09.04.1926, Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg)
Sculptor, graphic artist

Neizvestny was the son of the doctor Iosif Neizvestny and the biochemist and writer Bella Dizhur. In 1939–42 he studied at the school of the USSR Academy of Art, at first in Leningrad and then in Samarkand to where it was evacuated. He changed his date of birth to 1925 in 1942 so that he could volunteer for front-line service. He was seriously wounded in Austria in 1945 and awarded the Order of the Red Star. He studied at the Academy of Art in Riga in 1946–47, and in 1947–54 studied simultaneously at the V.I. Surikov Art Institute and the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University. He took part in exhibitions from 1954. He began work on his main project, The Tree of Life, in 1956. He was a prize-winner at an exhibition organised during the World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow in 1957. In 1959 he was the winner of the national competition to design a memorial to the victory over Nazi Germany (this was never realised). In the 1962 exhibition to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Moscow section of the Artists’ Union at the Manège he showed works that enraged the country’s leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Despite his notorious argument with the head of state, his works continued to be shown at exhibitions in the USSR and abroad: in London, Paris, New York, Rome, Florence and Tel Aviv. In 1966 he produced the 150-metre decorative relief Prometheus for the Artek Young Pioneers’ camp in the Crimea. His gigantic design Lotus Blossom won the competition for a monument at the Aswan Dam in Egypt in 1968. The English critic John Berger published Art and Revolution; Ernst Neizvestny and the Role of the Artist in the USSR, the first study of the sculptor’s work, in 1969. In 1974, Neizvestny made the gravestone for Khrushchev’s tomb in the Novodyevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His last large work before he emigrated was the design for the facade of the building of the Central Committee of the Turkmenistan Communist Party in Ashkhabad (1975). He left the Soviet Union in 1976 and lived in Zurich (Switzerland) before moving to New York in 1977. He took part in exhibitions in America, Europe and Japan, and gave lectures on art and science in American universities from 1983. At the end of the 1980s, he began to be exhibited again in the USSR and in 1990 he created the monument Mask of Sorrow in Magadan in memory of the victims of Stalin’s repressions. He is author of the books On Synthesis in Art (1982), Neizvestny Speaks (1984) and Centaur: Ernst Neizvestny on Art, Literature and Philosophy (1992). He has produced illustrations to works by Dante, Dostoyevsky and Samuel Beckett. His Tree of Life Museum opened in Uttersberg (Sweden) in 1987, and the Ernst Neizvestny Art Museum in Yekaterinburg in 2013. F.B.