The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University is pleased to announce “Mister Deviant, Comrade Degenerate: Selected Works by Yevgeniy Fiks,” a new summer exhibition on view from June 15 through July 31.
The nine works, consisting of still photographs and multimedia installations, address the subject of the political deviant, the sexual outlaw, and the uncensored artist, who all became the shared “others” for the Cold War-era Soviets and Americans, and remain a problematic political legacy that resonates today. Fiks will attend an opening reception on June 15 from 5-7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Zimmerli director Thomas Sokolowski, who organized the exhibition, stated, “Within the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, political, sexual and artistic nonconformists were conflated and viewed as dangerous internal enemies that terrified insecure government leaders, whose paranoia trickled down among their citizens.”
Earlier this year, the artist explored similar themes in “Mother Tongue/Родная Речь,” his first London solo exhibition, which focused on historical gay Russian argot, or slang. This coded language dates back to the Soviet era and is comparable to jargon used by gay and other subcultures in the past.
“Mister Deviant, Comrade Degenerate” confronts the instrumentalization of homophobia, anti-liberalism and anti-modernism as tools of propaganda and ideology in both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It explores the era’s persecution of various nonconformist groups on both sides of the ideological divide, including political dissidents, queers and avant-garde artists.
Ranging from dry factuality to humor and farce, the exhibition begins with a series of prints and photographs titled “Homosexuality is Stalin’s Atom Bomb to Destroy America,” highlighting the interlocking histories of the “Red” and “Lavender” scares during the McCarthy era in the United States, when anti-Soviet and anti-gay sentiments were fused together in the Cold War witch hunt rhetoric. Pundits and government officials went as far as envisioning a sinister conspiracy in which the Soviet Union promoted homosexuality as a tool to destroy America.
At the same time, the federal government purged homosexuals that it employed, calling them “security risks” and considered vulnerable to blackmail by Soviet agents. Ironically, in the Soviet Union, the ideological enemy of the United States, homosexuality was officially criminalized after 1934—with a prison sentence of up to five years—and stigmatized as an anti-Soviet “capitalist degeneracy” that came from the foreign and “decadent West.”
The exhibition is not merely a history lesson for 21st-century audiences: it provides a lens through which visitors can critically examine how such witch hunts continue today. Many are preparing for a landmark pride month this June, celebrating once unimaginable social and legal gains since the Stonewall uprising on June 28, 1969, kicked off the gay rights movement. However, the imminent 50th anniversary is by no means an endpoint for action, as physical and legislative attacks against individuals in LGBTQ communities persist not only in non-democratic nations, but across the United States.
About the Artist
Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. His multifaceted practice has bridged both worlds, exploring themes of memory, repression and the legacy of the political Left in Russian society and the United States. Fiks’s engagement across time periods resonates strongly with the Zimmerli’s commitment to contemporary issues in art and its rich collection of art from the Soviet period, as found in the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. In 2016, Fiks participated in Slide Jam, a former series during Art After Hours at the Zimmerli.
Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Lenin for Your Library?” in which he mailed V.I. Lenin’s text “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” to one hundred global corporations as a donation for their corporate libraries; “Communist Party USA,” a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement.
Fiks’s work has been shown internationally. This includes exhibitions in the United States at Winkleman and Postmasters galleries (both in New York), Mass MoCA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow; Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City; and the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon. His work has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015). In early 2019, he had his first London solo exhibition, Mother Tongue/Родная Речь, at Pushkin House/GRAD. For more information about the artist, visit https://yevgeniyfiks.com.
ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM – RUTGERS
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints.
In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.
Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton St. on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 12-5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.
For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.