Dmitry Gutov/David Riff. If our soup can could speak ... Mikhail Lifshitz and the Soviet Sixties

Dmitry Gutov/David Riff. If our soup can could speak ... Mikhail Lifshitz and the Soviet SixtiesDmitry Gutov/David Riff. If our soup can could speak ... Mikhail Lifshitz and the Soviet Sixties


The research project devoted to Soviet philosopher and cultural critic Mikhail Lifshitz (1905–1983) was initiated by artist Dmitry Gutov (b. 1960, Moscow) — who has been studying Lifshitz for many years and founded the Institute of Mikhail Lifshitz — and curator David Riff (b. 1975, London), who has translated into English several of the philosopher’s key texts including The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx and The Crisis of Ugliness: From Cubism to Pop-Art (2018, Brill).

As part of the Field Research project launched in 2015, the team studied over 200 files of documents from public archives, including the Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts; the archive of the State Tretyakov Gallery; and the family archive of Lifshitz's daughter, Anna Pichikyan. Documents included unpublished dossiers and notes on political purges, correspondence, manuscripts, shorthand lecture notes, Lifshitz's photographs, and his unpublished thesis.

In the exhibition Field Research: Liberating Knowledge. Progress Report II Gutov and Riff presented the installation whose title consisted of Lifshitz’s quote on Nikolay Chernyshevsky (1828-1889), “People should see that Chernyshevsky's writings are brilliant, subtle, and ironic; that, like Socrates, he played the fool for the purpose of uncovering the truth and scandalized his contemporaries with shocking opinions in order to wake them up from their sleep.” This quote also describes how Lifshitz himself approached writing. A harsh and militant critic of modernism, he was not afraid of accusing universally acclaimed artists of supporting totalitarianism and consumerism. However, his critique, which caused a heated debate among his contemporaries, was much more informed and sharper than the standard Soviet attacks on Western art, and remains of interest today.

The three-year research project finished with the exhibition If our soup can could speak: Mikhail Lifshitz and the Soviet Sixties, which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the scandalous publication of The Crisis of Ugliness.

Status: 2015–2018

Researcher: Dmitry Gutov, David Riff


Dmitry Gutov (b. 1960, Moscow; lives and works in Moscow) is an artist and the founder of the Lifshitz Institute. Solo exhibitions include: Far from the Dust, Triumph Gallery, Moscow (2015); Fugue, Art Museum Riga Bourse, Riga (2014); Life is Hard, but, Thankfully, Brief, Triumph Gallery, Moscow (2014); and No Surprises, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow (2013). Group exhibitions include: 9th Shanghai Biennale (2012); Venice Biennale (2007 and 1995); documenta 12, Kassel (2007); Biennale of Sydney (2006); and Manifesta 1, Rotterdam (1996).

David Riff (b. 1975, London; lives and works in Berlin) is a writer, translator, artist, and curator. Riff has written widely on contemporary art in Russia and translated important texts from Russian to English. He has also produced work as an artist, focusing on collaborative projects such as the Learning Film Group, The Karl Marx School of the English Language, and the Lifshitz Institute. Recent curatorial projects include: Monday Begins on Saturday, Bergen Assembly (2013, with Ekaterina Degot); the discussion platform and exhibition Auditorium Moscow, Moscow (2011, with Ekaterina Degot and Joanna Mytkowska); the international exhibition The Potosí Principle (2010–2011, curatorial correspondent); and the 1st Ural Industrial Biennial, Yekaterinburg (2010, with Cosmin Costinaş and Ekaterina Degot).


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