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Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan Collections

Identifier: MSE/REE 0006

Scope and Contents

The Bakhchanyan collections consist of four parts.

The first part includes 401 drawings of Joseph Stalin. This unique collection was conceived by Vagrich Bakhchanyan in 1979 in conjunction with the one-hundredth anniversary of Stalin's birth. During ensuing years, Bakhchanyan gathered several hundred original portrait drawings of the Soviet dictator by leading Russian and émigré artists, writers, and cultural figures, including the Nobel laureate poet Joseph Brodsky, the sculptor Ernst Neizvestnyi, painters Ilya Kabakov, Mikhail Shemiakin, and Mikhail Grobman, writers Sergei Dovlatov, Eduard Limonov, Alexander Genis, and Petr Vail, and numerous other personalities. Most drawings were created on the spot, on small pieces of paper, even napkins, in ink or pencil, during various parties and gatherings. This series is organized alphabetically by the artist's last name.

The second part of the Bakhchanyan collections consists of the personal papers of Eduard Limonov. Limonov, a long-time friend of Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan, is a well-known Russian and émigré writer and poet. More recently, he has been a leading political opposition figure in the Russian Federation. Limonov's papers reflect the early years of his life in the United States (1974-1980), when, as a struggling émigré, he wrote his first and most famous novel, It's Me, Eddie: A Fictional Memoir (Russian edition 1977, French translation 1980; English edition 1983). This series consists of 362 items. Literary and poetry manuscripts arranged by title comprise the greater part of the papers. Limonov composed most of these materials while living in New York City; however, this series also includes notebooks that he kept while still living in the Soviet Union. Beyond these manuscripts, the papers also feature correspondence with other artists and institutions (organized by correspondent), along with several unpublished photographs and works of art.

The third part of the Bakhchanyan collections consists of items related to the International Mail Art Movement that Bakhchanyan was significantly involved in during the 1980s. Mail Art was an alternative movement that renounced the standards and tastes of mainstream art by seeking new and more direct channels of distribution among artists that could be more international in scope, more varied in aesthetics, and more egalitarian in exhibition and publication practices. The series spans from 1979 to 2006 and consists of over 500 items, separated into four subseries. Original mail art items received by Bakhchanyan from other artists are arranged by sender's surname and by date (folders 540-902). Mail art periodicals are arranged by title and issue (folders 903-929). Exhibition materials such as calls for submissions, posters and catalogs, as well as museum correspondence, are arranged by exhibition title or institution name where appropriate (folders 930-1009). Correspondence from Vladimir Kotliarov (aka "Tolsty"), a Russian painter, mail art and performance artist living in Paris, is arranged by date (folders 1010-1057). Together Bakhchanyan and Tolsty edited Muleta, the journal of contemporary Russian arts and letters.

The fourth part of the Bakhchanyan collections consists of the papers of Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan. This series includes correspondence, as well as materials from Bakhchanyan's library, visual ephemera, and photographs.


  • Creation: 1960-2009


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Vagrich Akopovich Bakhchanyan was born in 1938 to an ethnic Armenian family in Kharkov in the Ukraine. Bakhchanyan studied art in the studio of Vasilii Ermilov, a friend of Vladimir Tatlin and Velimir Khlebnikov, where he became interested in the Russian avant-garde movement. He attended classes at the Kharkov Studio of Decorative and Applied Arts and together with Eduard Limonov became a leading member of non-official Kharkov artistic and literary circles. In the mid-1960s Bakhchanyan moved to Moscow where he continued to participate in the alternative art movement with such nonconformist artists as Ilya Kabakov and Ullo Sooster. His innovative collages and graphic works regularly appeared in the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta where he worked for a number of years before emigrating to the United States in 1974. After settling in New York, Bakhchanyan joined the vibrant artistic life of the city and collaborated with a wide-range of American and Russian émigré artists and writers on many projects pertaining to mail-art, performance art, graphic design, and conceptual art. He participated in many one-man and group shows, authored a dozen books, and invented new techniques and trends in art and literature. Bakhchanyan died in New York in 2009.


17 Cubic Feet (17 containers)

Language of Materials




The materials include collections assembled by Vagrich Bakhchanyan (1938-2009), a prominent Soviet and, after emigration, American artist, writer, and poet, and his wife Irene: The Stalin Test (drawings of Joseph Stalin by leading Russian and émigré artists, writers, and cultural figures), the Eduard Limonov Papers, the Mail Art Collection, and the Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan papers, which consist of correspondence, materials from Bakhchanyan's library, photographs, and visual ephemera.


The collections are arranged in four series: 1. The Stalin Test (folders 1-403); 2. The Eduard Limonov Papers (folders 404-539); 3. The Mail Art Collection (902-1057); 4. The Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan Papers (folders 1058-1206).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan Collections were acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2013-2015.

Vagrich and Irene Bakhchanyan Collections
Nathan Gerth, Christopher Holdaway, and Natasha Lyandres
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556