Status Review
Ildar Galeev

Artist Mikhail Tarkhanov (1888–1962) studied at the faculty of drawing at VKhUTEMAS where culture of the book played a priority role. Even as a student, he brought attention to the potential capacities of the endpaper not in terms of usage and design but of art and culture. Tarkhanov graduated from VKhUTEMAS in 1927 and by 1929, he proposed to his alma mater a solo show with only endpapers. At that moment his work in this field was in demand among publishers who— during the period of the New Economic Policy— were interested in marketable attractiveness of their book production. For the first time Tarkhanov formulated the purpose and function of endpaper inside the book space and disclosed its technical and technological “kitchen” in a preface to the catalogue [of this exhibition]. While agreeing that Tarkhanov unquestionably did improve and reform endpaper, critics didn’t give any response to the artist’s attempt transforming this sort of applied and quite specific genre into the museum or at least collecting object. It seems that this fiasco can be easily explained. Endpaper type introduced by Tarkhanov was characterized as plotless and nonfigurative. It consisted of elements of unintentionally mixed colorful spots. Coloristic stains generated from spontaneous combinations of different pigments and factures demonstrated the viewer nothing more than just the picture behind one’s eyes— a sample of pure abstract art. In the mid-1930s, demand for elegant abstract endpapers felt sharply. State publishing houses chose to tease neither the bull, the Central Committee of the AUCP (b), nor the geese— the state accountable critics. Tarkhanov ended up with the visual art experiments supposed to be dangerous in the late-Stalinist era and stuck at the writing desk. Many texts came from his pen— about artistic work, Mamontov’s coterie, his friends. Also he authored short fictional stories, folklore tales à la Alexey Remizov. Through challenging times, Tarkhanov managed to “play roles” of his own Jakyll and Hide in order to save his life and art. It was a game that let the memory about a miraculously survived untimely nonfigurative artist, who looks now extremely contemporary, remain.

April 8, 2021