Oleg Vladimirovich Vassiliev

Oleg Vladimirovich Vassiliev

1931 —2013

Oleg Vassiliev was one of the leading artists of the 'unofficial' art movement in 1960's - 1970's, Non-conformism, and profoundly influential and highly respected figure on the Contemporary Russian art scene. Though the artist has never identified himself as a part of any revolutionary modernist art movements, he displayed an incessant but subdued manner of resistance to the system. The artist's many extraordinary works ambitiously, though not obviously, combine in a very modern way inspirational traces of the traditions of Russian Realism of the nineteenth century with the early twentieth-century Russian avant-garde art. A close lifelong friend and collaborator to Vassiliev, Eric Bulatov, claimed that, 'I believe that Oleg Vassiliev is the most Russian of the Russian artists living today, because he does not just express one particular quality of Russian art but its essence, its very core from which the various qualities of Russian art spring forth'. Vassiliev was born on November 4, 1931, in Moscow. The artist remembered in his autobiographical essay of 1997: 'In childhood, I loved to copy postcards. I liked Shishkin and Germashov: Germashov especially, because his work was comprehensible and not as busy as Shishkin's'. 

In 1947 Vassiliev enrolled the Moscow Secondary Art School. However, as he claimed later, he did not seriously consider pursuing an artistic career. During this period of his life, the young artist was fascinated by the works of Isaak Levitan. In his autobiographical essay, the artist remembers: 'I was convinced of the impossibility of an ordinary person doing something comparable to that which I loved in the Tretyakov Gallery, where, incidentally, we students spent a lot of time when we skipped classes in unspecialised subjects. Levitan and the young Serov were our idols. Secretly, I continued to love Shishkin'. Vassiliev graduated from the Art School in 1952, and after a summer practicum in Polenovo, he was accepted to the Graphic Arts Department at the Surikov Institute although he was dreaming of studying at the Painting Department. Before graduation from the institute, Vassiliev together with Bulatov had managed to meet with the Russian avant-garde formalists Vladimir Favorsky, Robert Falk, and Artur Fonvizin. The artist remembers these opportunities with great appreciation and awe: 'I was especially grateful to Favorsky. In his art and philosophy, I found a base upon which I, invariably, would later rely. […] Conversations with these artists, seeing their work, the endless discussions with friends, and the Tretyakov Gallery - all helped me to find my way in painting'. Although, from the time of his graduation in 1958 and until his emigration to the United States in 1990, Vassiliev was working closely together with Eric Bulatov and Ilya Kabakov as a children's book illustrator and designer, he simultaneously was developing his individual artistic style that later firmly established him as one of the central artists of the Moscow Conceptualists group along with Bulatov and Kabakov.

The first solo exhibition of the artist took place in 1968 at the youth café Blue Bird where Vassiliev showed twenty-five of his paintings. It was difficult for the artist to pass internal censorship in the following years and, after a while, he ceased to bring his works to the exhibition committees. Thus, his second solo exhibition in Moscow happened only in 1997 in the Phoenix Gallery, and a retrospective exhibition was held in the State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow) and then in The State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg) in 2004. However, he had numerous personal exhibitions abroad as in Madrid (1991), New York (1993), Lexington (1995), Denver (1995), Drobak (1996), Granville (1999), Oslo (1999), Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts (2000), Zurich (2000), New York (2007), London (2008), Minneapolis (2011), New Brunswick (2014). Also, Vassiliev participated in numerous group shows during his lifetime including the recent ones in Guggenheim Museum in New York (2005) and The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg (2005). Vassiliev died on January 25, 2013, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he lived and worked during the final years of his life.


Tupitsyn, Victor. “Erik Bulatov/Oleg Vassiliev,” Flash Art, May/June 1990, p. 148
Vassiliev, Oleg. “How I Became and Artist,” Pastor (Cologne), 1997, pp. 37-44
Vassiliev, Oleg. “Home with an Attic. Tale of an Artist,” Balcon, 1991 (no. 8-9), pp. 192-204
Vassiliev, Kira and Natalia Kolodzei, ed. Oleg Vassiliev: Memory Speaks, Themes and Variations. St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2004.