India ink on canvas, 100×100 cm
Courtesy of the artist
One of the pioneers of Russian minimalism, Alexander Yulikov began his conscious artistic career very early, producing his first abstract painting at the age of 14 in 1957. Years later, in 1975, he decided to make a visual diary of the following year. In his minimalist style, he divided a 1 x 1 meter canvas into 360 squares, each representing one day in the year, and planned to attach the remaining five “day squares” at the bottom. On January 1, 1976, Yulikov started filling out the diary, assigning each day one of the three signs he selected: + for a positive day; - for a negative day; and 0 for a neutral one, with the color of the sign conveying the emotional undertones. Accordingly, on every day of the year the painting/diary was completed, and the following day its making continued.
The diary remained unfinished, as Yulikov took the rare opportunity to show his work in an apartment exhibition. Only state-endorsed art could be displayed publicly in the 1970s, and Yulikov’s work was deemed inappropriate for the era of “developed socialism” and therefore hostile. Work on the painting was interrupted, and Yulikov decided against resuming it, as the empty squares stood for future, unlived days and therefore expressed the fundamental property of time—to last. That is why the five additional squares were never added to the canvas.
Yulikov is considered to be the first Russian minimalist artist, but this particular work is closer to conceptualism. Explaining his art practice and Diary 1976 in particular, he says, “I try to convey the relationship between the individuality of my particular life and objective time, which goes beyond all ideologies and movements.”