Q&A with artist Yevgeniy Fiks about “The Lenin Museum”

by Michael Dola

“The Lenin Museum,” an exhibit of works by the artist Yevgeniy Fiks, is on view at the CUNY Grad Center’s James Gallery in New York City through January 17th, 2015. In the program guide to “The Lenin Museum,” Fiks states that his show “commemorates the emancipatory promise of the Russian Revolution and mourns the fates of the post-1934 queer Soviet subjects, who were reduced to expressing their sexuality in the toilets of Lenin Museum in Moscow between the 1940s-1980s, while drawing conceptual connections to the unstable predicament of the LGBTQI community in present-day Russia.” Since the show went up in mid-November, a new law was passed in Russia that bans transgendered people from driving. This comes in the context of earlier laws that have targeted non-cisgendered people throughout the country. These attacks from the Russian government lend a tragic timeliness and urgency to the work of Fiks, who answered a few questions about his current show.

Michael Dola: In an interview with Bookforum on the release of your book Moscow, which features photographs of former gay cruising sites in Moscow called pleshkas, you stated that the project “is also about the limits or failure of photography.” I wonder if you are making a similar indictment about the limits or failure of painting with the 9 pleshka oil paintings on view in “The Lenin Museum?” Or perhaps you would draw the boundary around the tradition you were professionally trained in, that of socialist realism, as being primarily complicit in the “forced invisibility of the queer Soviet subject.”

Yevgeniy Fiks: Yes, I think my “Pleshkas of the Revolution” paintings are definitely also about the failure and limits of painting, and specifically the failure of late-Soviet mainstream painting to represent Soviet gay and lesbian experience, or any minoritarian experience for that matter. This art form pretended to be universal, general, all-encompassing. But in practice, it was severely lacking in its self-proclaimed universality–it could only achieve universality through rendering inconvenient margins invisible. So, these paintings are an attempt to reclaim the legacy of Soviet painting to finally represent Soviet-era queer invisibility, without, however, breaking with the tradition of Socialist Realist painting.