In August 1988, the Soviet most popular magazine "Ogonyok" published an article about my art.
One of the published works – the "Russian Sauna" or "Banya" caused quiet a scandal!
The other publications are followed and most recent was in ZIMA magazine, telling the story of this painting.
Below is a short biography of this piece.
In 1987 I was offered to take part in an auction organised by the Raisa Gorbachev’s Soviet Art and Culture Fund. It was the first public art auction in the history of USSR. It was especially for this auction that I painted “Banya” on canvas measuring 40cm X 50cm. It was accepted along with other four of my works.
A week before the sale there was a private view. When I arrived to the private view I saw that my “Banya” was not there. The Party Commission took it down. It was locked in a small room-safe where only certain visitors were secretly admitted. When I began to protest, and spoke of the situation to an American journalist and television reporter – the committee decided to prohibit me from being present at an auction. I responded with a letter of protest, which I have with me to this day. In the end – I was allowed to be present at the auction, but my “Banya” was removed from sale.
The auction was a huge success and it was remarked in a television broadcast that my remaining four pieces reached record breaking prices. Some people at the action expressed desire to purchase “Banya” without even looking at it... but they were not allowed to do so. It was rumoured that Gorbachev himself bought some of my works. This rumour tricked out from the French Embassy which led me to be invited to some of the most important events there, including the meeting between the dissidents and the former French prime minister Jacques Shirac. I also attended regular dinners for writers, artists and actors held in the cultural attaché residence.
The story developed further after Ogonyok published my ‘Banya’ and an article about me. It’s office was swamped by letters, 99.9% of which were indignant. Ogonyok ‘s editor in chief – Korotich was almost fired and many a threat was directed in my address. There were several ‘group’ letters to the government ministry of social security. However I still have in my possession several original letters of an altogether different hue... some of them very funny. One such letter – a simple soldier’s ‘triangle letter’ finished with an immense pathos and words ‘Sima – we need you’.
Meanwhile another magazine – Decorative Art, published an article in defence of Korotich, Ogonyok and myself. This piece included my answer to the critics of Banya: a painting “Alternative Banya”.
After all this publicity, there were many offers from various collectors to purchase “Banya”, but we were planning to go to England and my first exhibition in London at the Red Square Gallery was about to take place... so I kept “Banya”, and it still lives with me.