The rise and fall of Avant-garde

The 1920s’ Avant-garde school of artists was ul­ti­mately de­stroyed as class en­e­mies— for hooli­gan­ism and pornog­ra­phy

The Ukrainian Week - - CULTURE & ARTS - Yaryna Tsym­bal

In the fall of 1929, a huge rally gath­ered in the Kharkiv Cen­tral Club of Pro­le­tar­ian Stu­dents. Over 700 stu­dents were protest­ing against the “hooli­gan­ism” and “porno­graphic” per­for­mances of Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk and were pre­pared to fight de­ci­sively against this ad­vance of the class en­emy in lit­er­a­ture.

An of­fi­cial from the pro­pa­ganda de­part­ment of the dis­trict Party com­mit­tee warned about the ra­bid op­po­si­tion that class en­e­mies were launch­ing on the ide­o­log­i­cal front. Speak­ers from the stu­dent bod­ies of Kharkiv post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions—in­sti­tutes of peo­ple’s ed­u­ca­tion, peo­ple’s hus­bandry, tech­nol­ogy, medicine and vet­eri­nary medicine— de­manded that the ac­tiv­i­ties of “pol­ishchuks” be stopped. As one worker by the name of Volod­chenko from the elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal fac­tory de­clared that they did not need writ­ers like Pol­ishchuk.

How did the class en­emy man­age to show up in Ukrainian soviet lit­er­a­ture? Hun­dreds of stu­dents were cor­ralled into a demon­stra­tion against the mag­a­zine Avant-garde #3, in which Pol­ishchuk ad­dressed read­ers as the mouth­piece of class en­emy forces on be­half of some mys­te­ri­ous “en­emy.” Against a jour­nal of a mere 110 pages with the cover, worth 1 kar­bo­vanets and 20 kopiykas. And against the epony­mous lit­er­ary group that con­sisted of some 20 peo­ple.

The rally of pro­le­tar­ian stu­dents passed a res­o­lu­tion declar­ing a fight to the death with pol­ishchuk­ism, hooli­gan­ism, pornog­ra­phy and coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary el­e­ments in lit­er­a­ture, called for the fur­ther lit­er­ary ac­tiv­ity of Avant-garde to be stopped, to in­ves­ti­gate who al­lowed such a pa­thetic jour­nal to be pub­lished, and to de­mand from the lit­er­ary union that it im­me­di­ately fight against the class en­emy

THE RIGHT TO BE

Back at the be­gin­ning of that year, Avant-garde still en­joyed the sup­port of Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sar Mykola Skryp­nyk. On Fe­bru­ary 21, 1929, Skryp­nyk sud­denly men­tioned this small but col­or­ful group in a fa­mous speech on the path­ways for Ukrainian lit­er­a­ture to de­velop dur­ing a pub­lic de­bate at the Va­syl Blakyt­niy Lit­er­ary Build­ing in Kharkiv.

“There’s one small lit­er­ary group that is earn­ing its right to be,” the Com­mis­sar be­gan dis­tantly. “This is Avant-garde. Many, many want to deny this group’s ex­is­tence al­to­gether, say­ing that there’s no such group. But my re­spected Com­rades, this is what was done with the Ukrainian peo­ple: many de­nied that they even ex­isted, but we do ex­ist, af­ter all.” The room laughed.

But Skryp­nyk had not come to joke. “Let’s hear a lit­tle less laugh­ter about an artis­tic sym­bol, and more es­thetic art crit­i­cism of it,” he chal­lenged. “This slo­gan, to my mind, should be the slo­gan of our daily artis­tic life.”

The con­cep­tual in­spi­ra­tion, or­ga­ni­za­tion and man­age­ment of Avant-garde came from Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk, who never wor­ried and never lost hope. At the end of 1925, he left the au­thor­i­ta­tive Hart Union of Pro­le­tar­ian Writ­ers, which was falling apart be­fore peo­ple’s eyes. Just be­fore Pol­ishchuk left, a huge group of writ­ers had quit and im-

me­di­ately formed the Free Academy of Pro­le­tar­ian Lit­er­a­ture. But with its con­ser­va­tive aca­demi­cism and focus on clas­sic mod­els, VAPLITE (a Ukrainian ab­bre­vi­a­tion for the Free Academy of Pro­le­tar­ian Lit­er­a­ture, a writ­ers' as­so­ci­a­tion of the time — Ed.) did not suit him. He de­cided to form a sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion that would pro­mote and de­fend new, con­struc­tive art.

In 1926, a pam­phlet called The Back­wardLook­ing Hart came out, with a chal­lenge from the Avant-garde group of artists. In an open let­ter to Hart’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, Pol­ishchuk ex­plained in great de­tail why he had left the Union of Pro­le­tar­ian Writ­ers—mostly be­cause it was bu­reau­cra­tized and en­cour­aged creative stag­na­tion. “Hart has con­stantly pro­moted and sup­ported the de­lib­er­ate hack­ery of so-called ‘ag­itlit­er­a­ture,’ built on old forms and aimed at out­dated tastes, with ab­so­lutely no creative spark.”

This was fol­lowed by a chal­lenge from the artists of the new group Avant-garde, who de­clared them­selves against all that was out­moded, bour­geois, “en­light­en­ing” and iso­la­tion­ist in fa­vor of break­ing canons, the po­etry of in­dus­tri­al­ism, ex­pand­ing lan­guage di­ver­sity, pre­cise for­mu­la­tions in po­etry, and the rhythm of tele­grams, aero­grams and procla­ma­tions.

“We are rais­ing the bat­tle cry for true con­tem­po­rary Euro­peanism in artis­tic tech­nique, by ex­pos­ing and elim­i­nat­ing the epigo­nism based on long past and now out­moded artis­tic and lit­er­ary forms,” Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk an­nounced, to­gether with four Kharkiv artists. Ahead of them was a hard fight, not only with the out­moded and con­ser­vatism, but for the very right to ex­ist.

A PRI­VATE INI­TIA­TIVE

The Avant­gardists were wast­ing their time ap­peal­ing to the Party and the pub­lic: “We ap­peal to the Com­mu­nist Party and all of soviet so­ci­ety to meet us half­way in our creative first sheaf­ing, to re­in­force us both morally and ma­te­ri­ally, be­cause this is in the in­ter­ests of our com­mon cul­ture. So first all, we call on our new so­ci­ety to re­spond to us in your sen­si­tive mi­nor­ity with an en­cour­ag­ing voice.”

Avant-garde had to wait three long years for state sup­port and in the 1920s, that was an eter­nity. For in­stance, VAPLITE con­firmed its statutes with the Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee in Ukraine and a month later, it was al­lo­cated premises, 5,000 kar­bo­vantsi for its club and 50,000 kbv for its monthly jour­nal. The se­cret might have been that among the vaplites were 10 Party mem­bers, whereas not one com­mu­nist from the Party ex­ec­u­tive was in Avant-garde.

And so, Avant-garde be­gan and con­tin­ued to de­velop as a pri­vate ini­tia­tive. The procla­ma­tions of the Avant-garde arts group were signed by Pol­ishchuk and his fel­low artists, Va­syl Yer­milov, Ge­orgiy Ts­apok and Olek­sandr Le­vada. At the bot­tom was the mail­ing ad­dress: Kharkiv, vul. Vil­noi Akademiyi 6-8, Artem So­cial Mu­seum, Artists’ stu­dios. Or Kharkiv, Pushkin­skiy vy­izd 6, Apt. 9, V. Pol­ishchuk. The quar­tet of Avant­gardists printed up a book at their own ex­pense. That same year, Pol­ishchuk’s work, The Lit­er­ary Avant-garde, came out, also self­pub­lished. The next book, The Pulse of an Epoch, with the sub­ti­tle “Con­struc­tive dy­namism or mil­i­tant re­gres­sion?” came out in 1927 as pub­lished by the State Pub­lish­ing House of Ukraine. In­ter­est­ing that the print run for both was the same: 3,000.

Pol­ishchuk’s books of po­etry kept be­ing pub­lished one af­ter another as though there was noth­ing to it. But not every­one was so lucky, be­cause not every­one man­aged to gain a rep­u­ta­tion as the Homer of the Rev­o­lu­tion by the mid-1920s, as one re­spected lit­er­ary critic re­ferred to him. Two younger fans of Avant-garde, Ivan Dorozh­niy and Mykailo Tuhan-Bara­novskiy Jr., had to put their first joint col­lec­tion, Molodyk or “New Moon,” out on their own, and the cover they printed something un­usual: “Rec­om­mended by Val. Pol­ishchuk.” “Two of my lit­er­ary and artis­tic friends brought their works and begged me to pro­vide the fore­word,” the rec­om­mender ex­plained, “be­cause if you’re go­ing to self-pub­lish to­day, it’s bet­ter if some­one prom­ises to de­fend a par­tic­u­lar work of art from our dis­pu­ta­tious, politi­cized and preda­tory lit­er­ary pop­u­la­tion.”

In 1928, the Rus­sian sec­tion of the group also self-pub­lished a col­lec­tion of po­ems, which they called A Ra­dius of Avant­gardists.

THE AVANT-GARDE JAZZ BAND

Only in Oc­to­ber 1928, af­ter a three-year “ag­ing process,” was Avant-garde given some money to pub­lish a pe­ri­od­i­cal. And for this they owed thanks to their pow­er­ful men­tor, Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sar Skryp­nyk.

Af­ter the first procla­ma­tion in 1925, much time went by un­til Oc­to­ber 4, 1927, when a group of artists gath­ered in the Aca­demics’ House and ap­proved the Avant-garde res­o­lu­tion:

“We want to jointly en­gage in artis­tic ex­plo­rations, in­ven­tions and cre­ations, so as not to be stuck at the level of con­tem­po­rary petty lit­tle stan­dards of artis­tic cre­ativ­ity. To present an in­de­pen­dent, avant-garde artis­tic word, sound, color and con­struc­tion, we need to put to­gether a se­ries of col­lec­tions and a gazette jour­nal. We ap­peal to Ukrainian soviet so­ci­ety, the Com­mu­nist Party, and the gov­ern­ment to as­sist us in this our en­deavor.”

It was not the first time the artists had made this kind of plea and this time there were 15 sig­na­tures on the res­o­lu­tion: one artist, two mu­si­cians and 12 writ­ers. In time, Pol­ishchuk ad­mit­ted that they “ended up hav­ing to print ma­te­ri­als out of pocket and to en­gage peo­ple who were not quite ready for this kind of work.”

At this point the Avant­gardists de­cided to take the bull by the horns: two months later, in win­ter 1928, they went with their plat­form to Skryp­nyk’s of­fice at the Peo­ple’s Com­mis­sariat of Ed­u­ca­tion. And he went and in­vited them in his in­tro­duc­tory speech at a lit­er­ary de­bate. The Avant­gardists re­sponded in writ­ing that the pre­sid­ium of the Va­syl Blakyt­niy House of Lit­er­a­ture had not sug­gested that they take part in the de­bate, but had or­ga­nized the event ex­clu­sively for mem­bers of the House and in­vited guests. Above all, the Avant­gardists were sim­ply not mem­bers of this or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Both the meet­ing and the let­ter had their con­se­quences. Pol­ishchuk and his Avant­gardists did man­age to go to the de­bate and Skryp­nyk both men­tioned and sup­ported them in his speech. The March Bul­letin of the Peo­ple’s Com­mis­sar for Ed­u­ca­tion pub­lished a res­o­lu­tion by Skryp­nyk about the dec­la­ra­tion and ap­peal of the Avant-garde group: “to agree to pos­si­ble as­sis­tance from the PCE to the lit­er­ary work­ers of this group” and “to turn to the State Pub­lish­ing House of Ukraine with a propo­si­tion to dis­cuss the pos­si­ble forms such as­sis­tance might take.”

In Oc­to­ber, the Avant-garde Bul­letin came out, con­tain­ing a de­tailed procla­ma­tion from the lit­er­ary group. But now there were fewer sig­na­tures un­der it, but those that were, were re­li­able in­di­vid­u­als: Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk, Va­syl Yer­milov, Leonid Ch­er­nov, Ray­isa Troy­anker, Vik­tor Yaryna, Va­len­tyn Bo­rysov, and Olek­sandr Le­vada. Yaryna’s name was in a black bor­der: the writer had been sick with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and did not live to see the first is­sue of the Avant-garde jour­nal.

Sub­se­quent is­sues had a dif­fer­ent name, but the num­ber­ing of the pages was con­tin­u­ous. By the time the is­sue called “Artis­tic Ma­te­ri­als of the Avant-garde” came out in 1929, the editorial list had sig­nif­i­cantly ex­panded. Ukraini­ans like Mykhailo Pankiv and Olek­sandr Soroka ap­peared, Ger­mans like Jo­hannes Becher and Kurt Kle­ber, Rus­sian con­struc­tivists Illya Selvin­skiy and Korni­ley Zelin­skiy, myth-maker Ed­vard Strikha, ar­chi­tects Ivan Ne­molo­vakiy and Bruno Taut, com­posers Kost Bo­huslavskiy and Yuliy Mei­tus, pho­tog­ra­phers Ser­hiy Kryha and An­driy Paniv, artist Olek­sandr Dovhal, and de­signer-type­set­ter Yakiv Ru­den­skiy.

The jour­nal wrote about lit­er­a­ture and paint­ing—and even about mu­sic. An ar­ti­cle by Pol­ishchuk ap­peared in the Bul­letin en­ti­tled “In fa­vor of jazz bands and fox­trots,” while in the last is­sue, the score of a Jazz Etude by Mei­tus was pub­lished. In soviet terms, this was al­ready ir­rev­er­ence that bor­dered on hooli­gan­ism1.

As be­fore, the jour­nal sur­vived on sheer en­thu­si­asm. “Avant-garde works with­out lit­er­ary fees to au­thors,” Pol­ishchuk ad­mit­ted at one point. “Those who con­trib­ute to our lit­er­ary pub­li­ca­tions have no ma­te­rial ben­e­fit from it what­so­ever, other than ad­di­tional costs and pos­si­ble at­tacks on them by re­gres­sive el­e­ments. But they have moral sat­is­fac­tion en­gag­ing in this cul­tural project.”

THE LIT­ER­ARY PRICELIST

The sec­tion on red writ­ing in the jour­nal was called “Lit­er­ary pricelist.” Some of the au­thors men­tioned in the list of mem­bers never man­aged to get them­selves pub­lished in the short-lived Avant-garde jour­nal, but others were as­so­ci­ated pri­mar­ily with this pub­li­ca­tion and the group. To­day, as then, peo­ple mostly knew of Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk and Va­syl Yer­milov. The painter Olek­sandr Le­vada is per­sis­tently mixed up with a sim­i­larly named play­wright in ref­er­ence books and en­cy­clo­pe­dias. Some of these in­di­vid­u­als can­not even be found in Google, although the Avant­gardists were un­usu­ally in­ter­est­ing peo­ple with ad­ven­ture­some bi­ogra­phies.

The real sur­name of Leonid Ch­er­nov was Maloshiy­chenko, a na­tive of Olek­san­dria, Kiro-

vohrad Oblast. He stud­ied and worked in the Surma The­ater Troupe in the Franko The­ater. He also or­ga­nized his own the­ater, Makhu­dram, as a stu­dio for artis­tic drama. Even­tu­ally he and his friends or­ga­nized a mo­bile the­ater in Kre­menchuk called Verda Stelo, mean­ing Green Star in Esperanto. Their ul­ti­mate goal was to trans­late the en­tire revo­lu­tion­ary reper­toire into Esperanto and go on a world tour. But the nearby Kre­menchuk work­ers wanted Rus­sian soaps in­stead. To res­cue the project, Ch­er­nov wrote and di­rected a de­tec­tive play called “Sher­lock Homes” and played the lead him­self.

Verda Stelo died in a bat­tle with famine, while Ch­er­nov wan­dered off all the way to Vladi­vos­tok. There, he worked in the press and even in the Chi­nese con­sulate, or­ga­niz­ing lit­er­ary evenings, scan­dal­iz­ing the bour­geoisie, im­i­tat­ing the imag­in­ists— a Rus­sian off­shoot of English imag­ists—, writ­ing po­etry and prose in Rus­sian, and pub­lish­ing a col­lec­tion of po­etry called “An As­so­ci­a­tion of the In­sane” in 1924.

His American girl­friend kept urg­ing him to come to San Fran­cisco, but in­stead Ch­er­nov sailed off to In­dia on the Trans­balt in 1924. The route went from Vladi­vos­tok to Odesa and led to the book “125 Days in the Trop­ics.” From Odesa, Ch­er­nov trav­eled to Len­ingrad, where his fi­ancée was wait­ing for him. While in In­dia, how­ever, he had caught pneu­mo­nia and liv­ing in the north­ern marshes brought on a se­ri­ous case of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. His friend kept urg­ing him to move to Kyiv. At that point, Ch­er­nov broke with the Rus­sian imag­in­ists, got on his mo­tor­bike, and re­turned home to Olek­san­dria. Start­ing in March 1927, he wrote only in Ukrainian.

Ch­er­nov be­gan to pub­lish actively and joined Avant-garde, and his sto­ries be­gan to be pub­lished. He also or­ga­nized ra­dio broad­casts in Ukrainian, and pro­duced the first ra­dio briefs and ra­dio plays. He rode his mo­tor­bike and kept cam­paign­ing for Avtodor, the high­ways de­part­ment. He wanted to name his fullest col­lec­tion of po­etry “Kobzar on a mo­tor­cy­cle,” but it came out posthu­mously un­der the name “At the Corner of Storms” in­stead, in 1933. At the writer’s grave­side, Maksym Ryl­skiy said, “Ch­er­nov is dead, long live the Ch­er­novs!”

Ray­isa Troy­anker was born to a poor fam­ily of Uman Jews and dreamed of get­ting away from the stetl from an early age. At 15, she fell in love with a tiger tamer and ran away with a trav­el­ing cir­cus. Ev­ery evening, Raya would put her head into the tiger’s jaws and ded­i­cated the po­ems pub­lished in Avant-garde to her fine-striped friends. Even­tu­ally, she mar­ried an Uman writer by the name of Ono­priy Turhan and be­gan to go to the lo­cal stu­dio of the Pluh or Plow Union of Ru­ral Writ­ers. Ru­mors have it that the young fam­ily moved to Kharkiv, not be­cause of the hus­band’s ca­reer but be­cause his young wife’s pas­sion for the hand­some Volodymyr So­siura, who had come to Uman on a lit­er­ary tour.

Rai-ya, mean­ing “Par­adise is me,” was the way she pre­ferred to write her name. She gained fame among writ­ers for lov­ing many and among read­ers for writ­ing erotic verse. In her first book, had been gifted to the lit­er­ary critic Ivan Ka­pus­tians- kiy, a num­ber of hand­writ­ten com­ments from the ob­ser­vant reader can be seen next to her love po­ems: So­siura? Pol­ishchuk? The Rus­sian dis­si­dent Lev Kopelev once re­called: “All of us, yes­ter­day’s school kids, un­doubt­edly were cap­ti­vated by the Avant-garde po­et­ess Ray­isa T. Small, slen­der, very heav­ily made up, she read po­ems in which she told about the first time she sur­ren­dered.” At bach­e­lor evenings, the most pop­u­lar po­ems were the “offthe-cuff” verses of Troy­anker and So­siura.

When Avant-garde col­lapsed, Rai-ya mar­ried the Rus­sian poet Illya Sad­ofiev and moved to Len­ingrad.

Jour­nal­ist Mykhailo Pankiv was from Zakarpat­tia, from Sighetu Mar­matiei. He be­gan to be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive early and was al­ready a mem­ber of the Rus­sian So­cial-Demo­cratic Work­ers’ Party in 1909. Dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, he went over to the Borot­bists or “fight­ers”, a Ukrainian pet­ty­bour­geois left­ist-na­tion­al­ist party, and edited the cen­tral party news­pa­pers. When the Borot­bists joined the Com­mu­nists, the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Ukrainian Com­mu­nist Party sent him to work in Lviv to shore up the Com­mu­nist Party of Western Ukraine. There, he was ar­rested and sen­tenced to hard la­bor at the se­cre­tive Svi­a­toyursk process, where 39 Ukrainian and Pol­ish com­mu­nists were tried on Oc­to­ber 30, 1921.

THE THIRD IS­SUE OF AVANT-GARDE ENDED UP BE­ING THE LAST ONE. IT'S LEADER, VA­LE­RIAN POL­ISHCHUK, MADE THE MIS­TAKE OF AT­TACK­ING SOMETHING SA­CRED— LENIN AND THE PHONY PRUDERY OF SOVIET SO­CI­ETY

Pankiv was able to es­cape from prison. In time, the soviet gov­ern­ment sent him west again, but this time as a mem­ber of the pub­lish­ing busi­ness: he or­ga­nized two ex­po­si­tions of soviet books in Prague and Vi­enna, and ne­go­ti­ated with Vin­ny­chenko the pub­li­ca­tion of So­ni­achna Mashyna or The So­lar Car. And it was thanks to his ini­tia­tive that the State Pub­lish­ing House of Ukraine fi­nally bought the rights to pub­lish the novel in the Ukrainian SSR. When he came back, Pankiv worked as the deputy direc­tor of the Ra­dio and Tele­graph Agency of Ukraine (RATAU), a news agency, at the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sariat. There, he wrote re­ports, nov­els and screen­plays. His novel Judge Rei­tan, about a two-faced judge and the flight of a Ro­ma­nian un­der­ground revo­lu­tion­ary from Sighetu tor­ture cham­bers was brought to the screen in 1929 and be­came a very suc­cess­ful movie across the Soviet Union.

Mykhailo Tuhan-Bara­novskiy also led the se­cret life of an agent. He was the son of a well-known economist and Min­is­ter of Fi­nance of the Ukrainian Na­tional Repub­lic (UNR). Find­ing him­self an émi­gré, the younger Tuhan-Bara­novskiy be­came a so­cial revo­lu­tion­ary and a max­i­mal­ist, car­ry­ing out com­bat mis­sions to liq­ui­date White Guard émi­grés for his or­ga­ni­za­tion. For these ac­tions, he was sen­tenced to death in Bul­garia and Yu­goslavia. In the late 1920s, he him­self gladly told the ad­ven­ture-

some tale of his life to young fans of Avant-garde in Kharkiv. Af­ter that two books of Tuhan-Bara­novskiy’s were pub­lished: a col­lec­tion of po­etry joint with Ivan Dorozh­niy called Molodyk in 1927, and the prose work, “Tales with­out Names” in 1928. Nearly all his later works were about the lives of Ukraini­ans and Rus­sians in ex­ile in Czechia and France.

The heroic revo­lu­tion­ary dis­ap­peared from Kharkiv as sud­denly as he had ar­rived. Some said he was ar­rested as a spy, others were cer­tain that he was called to Moscow and sent abroad once again. Be­fore WWII, peo­ple saw him in Moscow, alive and well. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, TuhanBara­novskiy worked in soviet coun­teres­pi­onage for SMERSH. He lived out his days qui­etly in Sara­tov and was pub­lished un­der the pseu­do­nym Svi­ti­azkiy.

LENIN, PORN AND BE­TRAYAL

The third is­sue of Avant-garde ended up be­ing the last one. It’s leader, Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk, made the mis­take of at­tack­ing something sa­cred— Lenin and the phony prudery of soviet so­ci­ety. Avant-garde #3 in­cluded an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “Long live the pub­lic kiss on a naked breast!” and a se­ries of Pol­ishchuk’s apho­risms un­der the ti­tle Kalei­do­scope. Among them was a very sedi­tious opin­ion: “I have been con­vinced for the umpteenth time that the class strug­gle is not the foun­da­tion of hu­man na­ture, that class strug­gle is merely a forced hu­man need when you accept that hu­man­ity is sim­ply a par­tic­u­lar species of highly-or­ga­nized an­i­mal, but nev­er­the­less an an­i­mal. What can you say about class strug­gle,” Pol­ishchuk asked,” when even a cat and a dog can live to­gether peace­fully?” As fac­tory work­ers said at one pub­lic rally, with Pol­ishchuk, Lenin be­came a nonen­tity.”

Worse was yet to come. Pol­ishchuk called on the sovi­ets to take an ex­am­ple from the Ja­panese and not be prud­ish about the healthy and beau­ti­ful func­tions of the hu­man body. Not in­vent ugly, taboo top­ics. He started with him­self and the Avant­gardists by talking about their own lives. The spici­est de­tails came with Yer­milov: “Given the lack of com­fort in di­vans made by the Cen­tral Work­ers’ Co­op­er­a­tive for cou­pling, Va­syl Yer­milov is now mak­ing in­ex­pen­sive, con­ve­nient and beau­ti­ful bench-bed to en­gage in these life-giv­ing hu­man func­tions. To as­sist our artist in his work, his wife is there to of­fer ad­vice. And so we an­nounce a new slo­gan: For clean­li­ness and open­ness, for healthy bod­ily func­tions, even in pub­lic. Long live the pub­lic, juicy kiss on a naked fe­male breast.”

The cam­paign to ha­rass Pol­ishchuk was or­ga­nized quite quickly. In fact, he had been a pain in the neck from the very start, with his ac­cu­sa­tions of con­ser­vatism and out­dat­ed­ness. As one com­men­ta­tor ma­li­ciously put it, “it seems that the only thing that’s been or­ga­nized is a jazz band, the fox­trot, and the Avant-garde Bul­letin.” Now the gov­ern­ment pa­per, Cen­tral Com­mit­tee News, pub­lished a let­ter from lit­er­ary or­ga­ni­za­tions that de­cried Avant-garde #3 for “hooli­gan­ism.” The sup­ple­ment to Lit­er­a­ture and Arts be­gan to pub­lish the re­nun­ci­a­tions of mem­bers of Avant-garde in is­sue af­ter is­sue. Some sim­ply ten­dered their res­ig­na­tions from the or­ga­ni­za­tion; others claimed they had never even been mem­bers.

The “erotic po­et­ess,” Troy­anker, vowed to “crys­tal­lize a clearly pro­le­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy and to work on her­self with great de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­stroy all un­de­sir­able traits” that be­ing in Avant­garde had brought out in her. Others who left in­cluded Ser­hiy Tasin, Lev Kvitko, Bo­rysov and Mei­tus, Da­shevskiy and Bo­huslavskiy, Ne­molovskiy, and Kryha. Only Leonid Ch­er­nov, Mykhailo Pankiv and Va­syl Yer­milov re­fused to re­nounce their friend and leader.

Two weeks be­fore the New Year, Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk wrote a let­ter to the ed­i­tor that was pub­lished in the Com­mu­nist Gazette in which he ad­mit­ted his mis­takes and deca­dence and took all the guilt for Avant-garde on him­self. How­ever, he in­sisted that in­di­vid­ual mis­takes should not be mixed up with the en­tire con­struc­tivist school, which should con­tinue to de­velop in Ukraine. If he could have, Pol­ishchuk would prob­a­bly have said: “The Avant-garde is dead, long live the Avant-garde!”

Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk in Kharkiv, late 1920s

Avant-garde #3 (1929), cover by Va­syl Yer­milov

Ray­isa Troy­anker, late 1920s

Mykhailo Pankiv, early 1930s

Va­syl Yer­milov in Kharkiv, 1928–1929

Va­le­rian Pol­ishchuk, Red Stream (1926), cover by Va­syl Yer­milov

Avant-garde mem­bers lis­ten to the ra­dio: Left to right: Fil­liped, Yer­milov, Pa­toka, Pankiv, Troy­anker, Pol­ishchuk, Ch­er­nov, and Ber­man, Kharkiv, 1929

Ivan Dorozh­niy and Mykhailo TuhanBara­novskiy Jr, Molodyk, (1927), cover by Va­syl Yer­milov

Mykhailo Pankiv, Judge Rei­tan (1931), cover by Va­syl Yer­milov

Leonid Ch­er­novMaloshiy­chenko,

Sun un­der the Oars (1929), cover by Adolf Strakhov

Leonid Ch­er­nov, 1927

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