Lot 76
  • 76

Erik Bulatov, b.1933

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Erik Bulatov
  • Revolution-Perestroika
  • signed and titled in Cyrillic and dated 1988 on reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 200 by 200cm., 78¾ by 78¾in.


B. Groys, "Interview with Erik Bulatov", A-Ya (Unofficial Russian Art Review), 1979, no.1, pp.26-33
C. Jolles, Idu, Ich gehe, I am going, Parkett, 1987, no.12, pp.19-21
M. Cullerne Bown, Contemporary Russian Art, New York: Allied Books and Phaidon Press Limited, 1989, p.93 (illustrated)
Erik Bulatov, ex.cat. London: Parkett Publishers and ICA London, 1989, p.34 and p.92 (illustrated)
Erik Bulatov, ex.cat. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1988, p.65 (illustrated)

Catalogue Note

Eric Bulatov was one of the most important members of the nonconformist art movement in the Soviet Union. After studying at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow from 1952 to 1958, Bulatov realised that his traditional Soviet art training in an academic realist mode was insufficient for his creative development. He became interested in contemporary trends in Western art and also turned to the ideas of the Russian avant-garde. Bulatov frequented the studio of the artist Robert Falk (1886-1958), who in the early twentieth century belonged to the Knave of Diamonds, a group of Russian artists who embraced the practice and style of Paul CÊzanne. Falk's ideas and his method of tonal fusion deeply influenced Bulatov. Among other Russian artists of the older generation it was the experimental graphic artist Vladimir Favorsky (1886-1964) who made an especially important impact on Bulatov. In his own work, Bulatov sought to fuse two important traditions of Russian art: the avant-garde, Constructivist tradition of the 1920s, and the Realist tradition.

In 1965, Bulatov attempted to exhibit his paintings at the Kurchatov Institute for Nuclear Physics. The exhibition remained open for just one hour and was then immediately closed down by the authorities.  However, like many of his fellow nonconformists, Bulatov made his living as a successful illustrator of children's books and was admitted to the Artists' Union in 1967.

Bulatov's concern has always been the boundary between art and society, and in his paintings he attempted to connect his experiments in abstract art with the aesthetics of his socialist environment. In works such as Revolution-Perestroika, Bulatov deploys the language of everyday Soviet reality, which is one of political clichÊs, of an official, impersonal idiom used to expound ideology. He has described his objective as melding the quotidian, what he saw as an average Soviet citizen experiencing the world, with what he felt as an artist. In Bulatov's words, he sought "to energise the ordinary within an organised, geometrical structure" and "to express reality as it was, as objectively as possible, rather than as a personal experience".

In Revolution-Perestroika, the artist dispenses with any form of emotional bias in favor of a more "objective" form of painting. For Bulatov, reality consists of two types of spaces: the "social space" we inhabit in our daily lives, which exists in front of the picture plane, and the "artistic space" behind the picture plane.

One of the most prominent aspects of Bulatov's art is the superimposition of text on illusionistic space and realistic representations, as can be seen in Revolution-Perestroika. The presence of text in this work evokes immediate associations with Soviet propaganda posters and banners, and alludes to the government's oppressive power over society. As Bulatov has explained, "Soviet ideology completely distorted our whole life. And this distorted space, full of ideology, became ordinary, customary and normal...Therefore, in my pictures, I tried to show that this kind of normality is not normal". 

Another notable feature of Revolution-Perestroika is the tension between geometric and realistic imagery. An idealised architectural vista leads to the podium that contains a statue of Lenin, marking the transition between real, tangible existence and the visionary realm beyond. In the post-revolutionary era, a massive restructuring of society took place, accompanied by a burgeoning optimism. People were full of hope about a spiritual and material reconstruction that would affect the whole world. While Lenin dominates the compositional center of Revolution-Perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev, another Soviet leader who also sought to change Soviet society, introducing his policies of glasnost and perestroika in 1986, intrudes very little upon the picture. Gorbachev's image obscures the slogan at bottom in such a way that the word perestroika (restructuring) is seen not in the noun form but as the imperative perestroi (restructure).

In Revolution-Perestroika, the Leninist notion of political utopia is connected with the no less utopian premises of Gorbachev's perestroika. During the Gorbachev era, the Soviet populace became increasingly disillusioned with the superhuman idea of radically changing society. Bulatov's work might thus be understood as a search for the present amid the myths of the past and the future.

Bulatov observed: "Our task and the task of our generation is to show that this world depicted as unshakeable, immutable, eternal is not everything. This apparently immutable world is in fact false, ephemeral, and untrue".