Ernst Neizvestny, Russian (1926 - )

Ernst Neizvestny

     Russia has a tradition of expelling it's greatest artistic talents, many of them Russian Jews. These ingenious individuals, such as Lipshitz and Chagall, have gone on to make brilliant contributions to world art, as well as jewish art.

    Ernst Neizvestny is another artist in this long tradition. He achieved great success in the Soviet Union but controversy followed his career. For many years, he worked on the Jewish themes of the Holocaust and Yazkor but was unable to show or publish the work. He came to the attention of the west after a public conformation with ex-Premeier Krushchev at an art opening.

   In 1971, he entered an international competition for a statue to be placed on the Aswon Dam. To the embarrassment of both Egypt & USSR, Neizvestny, a Jewish sculptor, won.

   Despite honors and privileges bestowed on him by the Soviet Government, Neizvestny preferred to have freedom to work openly on the themes of his choice. In 1976, he was finally allowed to leave the country. Now in the United States, he continues to devote much of his creative effort to Jewish history.

   The Twelve Tribes of Israel is one of Neizvestny's major works. His breadth of vision and commitment to Jewry are uniquely suited to the awesome task of interpreting this ancient theme in terms of contemporary urban civilization.

   The artist has chosen to work not only in monumental sculpture but in other media because he feels strongly that "the pulse of an idea beats in it's smallest fragment." In the art forms offered here, more people will be able to share in the idea of Neizvestny's work in the which the emblems of the Twelve Tribes are represented individually and integrated in compositions symbolizing the unity of the Jewish people.



1926 - Born April 9, in Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg) in the Ural Mountains.

1939-42 Wins national competition and attends special school for artistically gifted children, first in Leningrad, then in Samarkand during WWII.

1942-45 Volunteers for service in the Soviet Arm Forces. Commissioned as airborne commando
officer and sees action on Second Ukrainian front. Severely wounded in Austria on April 22, 1945, declared dead, and "posthumously" awarded the Order of the Red Star for heroism.

1945 Teaches drawing at Suvorov Institute in Sverdlovsk.

1946 Starts to study art at the Academy for Fine Arts in Riga, Latvia.

1947-54 Studies art at Surikov Institute of Art in Moscow. At the same time studies philosophy at Moscow University.

1955 Becomes a member of Sculpture Section of the Union of Soviet Artists, Moscow Branch.

In the USSR...

1954-62 Participates in youth, republic, and all-union exhibitions in Moscow.

1956 Begins work on Tree of Life project.

1957 Wins two medals at the Fourth International Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow.

1958 Begins work on his "Gigantomachia" series. "Heart of Humanity" evolves into the
"Tree of Life" architectural monument to human creativity in art, science, and technology.

1959 Wins national competition for Victory war monument commemorating Soviet victory over
Nazi Germany.

1962 Takes part in Manege exhibition in Moscow to mark the 30th anniversary of MOSKH (Moscow Section of the Artist's Union). Discusses art with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

1965 Wins first place in the International Dante Competition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Also takes part in a symposium: “Sculpture in Free Space”, and erects two sculptures - "Centaur" and "Stone Tears" - in Yugoslavia. Joint exhibition with Marc Chagall at Grosvenor Gallery, London.

1966 Executes 150-meter decorative relief, "Monument for All the Worlds Children" for Artek Pioneer Camp in the Crimea.

1968 Illustrates Dante's Short Works (Moscow: Nauka, 1968). Wins international competition with design for "Lotus Blossom" monument, the largest sculpture in the world, for the
Aswan Dam in Egypt.

1969 English art critic John Berger publishes: Art and Revolution; Ernst Neizvestny and the
Role of the Artist in the USSR.

1970 Exhibitions at Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and Museum of Fine Arts in Locarno, Italy.

1972 Executes the 15m stainless steel sculpture "Prometheus" for Electro-72 exhibition, and exhibits in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

1974 Creates tombstone for Nikita Khrushchev at Novodevechiy Monastery in Moscow, the 970-meter decorative relief for Institute of Electronics and Technology in Moscow, and a sculptural monument "Wings" for Institute of Light Alloys in Moscow. Takes part in "Progressive Currents" exhibition at Bochum Museum in West Germany. Great Crucifixion acquired by Vatican Museum permanent collection.

1975 Designs monumental architectural facade for headquarters of Central Committee in Ashkhabad, Turkmenia. Exhibitions in Vienna, Berlin, and the Lincoln Center, New York.

After exile...

1976 Emigrates to the West and settles in Zurich, Switzerland. Completes bronze head of Dmitri Shostakovich for Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

1977 Moves to New York City.

1982 Essay "On Synthesis in Art" published in Continent Monthly, Paris, France.

1983 Presents "Heart of Christ" sculpture to Pope John Paul II. Begins to lecture on art and philosophy at universities in the United States.

1984 Erik Egeland’s Ernst Neizvestny, Life and Work published in Norway, Canada and the United States. First collection of essays in Russian, Govorit Neizvestnyi (Neizvestny Speaks) published.

1987 Neizvestny’s "Tree of Life" Museum opens in Uttersberg, Sweden. Essays "Body: Man as Visual Sign" and "Art and Society" published.

1988 Designs "New Statue of Liberty" honoring the New Republic of China and the Third World. Meets with Pope John Paul II and presents him with model of Statue of Liberty.

1989 Completes illustrations to Samuel Beckett's works. Lectures on culture at Moscow State University. Commissioned to design Holocaust monument in Riga, Latvia, and memorial to victims of Stalinism in Vorkuta, USSR. Elected to full membership in European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, Paris, France.

1990 Publishes first collection of essays in English; Space, Time, and Synthesis in Art: Essays on Art Literature, and Philosophy, in England, United States, and Canada. Commissioned to design memorials to the Victims of Stalinism in Magadan and Sverdlovsk, USSR

1992 Book of "Man's Fate" etchings, Artist Fate, is published. Exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Washington DC. Exhibition at the Le Monde De L'Art, Paris, France. Reception given in Neizvestny's honor by Ambassador of Russian Federation at Embassy in Washington DC. Completes work on the “Ecclesiastes” Series; exhibits them for the first time at the Embassy. Commissioned to create five meter monument, "The Golden Child" for Odessa's 200th anniversary Jubilee.

1993 Russian version of Space, Time and Synthesis published, entitled Centaur. Exhibit held honoring the Tree of Life Peace Monument at the Russian Federation Mission to the United Nations, New York.

1994 Commissioned to create three Monuments; to the Victims of the 1964 Earthquake in Turkmanistan, to poetess Anna Akhmotova in St. Petersburg, and a monument for the Republic of Kalmikia. Exhibition of works at the new Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington DC.

1995 "The Golden Child," installed with opening ceremony in Odessa, May 19th. Starts work on the monument for Kalmikia. Commissioned to create a bust of President Boris Yeltsin. United Nations in New York presented with the "Tree of Life II" sculpture, given by the Government of the Russian Federation and President Yeltsin during the 50th Anniversary Assembly.

1996 Attends opening ceremony for the first monument in the Triangle of Suffering to be finished; the “Mask of Mourning”, Magadan’s Memorial to the Victims of Stalinism. Awarded the highest award for merit before the Motherland for his 70th birthday. Presented with a Government award for the Achievement in Arts by President Yeltsin during a ceremony in the Kremlin Palace. Gallery Dom Naschokina holds first one-man exhibition in Russia. Exhibition of “Ecclesiastes” Series at the Pushkin Museum of fine Arts, Moscow. Unveiling of his monument for Kalmykia “Exodus and Return” in Elista. Accepts invitation to become Cultural Advisor to President Yeltsin.

1997 Asked to create two bas reliefs; “ Creation” and “Revelations” for the Cathedral of Christ The Savior in Moscow. Is the Keynote speaker at the Caux Conference for Moral ReArmament, Caux, Switzerland. The Mayor’s office in Moscow is negotiating to erect the 7 meter “Tree of Life Peace Monument” in Moscow. United Nations office in Geneva accepts the gift of the Great Centaur sculpture to be permanently exhibited on the grounds of the Palace of Nations; exhibition of works to celebrate the unveiling.

1998 Completes 7m “Tree of Life Peace Monument”. Exhibitions in Moscow and Paris. Two Carrara Marble totems (3.5m and 3.7m) are exhibited in New York City, USA. Publishes his illustrations in Ecclesiastes, with The Black Sun of Koheleth by Yakov Kumok. Appeared in History Channel’s MODERN MARVELS, episode; MONUMENTAL STATUES.

1999 Exhibition of “Book of Job Illustrations” at the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow. Publication of the Illustrations in Job with text by Yakov Kumok, to be a companion to the Ecclesiastes book. Starts work on a new series of sculpture, Animal Power. Was interviewed for and appeared in CNN's COLD WAR POSTSCRIPT.

2000 Opening of the Monument "Rebirth" in central Moscow, Russia.
State Tretiakov Gallery buys "War is, ...Stride" for new Modern Russian Art wing.
President-elect Putin decorates Neizvestny with Medal of Honor for Artistic Achievements. Solo exhibition at The Third Festival Of Russian Art
at the Festivals' Palace in Cannes, France.


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