A Defunct Collective Finds Its Muse

Published: June 24, 2010

NIKOLA-LENIVETS, RUSSIA — The setting is like something out of a 19th-century Russian novel about artists, aristocrats and their acolytes mingling at a pastoral country estate.
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James Hill for The New York Times

Nikolai Polissky, the Russian artist, by the Lighthouse on the river Ugra in the village of the Nikola-Lenivets in the Kaluga region south of Moscow.

Nikola-Lenivets, about a four bumpy hour’s drive south of Moscow in the Kaluga region, has inspired the land-art creations of Nikolai Polissky, and has become both a magnet for Russian contemporary artists and a name on the international art scene.

Mr. Polissky and villagers-turned-artisans under his training have crafted installations for the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and for the museum of modern art in Luxembourg — a wooden rendition of the Large Hadron Collider — and deer for Philippe Starck’s revamp of Le Royal Monceau hotel in Paris, which are to ship out on July 1.


Milena Orlova: Moving heavens and earth

Nikolai Polissky was born in 1957 and first trained in ceramics in St Petersburg, becoming one of the group of Mitki artists there. The movement named after the artist Dmitry Shagin, has been described as ‘an ironic hybrid of Tolstoyism and hippy philosophy.’ It set the mood for Nikolai when he moved to the village Nikola-Lenivets, some 200 kilometers west of Moscow. There he co-opted villagers to work with him building large structures, often imitating famous foreign monuments, cobbled together out of humble local materials including snow, wood and hay. The first work was an army of 220 snowman with carrot noses and helmets made of buckets.