Lydia Masterkova

8 March 1927, Moscow—12 May 2008, Saint-Laurent-sur-Othain, France

In 1943, Lydia Masterkova entered an art school, where the instructor was Robert Falk, one of the artists of the Russian avant-garde of the early twentieth century, and her fellow students many future classics of nonconformism: Mikhail Roginsky, Boris Turetsky, and Nikolai Vechtomov. The school was shut down for “leftist tendencies,” and Masterkova continued her studies at the 1905 Art School. Nikolai Vechtomov, a former classmate, introduced her to artists and poets who later formed the “Lianozovo Group.” She married one of its members, Vladimir Nemukhin. Beginning in the 1960s, Masterkova was an active participant in Moscow’s underground art scene. Her first personal show was in the apartment of art historian Ilya Tsirlin in the Chaliapin house on Novinsky Boulevard. She also exhibited her works at the home of the American journalist Edmund Stevens and of collector George Costakis. In 1967, she was one of the artists in the group show of nonconformists at the Druzhba Club on the Enthusiasts’ Chausee, which was shut down by the KGB on opening day. That same year, her works started to be shown abroad in exhibits of Russian unofficial artists. She was involved in the preparation and opening of the Bulldozer Show, which was demolished by the authorities, and then in the first officially permitted exhibit of nonconformist art in the Beekeeping Pavilion at the All-Union Exhibition of Economic Achievements. Soon after these shows, in 1975, she emigrated to France, where she lived to the end of her days. Masterkova’s works are in such major foreign collections of contemporary Russian art as the Zimmerli Art Museum, Norton Dodge, and Dina Vierny, who exhibited Masterkova after her move to France. Her career is closely tied to the Lianozovo Group, a circle of Moscow poets and artists. She became an abstract artist, enthralled by Abstract Expressionism. Her paintings combine her desire to work in the latest style with the intention of establishing the legacy of Wassily Kandinsky and his friends in Der Blaue Reiter circle. In 1964, her painting changed to monochromatic, geometrical compositions. Masterkova turned to collage, using old fabrics, laces, brocade, and old embroidery found in abandoned churches. She believed in God but not in church and felt that the Russian avant-garde was directly linked to Russian Orthodox icon traditions. As she lived abroad, her painting gradually lost its vivid color, becoming monochromatic and combining numbers and geometric shapes.