In the 1980s, two major forces were at work in the art of Leningrad, the Governmental Artists’ Union, on the on hand, and, on the other, the Association of Experimental Visual Arts, one of most important organizations of the artistic underground.
The Mitki group, a kind of the
Salon des Refusés, was organized in 1984 by those who were not admitted either to the Artists’ Union or the Association of Experimental Visual Arts., e.g. Dmitry Shagin, Vladimir Shunkarev, Alexander Florensky, Olga Florenskaya, Vikort Tikhomirov, Igor Churilov and Andrey Kuzmin. The movement nicknamed themselves ‘Underground Socialist Realism’.
Common to all of them was gravitation towards unsophisticated subjects and spontaneity of expression, also typical of the artists of the Arefyev Circle, whom the Mitki regarded and their mentors. There are two explanations of the group’s name. One connects it with the title of Viktor Tikhomirov’s book, Mitki (1985), a kind of the movement’s manifesto. According to the other explanation the group owes their name, Mitki (the plural of Mityok, the hypocoristic form of Dimitry) to Dimitry (Mityok) Shagin, the son of Vladimir Shagin of the Arefyev Circle; the name then expanded to all his friends. The influence of the Arefyev Circle manifests itself not only in the Mitki’s very serious attitude to art, but also in their wearing sailors’ striped shirts, like Richard Vasmi, which became a kind of the group’s ‘dress code’.