The Polygon group was formed in 1990 by artists Boris Markovnikov and Natalia Smolianskaia. All projects of the group were implemented with the “playing” curator Igor Chirikov. In the conceptual program of the group, one can observe both a rejection of technocratic society inherent in the counterculture, as well as a critical approach to the artistic institution characteristic of the avant-garde, and a turn towards a formal experiment in creating a picturesque living environment.
The cover photo of the catalog of the 1994 POLYGON
exhibition in the Central House of Artists, Moscow
Over the years, Valery Bezryadin, Evgeny Vakhtangov, Gleb Vysheslavsky, Igor Ganikovsky, German Vinogradov, Evgeny Gor, Alexander Fonin took part in the Polygon exhibitions.
The very name, Polygon, proposed by the group member Yevgeny Vakhtangov, consists of two words, ‘poly’ and ‘gon’, where the Greek word poly means ‘much, many’ and implies going into the open, while gōnía – corner or angle – implies a conflict due to a contraction of this space. Polygon – a site for experimental or training sessions and exercises, as it is commonly known, marks a place for radical experiments, so characteristic of Russian history…
we want to be the coming art,
we see that this word – abstraction – has erased the edges, that this music leads to comfort
we are after many things, but not after ourselves.
will understand that tomorrow is inevitable. we want tomorrow now.
we believe that art is only that which helps to find a new pictorial form of being
we replace aesthetics with therapy.
only discovery and implementation are valuable.
The Appeal, signed by two members of Polygon (Markovnikov, Smolianskaia) and Armenian artist, Arman Grigoryan, proclaims an association with the domestic avant-garde, though not directly, but through a meeting of the avant-garde with the Western art of the 1960s, with the neo-avant-garde artists.
Our predecessors are the artists of the 1960s – Fontana, Uecker, Yves Klein, Burri.
Abstraction art was born in Russia; Black Square fertilized the art of the twentieth century in Europe,
and then returned to Russia, enriched by the idea of Fontana’s synthesis, the ideas of the Zero group,
and other European and American artists
The first group exhibition took place in July 1990 at the Sadovniki Gallery (now the Kashirka Gallery) while the activities of the Polygon group ended with a tour of four cultural centres in Belgium in 1995-1996. This project was also called Transformers: each of the four expositions built the space in a different way and recombined the elements with each other.
In 1994, Russian critic Vitaly Patsukov wrote about the specifics of Polygon in a contemporary context: “All our post-war culture was the culture of cramped space. So, Polygon continues this tradition. However, this cramped space always implies the presence of large expanses. Artists do not actively indicate this cramped space that produces a strictly catacomb experience, nor do they look for a new religion, which may emerge in this space. They talk about an exit from it, though they are still in it. All Russian culture is inseparable from that space. But only while in the well, one can see the stars. And they just emphasize this…”.
The first exhibition took place in July 1990 in the regional gallery Sadovniki on Kashirskoye Shosse, today called Kashirka.
Garbage became a symbol, while the artists turned to the aesthetics of trash and everyday life, which was typical for neo-Dadaists in the 1960s, but they felt like pioneers because the main task was to settle the space.
Project Polygon 1, Sadovniki, 1990 г.
Artists Natalia Smolaisnakaia, Gleb Vysheslavsky, Evgeny Gor
The poster and the invitation
The artists of Polygon 1990: Valery Bezryadin, Igor Ganikovsky, Evgeny Vakhtangov, Gleb Vysheslavsky, Evgeny Gor, Boris Markovnikov, Natalia Smolianskaia
According to the authors, the works of one artist were intentionally placed in the effective area of the works of another artist, so it was challenging to find the boundary that separated the authors. Trash piles became in fact the symbol of the exhibition because at that time one could find a variety of objects at Moscow landfills. On the invitation card of the first Polygon show in 1990, as well as on the cover of the 1994 catalogue, there was a photograph of non-ferrous metal scraps.
Thus, firstly, the work made from garbage and devoid of authorship gives way to artistic practice that tends to turn into a pattern of everyday life. Secondly, the work is not perceived as a separate entity and becomes part of the total environment created by all the artists. So the conflict zones were already outlined from the outset as each artist used to work in his own field, and the appearance of another artist in this field was seen as expansion.
The “cramped space” at the first Polygon show could not be read literally; it was seen as a saturated and even oversaturated space where the artist populated its elements in the process of creating the exposition. Here, Markovnikov’s monochrome landfill merges into Smolianskaya’s population of objects while Bezryadin’s works literally squeeze up forming a wall. Hence, a sense of “redundancy” was created.
The catacomb space is not an underground, existing beyond the normative culture, but an artistic experiment that seeks to transform into an existential experience. And the concept of catacomb space refers to the traditions of Russian culture, to be exact – Russian literature, where Dostoevsky’s “Low ceilings and tiny rooms cramp the soul and the mind” (Dostoevsky, Сrime and Punishment), while the “children of the vaults” from the novel by Korolenko, willing to live as well as their peers live outside the catacomb world, saturate their underground with items from the free life. However, according to Korolenko, they are doomed to remain with their sufferings, although they mark the dungeon with signs dictated by the need to put up with “low ceilings”.
In other words, on the one hand, a cramped space – if there is no need to follow any conventions or traditions – can be understood as a space isolated from the free life and unusually saturated to the utmost with the symbols of this free life. On the other hand, it is due to the tradition of suffering that “it is not artists who perform experiments at the firing range, but they consider themselves a proving ground … They seem vulnerable to pressure from the outside and demonstrate pristine vulnerability”. The text, written by the critic in the early 1990s, already recorded the state that can now be analyzed with a clearer time perspective.
The second Polygon exhibition was held in February 1991, at the Palace of Youth in Moscow; the number of participants decreased, and only four took part in it: Bezryadin, Vakhtangov, Markovnikov, Smolianskaia. Continuing the experiments with space, begun by the exhibition at Kashirka, the artists no longer mixed with one another, each wanting to create their own spatial composition.
Project Polygon 2, Palace of Youth, Moscow. 1991.
Continuing the experiments with space, begun by the exhibition at Kashirka, the artists no longer mixed with one another, each wanting to create their own spatial composition.
The Installation by Evgeny Vakhtangov
Yevgeny Vakhtangov showed his “Spontansur” in the form of houses of cards, an ironic move to reduce the pathos of abstraction. His works painted with fluorescent paints and felt-tip pens on packaging cardboard echoed the works of Neo-Dada artists.
Valery Bezryadin showed “packed” objects, reminiscent of Christo’s experiments, but which had a ritual meaning for the artist; his practices as part of the Thanatos group date back to that time. Boris Markovnikov builds rows of canvases, which also merge into one whole space, and Natalya Smolianskaia presents a picture of a whole “forest” of coloured tablets pierced with holes, but, unlike Fontana’s famous works, Smolianskaia tablets do not have an individual value, instead, they work with gaps: this is how a painting in space is created.
From the documentary materials of Polygon 2, screen shots from the video help to get an idea of the exhibition
“Forest” by Natalia Smolianskaia
The third exhibition of Polygon was held in the winter-spring of 1993 in the East Gallery in Pushkarev Lane
(m. Sukharevskaya, Trubnaya).
Polygon 3 Project, Duets.
The small size of the gallery dictated the creation of a dialogic space
Evgeny Gor – Natalia Smolianskaia
Alexander Fonin – Valery Bezryadin
Evgeny Vakhtangov – Boris Markovnikov
Booklets for Polygon 3 show
1) At the vernissage, 2) Gallery door with a Polygon poster,
3) Flight of stairs with the installed “hole” after the performance Punching a Hole.
Performance “Punching a hole” at the opening of Polygon 3, the exhibition of the duet Gor – Smolianskaia, Natalia Smolianskaia punching a hole, Evgeny Gor signs a tablet
Crowding, as is known, makes us not only change the perception of the surrounding premises but also adapt to it. In the third project of the Polygon group in 1993, the small size of the gallery did not allow for creating a coherent picture of the space that could cover all the participants. So, there were experiments with dialogic space, which already suggested the possibility of a combination.
Screenshots from the video Polygon 3
The exhibition was called Monuments at the Polygon. As a new form of sculpture, such installations were chosen that could be presented as a kind of monument. Held in October 1994.
Installation by Boris Markovnikov
Artists: Valery Bezryadin, German Vinogradov, Evgeny Gor, Boris Markovnikov, Natalia Smolianskaia, Alexander Fonin
The exhibition occupied a huge space on the 2nd floor of the former House of Artists on Krymsky Val (2000 sq. m) (today the New Tretyakov Gallery). Here, the artists arrived at minimalism, abandoning the density and richness of the previous experiences. Each artist took their own space.
A lot of preparatory work was carried out for this exhibition including conversations with critics and art historians about the art of the Polygon, about its connection with the Russian avant-garde, with Western art. Based on the materials of the conversations, a review was prepared and a catalogue was printed with the help of the Ministry of Culture of Russia and the Soros Foundation. A lot of preparatory work was carried out for this exhibition including conversations with critics and
Opening of the exhibition in Central House of Artists, Krymsky Val. April 1994.
In this project, the artists managed to occupy a huge area, where each participant presented an installation equal to the size of a one-man show. From Gor’s objects, loaded with metaphysical meanings, went Markovnikov’s crack, exploding the wall and the floor, strictly followed by y Bezryadin’s Ship to Kounellis, Fonin’s linear minimalism had alternated pauses and accents, and only frame structures remained from Smolyanskaya’s “forest”, allowing the viewer to browse the works of Vinogradov and Gor through its transparent skeleton. In this Polygon’s experiment, one can probably read the influence of Western art, especially minimalism and Kunnellis’ Arte Povera. However, at the same time, those Fonin’s works were certainly infinitely far from minimalism because at close range one could feel the roughness of their material as if everything was made by the hands of “village” artists.
Ship to Kounellis by Valery Bezryadin
Installation space of Evgeny Gor
Installation by Alexander Fonin
October 1995 – May 1996
Series of exhibitions in four Cultural Centers in Belgium, with the participation of ROSIZO and the Ministry of Culture of Russia, as well as the Association of Cultural Centers of Belgium.
From left to right: A. Fonin, V. Bezryadin,
B. Markovnikov, I.Chirikov, N. Smolianskaia, E. Gor
The most fascinating projects were implemented during the tour of the Polygon artists in Belgian cultural centres under the general title of Transformers. Here, each participant offered their own set of elements, of which, depending on the specific exhibition location, each time a new space was created.
A catalogue in Flemish was published.
Artists : Valery Bezryadin, Evgeny Gor, Boris Markovnikov, Natalia Smolianskaia, Alexander Fonin
In the picture, from left to right: A. Fonin, V. Bezryadin, B. Markovnikov, I.Chirikov, N. Smolianskaia, E. Gor
Like the avant-garde artists, the participants of already the first Polygon exhibition set the task to erase the status of an art object not by resorting to ready-mades, but by creating a new natural environment.
Screenshots from the video in Strombeek-Bever
Fragments of the Polygon installation in Kortrijk
Installations by Evgeny Gor in Strombeek-Bever
Fragmentary vision creates that desired dissonance with aestheticism that artists sought to overcome starting from the very first exhibition. “I see only a fragment, a piece of a wall or a house,” writes Smolianskaia. There is not even a task of creating a holistic view; the overall picture contains both the world in which we live and its re-creation with the help of the fragments: “the whole has to be assembled from fragments”, the stipulation of hindrance is necessary. Hindrance, just like play, are markers of one’s attitude toward the world. The game space delineated with the exhibition boundaries is likened to the ritual one. By cutting a hole in the board, the 1993 performance by Smolianskaia, Markovnikov and Gor designates the territory of this space, the fragment boundaries acting as a hindrance in this case.
Fragments of the installation by N. Smolianskaia in Strombeek-Bever
The text snippets used here are from the article “Polygon” by Natalia Smolyanskaya /Smolianskaia / Sustainable art. Facing the need for regeneration, responsibility and relations, ed. by Anna Markowska, Polish Institute of World Art Studies and Tako Publishing House, 2015 (PP 121-134)
Catalogue of Polygon 4, 1994
Catalogue of the 1994 exhibition at the Central House of Artists Polygon 4, published with the support of the Soros Center and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. The catalogue includes records of meetings and discussions with the participation of Marina Bessonova, Vitaly Patsyukov, Mikhail Bode and others.
Article by Igor Chirikov translated into the English language
Catalogue POLYGON 1995 – 1996
Catalogue of the Polygon exhibitions in 4 Cultural Centers in Belgium,
1995 – 1996
In Flemish, preface with French translation
Valery Bezryadin (1957 – 2009) worked in the field of installation, performance and painting. Participant of all exhibitions of the Polygon group, in 1991-1992 a member of the Thanatos group. Many of Bezryadin’s objects at the Polygon exhibitions show a peculiar combination of his performative practices and expositional experience.
Valery Bezryadin in his studio
Fragments of the pictorial installation by Valery Bezryadin, 1990, Polygon 1
Installations from the exhibition at Cultural Center in Tielt, 1995
Installation Homage to Kounellis in the “Octahedron” building of the Tsaritsyno Museum, in the context of the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Andrey Erofeev’s collection), 1996
Evgeny Vakhtangov (1942-2018) – participated in the first three exhibitions of Polygon, came up with the name of the group. A representative of the generation of “the seventies”. Having received an education at the Surikov Institute, he subsequently tried to move away from the academic methods of painting, experimented, sometimes to shock the public. In the late years, he performed with a series of abstract works Spontansur. Author of a collection of aphorisms and short texts.
Participated in Polygon exhibitions from
1990 to 1993: Polygon 1-3
Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts, works in the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.
“Houses of Cards” in the Palace of Youth, Polygon 2, 1991
Evgeny Gor is engaged in painting, drawing, graphic design, making objects and installations.
In recent years, he has been working on the “Set Theme” project, which includes the search and creation of graphic signs, the creation of objects and installations on their basis, and, as a result of the work, the design of books in the artist’s book format.
1950 Born in the Moscow region.
1968 Graduated from the Moscow secondary art school at the Institute Surikov.
1973 Graduated from the Moscow Polygraphic Institute.
Works are in the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, the Khabarovsk Art Museum, the Kursk Art Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts of Kuzbass, the Yaroslavl Art Museum; Museum of Schleswig, Germany, Kandinsky Library of the Pompidou Center; Libraries of art museums in Cologne; Albertina Museum Libraries, Vienna; in private collections in Russia, Sweden, Italy, Hong Kong, Germany, Israel, Spain, USA.
Born in 1958 in Moscow.
Graduated from the Moscow Art College in Memory of the 1905 Uprising.
Since 1983 – member of the Moscow branch of the Union of Artists.
1990-1995 – work in the “Polygon” group.
2002 – Silver medal of the Russian Academy of Arts.
20 solo exhibitions, more than 50 group exhibitions.
Сайт художника www.markovnikov.ru
The artist’s works are in the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and in the collections of some other Russian and foreign museums, as well as in private collections in Russia and abroad.
The artist lives and works in Moscow.
Took part in all exhibitions of Polygon. She explored the possibilities of creating space constructively, starting with colour and later reducing it to empty frames. She also set the task of modifying exhibit space with the help of modular structures. The theme of movement runs through many of the artist’s projects in different ways.
See more here
Working on “Blue Space” in the studio, installation at the first Polygon exhibition, 1990
1 – In the studio
2 – Objects by Natalia Smolianskaia, installation in a duet with Boris Markovnikov, Polygon 2
Fragments of an installation, 1991
1 – Installation, solo exhibition, A3 Gallery, Moscow, 1993
2 – Object, Polygon 4, 1994
3 – Installation, Polygon 4
Alexander Fonin (1948 – 2017) significantly influenced the development of many famous artists in Moscow; at the same time, he was almost always out of sight of art institutions. His work with color and construction deserves special consideration and attention.
Fragments of his Polygon 3 installation, 1993
Installation by Alexander Fonin, Polygon 4, 1994
The following fragments of the video material are a collage from the recordings of the Ogonyok Video studio of the perestroika period and Boris Markovnikov, with sound accompaniment by Boris Markovnikov.
The video contains interviews with Evgeny Vakhtangov,
Igor Ganikovsky, Boris Markovnikov and Natalia Smolianskaia.
Video recording from Polygon 2, winter 1991
Palace of Youth, Moscow
Valery Bezryadin, Evgeny Vakhtangov, Boris Markovnikov, Natalia Smolianskaia
Curator: Igor Chirikov
Video recording from the East Gallery Polygon 3 exhibition, winter-spring 1993
Evgeny Gor – Natalia Smolianskaia
Valery Bezryadin – Alexander Fonin
Evgeny Vakhtangov – Boris Markovnikov
Curator: Igor Chirikov
Video documentation of three of the four Polygon exhibitions at the cultural centres in Belgium:
Berchem, Strombeek-Bevern and Kortrijk
Artists : Valery Bezryadin, Evgeny Gor, Boris Markovnikov, Natalia Smolianskaia, Alexander Fonin.
Curator: Igor Chirikov