, the first of which was Project for a Lonely Man. Here he consolidated the imagery and ideas articulated in Meditation by the Window into a distinctive personal iconography of the state of loneliness. The ordinary citizens depicted in his paintings populate a world very similar to those of Kabakov’s work – a world of communal apartments, tedious work and the frequent interference of the state-governed public sphere into the private world of the individual. For Pivovarov, however, the state of loneliness can be a fruitful one, offering personal freedom in harmony with the world and with nature. The ‘Lonely Man’ in Meditation by the Window experiences just such a transition. Pivovarov has explained:

This theme [of loneliness] in my work emerged quite spontaneously. It seems to be one of my inherent vices, which are peculiar to each individual. I myself am astonished that in 1975, having been surrounded by friends, involved in events, and with personal life in full swing, I was working on ‘Projects for a Lonely Man’. Although I still do not live the life of a solitary man, I understand loneliness as a spiritual value. Not as a suffering, although at times I myself experience the pain of loneliness.
(‘Interview with Viktor Pivovarov’, Gazeta, 21 June 2004, unpaginated, trans. by Natalia Sidlina.)

Further reading
Alla Rosenfeld and Norton T. Dodge (eds.), Nonconformist Art: The Soviet Experience, 1956–1986, New York 1995.
Viktor Pivovarov, Oni, Moscow 2011.
Ekaterina Allenova and Peter Spinella (eds.), Viktor Pivovarov, vol.1, MAGMA Museum, Moscow 2014.

Natalia Sidlina
May 2015

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