Zimmerli Art Museum features groundbreaking Soviet artist

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers invites the public to a reception and series of programs for Vagrich Bakhchanyan: Accidental Absurdity, the first U.S. retrospective on the groundbreaking work of the Soviet conceptual artist, on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. The event includes a curator-led tour of the exhibition, a roundtable discussion with individuals who were close to the artist, and a screening of the film Vagrich and the Black Square. The programs, which take place from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., are free and open to the public. Registration is not required.


Visitors are welcome to attend any or all parts of the evening’s program on November 12:

  • The evening kicks off at 4:30m. with a tour of Vagrich Bakhchanyan: Accidental Absurdity led by Julia Tulovsky, the Zimmerli’s associate curator for Russian and Soviet nonconformist art. The exhibition features 157 works from the artist’s multidisciplinary oeuvre, including prints, collages, literary compositions, and conceptual performances.


  • At 5 p.m., a roundtable of individuals who were close to the artist discuss his life and art: Irene Bakhchanyan, the artist’s wife; writer Alexander Genis, a friend who collaborated with the artist on his emigrant publications, including the journal 7 Days (on view in the exhibition); Russian-American artist Vitaly Komar, a friend of the artist; and filmmaker Andrei Zagdansky. Audience members also have the opportunity to ask questions, as well as comment on Bakhchanyan’s art and the exhibition.


  • A screening of Zagdansky’s documentary Vagrich and the Black Square (2015) takes place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. A tribute to Vagrich Bakhchanyan (1938-2009), the film leads viewers into the absurd and bitterly funny universe of the artist. Scholars and friends reflect on his life and the mystique of his connection with Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Square, considered an inception point of Russian avant-garde art. The film is presented in Russian, with English subtitles.


  • The evening wraps up with a complimentary reception, serving drinks and light snacks, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


Please visit www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu for additional information.


Vagrich Bakhchanyan: Accidental Absurdity is on view through March 6, 2016, and the Zimmerli is the only U.S. venue for this unprecedented presentation. The majority of the material is drawn from the Zimmerli’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union—the largest and most comprehensive collection of dissident Soviet art in the world, which includes the work of such notables as Ilya Kabakov, Victor Pivovarov, Vitaly Komar, and Alexander Melamid. The Collection includes approximately 200 works by Bakhchanyan, whom American collector Norton Dodge met following the artist’s move to New York. Many of the works selected for the exhibition have not previously been displayed and provide a rare glimpse into the full range of the artist’s diverse artistic output. Additional works for the exhibition are on loan from private collections.


Born in an Armenian family in Kharkov in Soviet Ukraine, Vagrich Bakhchanyan initially engaged openly with the art scene there. In the mid-1960s, following his attempts to publicly show his works in Kharkov and in the West, the artist and his abstract works were ridiculed in the local media. The negative backlash was so intense that Bakhchanyan was forced to leave Kharkov, and very few works from his time in Ukraine survived as a result. His connections with underground art circles enabled him to move to Moscow, where he worked in an official capacity as a caricaturist at a major periodical, Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Newspaper). As an artist, he found a wider circle of like-minded individuals in the city’s prohibited, yet flourishing, underground art milieu.


In 1974, Bakhchanyan immigrated to the United States, escaping the pressures of the Soviet regime. He eventually settled in New York, where he continued his artistic practice. His works from this period simultaneously show the influence of American pop culture, process art, and Fluxus. Although Bakhchanyan engaged with other Russian émigré artists, he was never able to establish himself as a major figure in New York’s art scene. For an artist whose early creativity and reputation were derived from critiquing and rebelling against the oppressive Soviet regime, his newfound freedom in the U.S. may have made his life as an artist more difficult. His frustrations with the cultural and language barriers he also encountered in New York often emerged in his later, Fluxus-influenced performances.


Today, his work can be found in the collections of the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, National Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow, Museum of National Arts of Ukraine, and the John Paul Getty Research Center and Museum in Los Angeles, among other international institutions.


The exhibition Vagrich Bakhchanyan: Accidental Absurdity and related programs are made possible by the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Tuesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.


For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.



The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.

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