Collection of essays about artistic statements in Belarusian contemporary art

Vitaly Kalgin (Bismark):
“Red Emperor or The Patriarch”,

ZBOR #6 

Painting: oil on wood

Presented by Forma group at “Na Kollektornoy” exhibition

Held in the building of Minskgrazhdanproekt Institute, Minsk, Belarus

Vitaly Kalgin (Bismark):painting“Red Emperor or The Patriarch”,1987

“Red Emperor or The Patriarch”, Na Kollektornoy, Minskgrazhdanproekt, Minsk, Belarus, 1987. Photo: from the archive of Andrey Plesanov ©


The destiny of the artist under the nickname Bismark (his real name is Vitaly Kalgin) is both unique and representative for the Belarusian artistic context. In the 1980s, the Belarusian art was characterized by collective practices. Many artists united into artistic coalitions and groups. In 1987, the artist Vitaly Kalgin founded the artistic group “Bismark”, the only member of which was himself.

The same year, on September 21 the exhibition of the group “Na Kollektornoy” opened in Minsk, one of the key exhibitions of the Belarusian nonconforming art. The exhibition was not typical for Belarus of that time. It showcased a total installation that consisted of mixed with each other artworks of the participants of the exhibition project (Alexei Zhdanov, Todor Kopshi, Artur Klinau, Andrei Plesanov, Vitaly Kalgin), along with the various objects and garbage.

A picturesque artwork by Vitaly Kalgin “Red Emperor or Patriarch” caused indignation of visitors that perceived it as “pornography”, and continuously tried to shut down the exhibition. In order to show their support for the exhibition, the organizers even sent a letter to Raisa Gorbachova. In 1988, because of the same artwork, Vitaly Kalgin was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A compulsory treatment in the psychiatric hospitals (sometimes experimental ones) is one of the most famous methods that the Soviet government used against dissidents, including avant-garde artists.

This diagnosis, offeren in Soviet time, turned out to be premonious for the realities of modern Belarus. In 2011, the artist was attacked by three drunk men, but despite severe injuries caused to Vitaly Kalgin, the judge found the artist to be guilty, since there were no witnesses, and because of his “mental illness”. He was sentenced to two years of compulsory treatment in the psychiatric hospital of high security, located in the village Haiciuniški. Later, the artist was transferred to the hospital Navinki in the Minsk suburbs, where he was kept until recently.

Before his arrest, the artist carried out numerous provocative performances that involved the subject of nationalistic or Nazi esthetics. In this time, it was characteristic for art practices in many countries of the former Soviet Bloc. His guerrilla and art terrorism strategies were quite radical for Belarus, and revealed issues that were dangerous for new society. As Alexander Volofarsky writes: “Antifascism is not just a fight against far-right tendencies in the society, but also a continuous destruction of those mechanisms that make these tendencies possible and inevitable”. The destiny of Vitaly Kalgin, unfortunately, shows that by revealing certain mechanisms of the political system, he became its own victim.

Vitaly Kalgin (pseudonyms – Bismark, Vitaly Skivica, Vitaly Gippokrat-Kalgin, born 1959, Minsk, Belarus) – painter, performer, organiser and the only member of the Bismark group (since 1987), member of the Form group.


Text: Tania Arcimovich, Sergey Shabohin, KALEKTAR ©


This is a shortened version of the text. Full article is under construction.

“Red Emperor or The Patriarch”: