TN: I agree. Exactly this realisation made me leave the semantic perspective, the issues of which I was addressing in these works, and return to the classical aesthetics.
JB: I am sure it was inevitable. Your city, located of the water edge, is like Narcissus fixed on the self- contemplation. You, looking at the city with attention, could not fail to notice all those beautiful architectural forms, which ll the horizon. All significant creators that lived in this city, from [Mikhail] Lomonosov to [Yevgeny] Baratynsky, from Mandelstam to Akhmatova inevitably turn back to classicism. The city itself enforces one to take care of the form. And even the native of our Liteiny Prospekt was never short of creations by [Giacomo] Quarenghi or [Harald Julius] von Bosse. But the forms I see in your work remind me of another building on our street – a house at number 4, Liteiny, the building in the style of the late Constructivism of the 30s.
TN: Your observation is amazingly right. I was born at number 60, Liteiny Prospekt, where I live again now. Next to my house there are two buildings by Quarenghi. Next to your house on the corner of Liteiny and Pestel Street is the Trans guration Cathedral – a masterpiece of Russian classicism. But from the beginning of the 70s until 1987 I lived on the corner of Liteiny and Voinov Street, right opposite the house at number 4. During all these years I was a modernist. A famous poet Leonid Aronson also lived in the same house. I still remember his funeral.
JB: I remember that courtyard, and that large Constructivist-style building looming over it like
a colossal iceberg. It seemed it was about to shift with all its mass and swallow that small fine yard decorated with vases, figurines and flower garlands.
TN: Yes, exactly, that is my courtyard, I lived there till ’87, and almost all the avant-garde art life of the 80s Leningrad revolved around it. Once I left that house and moved back to the house where [Mikhail] Saltykov-Shchedrin and [Konstantin] Pobedonostsev used to live, it was almost as if I woke up: the love of Classics and respect for tradition were reborn in me. I returned to the house located next to the Mariinsky Hospital by Giacomo Quarenghi.
JB: The Saltykov-Shchedrin house? I know that house opposite the Bukinist [bookshop]. But in that house, as I remember, Lenin made a decision to publish the “Iskra” newspaper?
TN: Yes, it took place in the same part of the building where I live now.
JB: Have you started publishing newspapers yet?
TN: We publish a magazine called “Cabinet”, but a newspaper is a good idea. Please take a copy [of “Cabinet”]; it is issue number 4 dedicated to Neo-Academism.
JB: Ah! I see your dialogue called ‘A Secret Cult Russian-style’. Very good. I’ve read it in English in your book published by Mr Fooks. He gave it to me yesterday, when inviting [me] to your private viewing. I read this lovely small play before bed. It reminded me more of Wilde’s dialogues than Plato’s, maybe because I’ve read it in English. I will read it in Russian now.
By the way, you talk about photography there. I identify with your sentiment about photography becoming a place where an artist can preserve his devotion to image and space in the midst of a modernist tempest.
TN: In my latest works I am “quoting” many photographers who turn to the [idea of ] beautiful in the 20th century. Adolf de Meyer, Fred Holland Day, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Moisey Gershman, Herbert List, George Platt Lynes are my favourite photographers.
JB: You know, it’s remarkable; I know the work of Herbert List very well. At one time I used to see his niece a lot. The same feeling of an ideal world I see in Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl, in this rare example combining the modernist aesthetics with classicism – well, you understand what I mean.
Both artists were born in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) and for both the city remained an important source of reference and inspiration. Novikov spent the majority of his life in the city on the Neva River as the founder and iconic vanguard of the radical nonconformist movements New Artists and the New Academy. Brodsky was forced to leave the Soviet Union in 1972 settling in the US, never to return to Russia. He travelled widely with his lectures and he soon became known as a ‘genius in exile’. He would famously adopt Venice as a new home and would spend many winters in the place that reminded him of St Petersburg.
The encounter between Novikov and Brodsky has occurred in 1993 in Amsterdam (on the occasion of Novikov’s retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum). Their meeting resulted in a fascinating and erudite exchange, reflecting a reciprocal network of cultural and autobiographical references to St Petersburg as the city “on the edge” – an intersection where Western and Eastern cultural traditions met.
In 2017 White Space Gallery in collaboration with Timur Novikov Foundation is St Petersburg conceived an exhibition and a publication entitled ‘Horizons’ , the works presented in the show created a further – if imagined – cross-temporal dialogue of sorts that weaves together the visual and the literary. The exhibition presented a selection of panels from Novikov’s iconic series Horizons made between 1987 and 1991. The seam in the work explicitly signifies a (horizon) line and creates a distinction which also operates as a minimalist gesture, enhancing the work’s focus on the floating horizon and underlining the spatial-temporal aspects of the image. In White Night, as a further focal point two ships or tankers trace opposing diagonal lines towards the two open drawbridges on the River Neva, giving temporary passage to vessels sailing to and from the Baltic Sea – a seemingly limitless space.
Timur Novikov. White Night. 1989. Acrylic on artificial leather. Copyright: Timur Novikov’s family, St Petersburg
A fully illustrated publication ‘HORIZONS’ with select poems by Joseph Brodsky is available in our online shop. It also includes – for the first time in English translation – a full transcript of the 1993 conversation between Novikov and Brodsky. Introduced and edited by Dominik Czechowski.