NEIZVESTNY, ERNST (1926– ), Russian sculptor and draughtsman. Neizvestny was one of the few living Russian artists whose work became known and admired in the West. This was largely the result of the admiration and advocacy of the English art critic John Berger, in whose opinion "Neizvestny is principally the first visual artist of genius to have emerged in the Soviet Union since the twenties." He came into prominence during the regime of Nikita Khrushchev. On a famous occasion Neizvestny argued with the Russian leader at the opening of an exhibition of advanced art he had organized in Moscow. Neizvestny's art is best when dealing with the human figure. He cast his bronzes personally in a small furnace, since access to a state foundry was denied him. Both his drawings and sculptures have a heroic quality, even willfully abstract. After Khruschev's deposition, a close friendship developed between the two and the headstone over Khrushchev's tomb in the Novodevichi cemetery in Moscow was carved by Neizvestny, in accordance with a wish expressed by Khrushchev before his death.
Neizvestny later immigrated to the United States after leaving the Soviet Union for Switzerland in 1976. He held exhibitions in many countries including Scandinavia, Italy, and Switzerland. His essays on art, literature, and philosophy, collected in Space, Time and Synthesis in Art, appeared in English in 1990. After the breakup of the Soviet Union he was commissioned to erect three Gulag memorials.
E. England, Ernest Neizvestny, Life and Work (1984); A. Leong, The Life and Art of Ernst Neizvestny (2002).
[Charles Samuel Spencer]