Dmitri Prigov



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Dmitri Prigov 1940–2007
Ink and lithograph on paper
Support: 243 × 290 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2016


This is one of six works in Tate’s collection from the larger series Drawings on Reproductions: Avant-Garde c.2004 by Dmitri Prigov. All were produced by drawing with ballpoint pen on a printed magazine reproduction of a Russian realist landscape painting. The surnames of prominent Russian twentieth-century artists – El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Lubya Popova, Natalia Goncharova, Aleksei Kruchenych and Pavel Filonov – appear in the skies of the reproductions, as well as providing the titles for each work. The letters of each artist’s name are made up of negative space surrounded by cross-hatching in black ink. In Malevich (Tate T14437) the text and surrounding drawing are much larger, taking up most of the sky area and dominating the image. This piece also features a red circle in acrylic paint on the black ink above the name. Prigov often used hatching and cross-hatching techniques as well as the addition of tape to create dense textures around or on top of words or images. The addition of these auras or haloes appears to give them a mystical or spiritual force, although Prigov rejected such allusions, stating that ‘“the sacral stuff”, “the spiritual stuff” – we used these exclusively as derogatory ironic terms’ (quoted in Svetlyakov 2014, p.9). Prigov used a similar process to produce the series Drawings on Newspapers c.1987–9 (see Tate T14447T14450) and Scotch Tape Drawings c.1998–2002 (see Tate T14444T14446). As with many of the artist’s works, the Drawings on Reproductions are displayed unframed to retain an informal quality, and can be shown individually or in groups.

In the 1970s and 1980s Prigov was one of the core group of first-generation nonconformist artists in Soviet Russia. He was a pioneer of Russian performance art and a cult figure in Moscow’s underground art community. Although trained as a sculptor, he was also a prolific poet, novelist and playwright. The intricate relationship between image and text that is a key feature of Moscow conceptualism is especially prevalent in Prigov’s work. He referred to himself as ‘a worker, a labourer … both in the literary realm and that of visual art, on the border between them’, and explained: ‘In my works I attempt to unite these two realms’ (quoted in Günter Hirt and Sascha Wonders, ‘Dmitri A. Prigov: Textual Manipulator’, in Degot 2008, p.142). Prior to the increased openness and transparency in Russian institutions resulting from the policy of glasnost (freedom of speech) in the late 1980s, Prigov’s poems were circulated as samizdat – hand-produced copies of censored publications which were passed secretly from reader to reader. From 1971 he also gave ‘performance-readings’ at unofficial exhibitions held in the private apartments and studios of artists including Ilya Kabakov and Andrei Monastyrski. In 1986, after his performances came to the attention of the Russian security services the KGB, Prigov was briefly sectioned in a psychiatric hospital. A vocal campaign by artists and literary figures both in the Soviet Union and abroad secured his release. In 1988 Prigov held his first personal exhibition jointly with Boris Orlov in Chicago. The following year his work began to be officially published and exhibited in Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Prigov lived and worked between London and Moscow until his death in 2007.

Prigov created a larger body of work under the title Drawings on Reproductions in addition to this series referencing avant-garde artists, which included controversial words (such as ‘erotica’, ‘syringe’, ‘horror’ and ‘Hitler’) and the first names of members of the band The Beatles (John, Ringo) inscribed over historical Russian paintings, words such as ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’ over photographs of Russian landscapes and cityscapes, and dripping red and black ink added to photographs of the interiors of Russian palaces. As with most of his series, the exact number of works is unknown and it is not possible to date many of them. However, it is known that the Drawings on Reproductions: Avant-Garde were produced in around 2004 – late in Prigov’s career, not long before his death but after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Prigov’s relocation to London. His modification of appropriated reproductions of works by other artists, through the insertion of clouds of black ink bearing the names of yet another set of artists, both reinvigorates these overused reproduced images and transforms them into original artworks. The addition of the names of avant-garde artists who pioneered the revolutionary challenge to painting traditions during the 1910s and 1920s disrupts the conventional, placid images which they overlay. The series also links Prigov’s work with that of Russia’s first generation of avant-garde artists, who were a source of inspiration for the Moscow conceptualists.

Further reading
Alla Rosenfeld and Norton T. Dodge (eds.), Nonconformist Art: The Soviet Experience, 1956–1986, New York 1995.
Ekaterina Degot (ed.), Citizens! Please Mind Yourselves!, exhibition catalogue, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow 2008, reproduced p.90.
Kirill Svetlyakov (ed.), Dmitri Prigov: From Renaissance to Conceptualism and Beyond, exhibition catalogue, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 2014, reproduced pp.70–1.

Julia Tatiana Bailey and Antonio Geusa
February 2015

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