44

– Autumn/Winter 2017

Early Contemporary Art in Post-Soviet Mongolia: Where is the Green Horse Galloping Now?

Tsendpurev Tsegmid

Tsevegjav Ochir, Ekhiin tsagaan setgel (Mother’s White Mind), 1968, oil on canvas, 78 × 57cm. Courtesy the Mongolian National Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar

1998 was my first year as an art student. I was only eighteen years old. Art in Mongolia was taught as something you learn how to make. There were rules to follow: art was meant to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. At the time, I was studying Mongol zurag, a strict form of miniature painting derived from Buddhist thangka art, and the idea of producing artworks beyond the borders of my stretched cotton was unimaginable for me.1 This changed when Dalkh-Ochir,2 one of the founding members of the Green Horse Society, started to visit our art school to meet with students. My teacher warned us about him and told us not to meet with him or listen to his words. Allegedly, his words could confuse young art students about what art was, and rumour had it that we were in danger of being ‘brainwashed and losing our way’. There was this implicit fear of the unknown amongst some of our teachers, which inevitably led to an intense fascination in students like me. I became curious about the development of contemporary art and became interested in learning what the Green Horse Society’s founders had to say about it. Since then, the enigma surrounding this group hasn’t faded and my naïve interest has gradually turned into one of my academic research enquiries.

In what follows I will explore one of the most pioneering and important modern art societies of post-Soviet Mongolia, Nogoon Mori (Green Horse Society, GHS),3 which has been described as an ‘art revolution’,4 ‘the most prominent avant-garde artistic group in Mongolia’5 and ‘a new page of Mongolian visual art’.6 At the beginning, the group was directly influenced by perestroika and the subsequent Mongolian Democratic Revolution that took place in 1990. The emergence of the Green Horse Society marked the end of seventy years of artistic and intellectual suppression in Mongolia. In 1990, fuelled by a rebellious desire to defy the socialist system and frustrated by the artistic limitations they were put under, four artists and an artist-curator founded the GHS. The five founding members – Gansukh Batbayar (b.1957), Erdenebileg Galsandorj (b.1957), Mashbat Sambuu (b.1956), Enkhbold Tseren (1960–2004)7 and Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai (b.1958) – were an eclectic group of individuals who received their varied visual arts and art theory training and education in Mongolia, the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria during the final decade of the Soviet Union. The society expanded quickly by establishing an experimental art school, Green Horse Modern Art College (GHMAC, 1992–2000); in producing annual exhibitions under the title  Bц (‘The Action’, 1990–99)8; and through the staging of nine group exhibitions in Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and the US. Much of the history of the GHS has since been forgotten, and its legacy is largely unacknowledged by mainstream art institutions in Mongolia.

Tsevegjav Ochir, Guun zelen deer (At the Mare’s Milking Point), 1952, oil on canvas, 100 × 170cm. Courtesy the Mongolian National Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar

Did Mongolia have modernism before 1990? It would be misleading to say that modernism was completely absent from the Mongolian art scene, especially when talking about the path towards abstraction.

Despite the continuous rejection and lack of acceptance, the remaining four founding members continue to influence generations of young artists. Twenty-seven years after the anniversary of its founding, analysing the impact of the group seems crucial to understanding the development of contemporary art in Mongolia.

My main aim here is to offer research into the GHS that could interest local and international academic communities and institutions, but such an enquiry is in no way intended to be conclusive or the only view on the topic. Throughout my investigation of the society, I’ve encountered a variety of challenges, including the inevitable passing of time (in this case, twenty-seven years since the society’s establishment), the lack of informal and published documentation, and the differing – at times contradictory – recollections and views of the founders. The core reference source for this introductory investigation is the society’s only surviving publication, Nogoon Mori: Setgekhui ruu Khiisen Alkham /Green Horse: A Step into the Thinking (2002), a comprehensive overview of the members’ philosophies, concepts and creative activities.9 It has been made available online by Vanjil Arts Centre (VAC),10 Ulaanbaatar.

Tsatsralt Sereeter, Mongolian Democratic Revolution Protests: 14 Jan 1990, 1990, black-and-white photograph, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist


From Socialist Realism to Uncertainty
There are countless rumours of what GHS was and wasn’t; what it represented, what it didn’t represent. I will explore GHS as an outsider by approaching the subject within the context of Mongolian art history. Similar to many post-Soviet countries, Mongolia’s art history hasn’t followed the familiar Western European trajectory. In short, Mongolia missed the birth of Cubism, Dada, Pop art, Conceptual art and everything in between.

Referring to art produced under communism, Ernst Gombrich claimed that

there are large parts of the world where artists are forbidden to explore alternatives. The theories of Marxism as they were interpreted in the former Soviet Union regarded all the experimentation of twentieth-century art as a mere symptom of the decay of capitalist society. The symptom of a healthy communist society was an art that celebrated the joys of productive work by painting cheerful tractor drivers or sturdy miners.11

Essentially, in Mongolia the one-party government ruled all spheres of political and cultural life under the heavy influence of Moscow. Artists were seen as artisans and instructed to create art that would serve as communist propaganda, that contextualised and visualised idealised Soviet life in order to send messages of successes to the public. As Tate’s website remarks about the particularities of Socialist Realism, ‘any pessimistic or critical element was banned, and this is the crucial difference from social realism’.12 The themes of Socialist Realism reflected the Soviets’ regular so-called ‘five-year plans’, which were the basis for economic planning in Mongolia (setting unrealistic targets).13 Depictions included the ruling party’s annual and quarterly gatherings, international and local communist anniversaries, and scenes from urban and rural life, such as people portrayed enjoying themselves when working.

Gansukh Batbayar in his studio, Ulaanbaatar, 2013. Photograph: Tsendpurev Tsegmid

Did Mongolia have modernism before 1990? It would be misleading to say that modernism was completely absent from the Mongolian art scene, especially when talking about the path towards abstraction. We had a few artists that ventured into the world of non-figurative and non-propagandistic expression during the 1960s and 70s. Tsevegjav Ochir (1915–75) was one of the most decorated, honoured and adored artists in Mongolia in his lifetime. For a long time, his paintings portrayed Soviet life in a positive light through depictions of the everyday lives of ordinary people reaping the benefits of the system.14 One of Tsevegjav’s renowned paintings, titled Guun zelen deer (At the Mare’s Milking Point, 1952), depicts a joyful summer scene: a man holds a foal while a woman milks the mare. Both protagonists display a happy disposition as they smile at each other. In the background, a picturesque setting gives a glimpse of the ‘blessed state’ of communism.15 However, in 1968 Tsevegjav departed from his reputation as a pioneer of Socialist Realism in Mongolia in creating Ekhiin tsagaan setgel (Mother’s White Mind, 1968), which did not include any figurative elements or ‘happy working women’. Considering that the painting was made during the time when abstract or non-figurative work was not encouraged, and any indirect contextual meaning invited suspicion from state officials, Mother’s White Mind has an unusual composition. It depicts a white pillar standing tall against land and sky. It is a human-made pillar judging from its straight shape. The name of the painting refers to the strong Mongolian tradition of praising mothers and their endless love toward their children. However, there is another interpretation: the title might have been a way to avoid censorship, and the fact that the painting still exists could mean Tsevegjav was successful in this.

Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai, Motherland, 1991, oil on canvas, 200 × 120cm. Courtesy the artist

He submitted the painting for an exhibition in 1968 titled ‘Chuluut setgelgeenii uran buteeliin uzesgelen’ (‘The Exhibition of Free Imagination’), which was the first attempt in the socialist period to display modern artworks by emerging artists. Tsultem Nyam-Osor (1923–2001), a state-honoured artist and head of the Union of Mongolian Artists at the time, initiated these attempts.16 Unsurprisingly, the exhibition faced fierce criticism, and the censorship committee condemned Tsevegjav and other artists for exhibiting works that were not in line with the socialist agenda. Their works were referred to as ‘capitalist art’.17 Consequently, no sustained artistic activities modern in nature and in context, by artist groups or collectives, are known to have been publicly on view until the late 1980s. Most ‘modern’ works were hidden away.

In Mongolia, there are four dominant state art institutions, all in Ulaanbaatar: the School of Art and Design, the oldest art school (established 1945, formerly the Institute of Fine Arts), part of the Mongolian State University of Arts and Culture; the Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA, established 1942), a state-affiliated organisation and now a not-for-profit professional union with over 600 artists registered; the Mongolian National Art Gallery (MNAG, established 1991), the largest state art gallery, with over 1300 square metres of custom-built exhibition space and a collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century works by Mongolian artists; and the School of Arts and Sports, part of the Mongolian State University of Education (established 1955, formerly known as the Faculty of Visual Arts). During the communist period, the UMA was the authority of all practicing artists and was able to pay a salary in return for state-commissioned large-scale portraits of Soviet leaders and other propaganda. Artists were thus, in a sense, the UMA’s employees.

During the late 1970s and 80s, a second generation of artists started to complete their art studies abroad, in the USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Germany, and these countries’ influence on the Mongolian art scene became evident in a major way. These artists were summoned back to Mongolia immediately after their studies, to the UMA’s orders. The UMA sent new graduates one by one to branches across the provinces to work on commissions. This system of sending artists to distant regions resulted in the meeting of three bright minds: Gansukh, Dalkh-Ochir and Erdenebileg.

What Brewed the Green Horse Society?

Gansukh emphasises the explicit link between the formation of the GHS and the changes perestroika brought to Soviet Mongolia during the late 1980s. In his impassioned words: ‘1986–1988. We were in movement from pillar-to-pillar views of fine art, and its characteristics were under criticism. … We reconsidered our possibilities. The wish to reform art and art thinking united us. Views to change all, good, and bad, were predominant.’18 Even the choice of the society’s name was not accidental. It directly referenced the horse of Maidar Buddha (a future Buddha); it was believed that ‘by worshipping him now, people can somehow participate in this future blessed state, devoutly willing that their souls be reborn at the time of Maidar and that enlightenment is possible’.19 If we imagine that enlightenment is indeed possible through art, GHS might have been the answer.

Erdenebileg Galsandorj, To Exist, To Be Receptive, 2017. Installation view of his solo exhibition, Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA) Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar. Photograph: Tsendpurev Tsegmid

In 1990, the year of the Mongolian Democratic Revolution, a sea of changes took place rather unexpectedly and hastily. The communist government, or the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), handed power over to the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) after months of demonstrations and hunger strikes. As a result, financial reliance on the USSR was abruptly suspended, and the once-stable economy started to disintegrate at an alarming speed.20 By 1992, the government introduced a khunsnii talon (food stamp system) to deal with the food shortage caused by the closing of the northern border. As the broader population started to feel the impact of this change on every aspect of their daily lives, a transformation of the Mongolian identity began to emerge. William R. Heaton wrote about the year 1990:

A rapid resurgency of traditional culture accompanied the opening up of Mongolia’s political process as it sought to reduce the influence of Soviet-style communism and the use of traditional symbols to foster national consciousness. Genghis Khan received new attention as a historical figure, and his 828th birthday anniversary was celebrated on May 28.21

What had been developing prior to the 1990s gained momentum when the MDR hit. The voices of intellectuals, artists, students, poets and all those marginalised souls came alive. About this period, Erdenebileg says:

If we look back at the early 1990s, it was a time of chaos and turbulence. Before that it was frozen, polished and one model for everything. After 1990, the outcry of the public who had experienced prolonged suffering under the dictatorship became unequivocal. We were not famous artists then. What united us was a concept of understanding, acceptance and analysis of the alternatives – different versions of art. And we wanted to create those alternatives and show people. If you want to see things differently, you must reject what the society feeds you. This feeling of rejection and refusal could be channelled, by some people, by protesting in the main square. But we wanted to create. So from that point on, people got the idea that to be different is to be like a green horse.22

Paintings by Gansukh Batbayar. Installation view, ‘Mongolian Modern Art: Green Horse Society’, Galerie Goethe 53, Munich, 1991. Courtesy the artist

Gansukh and Dalkh-Ochir were among those hopeful students whose voices became alive; their mutual appreciation of socialist art and their views on the strict conditions of societal suppressions started their journey towards founding the GHS. Noting the main differences between Soviet imported art, or Socialist Realism, and the natural evolution of early contemporary art in Mongolia, Gansukh describes how they felt the need to create the GHS in order to ‘protect’ what they ‘discovered’ about alternative forms of art without external influences. He emphasises that without the GHS, their artworks wouldn’t have seen the light of day, and that in order to preserve ‘their world’ they had to unite.23 Gansukh and Dalkh-Ochir were studying at the same university, Mongolian National Pedagogical University’s Faculty of Visuals Arts, from which graduates tended to go on to work as art teachers at secondary schools. In 1988, after their graduation and following their desire to collaborate on shared ideas, Gansukh and Dalkh-Ochir wanted to be sent to faraway Khovd province, a region with a ‘very severe climate and where many ethnic groups live. We were called by the distinguished spirit of Khovd, in which the word Mongol could be said loudly, and where a perception of a new theoretical basis for reform had been outlined.’24 Their request was declined after UMA staff members questioned both their choice of destination and their intention to travel together. Instead, Dalkh-Ochir was sent to Tuv and Gansukh to Sukhbaatar. This forced separation led to more intense individual interactions with their respective new locations. According to Gansukh, he had a life-changing experience upon landing in Sukhbaatar:

The new locality was a discovery. I was deeply affected by the power and the wonderful presence of the steppes, which seemed without end. In this way, the world of my imagination of Dariganga [in Sukhbaatar] came true in my works. Distinguished expression, forms and portrayal of this space of national symbolism, which was forgotten in Mongolian visual arts, granted me a new possibility of methods and thinking.25

Top row, left: Opening of a group exhibition in which the Green Horse Society (GHS) participated in 1993 in Brake, Germany. Courtesy Gansukh Batbayar; Right: GHS founders and peers at the opening of Gantumur Bazargur’s posthumous exhibition in 1993 at the Mongolian National Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar. From left to right: unknown, Mashbat Sambuu, Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai, Enkhbold Tseren, Gansukh Batbayar, Erdenebileg Galsandorj and his wife. Courtesy Gansukh Batbayar; Middle row, Left: Students at the Green Horse Modern Art College, 1995, Ulaanbaatar. Courtesy Erdenebileg Galsandorj; Right:GHS founders at the ‘Anti’ exhibition opening in 1998, at the Mongolian National Art Gallery, Ulaanbaatar. From left to right: Enkhbold Tseren, Gansukh Batbayar, Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai and Erdenebileg Galsandorj. Courtesy Gansukh Batbayar; Bottom row, left: GHS founders at the ‘Action 5’ exhibition opening in 1994, at the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, Ulaanbaatar. From left to right: Erdenebileg Galsandorj, Dalkh-Ochir Yondonjunai and Dashbaldan Dorj. Courtesy Erdenebileg Galsandorj

Dalkh-Ochir’s new location was transformative, too, and pivotal to the formulation of his philosophy on art and life. His artworks have been described by the renowned intellectual and punk poet Galsansukh Baatar as follows:

They beat as the main ‘pulse’ in the formation of Green Horse in a womb of art. Now his works, a harmony of colours, development of thinking and the beat of thoughts, are the powerful breath of Green Horse. We can observe in his paintings a slight trace of sculpture in which he engaged in from a young age. Completely new and unique approaches and methods of work, philosophy and nature of an individual can be seen in his works. A steady look at Dalkh-Ochir’s works reveals that a slight sadness and deep suffering, good vision, hidden joys like the moment just before sunrise and colours which make the heart beat faster.26

Gansukh met Erdenebileg, who was sharing a flat with Dalkh-Ochir, when he visited Tuv province. He remembers that he was in awe when he encountered Erdenebileg’s artworks:

Lines that are at first glance in absolute disorder seemed to me that they were striving for one thing, thinking, feeling, suffering, surviving and establishing an individual environment. It was an unknown world to me and was a view completely different from my own. However, I liked his works. Alive lines, colour, forms, unique harmony and ungoverned position, sense formed from the portrayal, the language of portrayal, all these expressed progress.27

The fourth member of GHS, Mashbat, joined in an interesting way.28 In 1989, Gansukh, Erdenebileg and Dalkh-Ochir submitted their artworks to be considered for UMA’s annual exhibition titled ‘Autumn’.29 Their artworks were rejected along with Mashbat’s, and when they got to meet him they invited him to join – Gansukh and his peers were impressed with his energetic work. The final piece of the jigsaw was Enkhbold, an accomplished artist-curator who had studied at the famous I. Repin St. Petersburg State Academy Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and who was fluent in Russian and English. From 1989–90, Enkhbold organised exhibitions at the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery as its head curator. Gansukh met him at an exhibition when he showed interested in Dalkh-Ochir’s paintings. They had a lively conversation, which was the start of their collaboration.30 Enkhbold supported the GHS’s first group exhibition at a time when no other gallery showed interest, which gave the society the opportunity they needed. The GHS had its first group show, ‘Action I’, at MNAG in June 1990, and their international debut on 11 November 1991 at Galerie Goethe 53 in Munich.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the society was their collaborative spirit. For instance, Gansukh notes that they would spend significant amounts of time talking about each other’s work, commenting, criticising and providing feedback, which is unusual for Mongolian artists to do even today.31

Green Horse Modern Art College and the Start of the Dissolution of the GHS

By 1992, the GHS was making a name for itself, and it had an ambition of passing on knowledge to the next generation. In the spring of 1992, the GHS founders decided to establish Green Horse Modern Art College (GHMAC) and admitted their first students. It would be logical to assume that making art and teaching others how to do so are two sides of the same coin, but it is altogether a little more complicated than that. This became clear when disagreements about the ways of teaching art began to emerge amongst the founders. Asked about his involvement in GHMAC, Gansukh recalls:

I didn’t participate much in the school. Humans are very conflicted beings. While working on the school curriculum, we started to have disagreements. I didn’t like it. I thought, if we are going to teach it this way, maybe we don’t teach it at all. So I didn’t teach at the school.32

Instead, he opted to run a carpentry workshop in order to fund the activities of the college and the operation of the GHS until 2001.33

As the GHS flourished, the four dominant art institutions in Ulaanbaatar grew to resent the society and their newly founded school. For instance, part of the GHS manifesto reads: ‘Art must a be a conceptualising process, which is independent of any specific theory or opinion.’34 This boundless stance on artistic output was the society’s major disagreement with monopolised and state-run art institutions.35 On top of the growing tensions with these institutions, there were internal disagreements. Despite its success, GHMAC had already divided into two schools after the first academic semester. Out of forty selected students, nine had opted to study sculpture with Erdenebileg and eight painting with Dalkh-Ochir at one location, which was the core of the school, while the second half of the students studied at a new art school, called Anima (established 1994), studying with Mashbat and his wife Bulgan Yadamsuren.

Tsatsralt Sereeter, Mongolian Democratic Revolution Protests: 10 Dec 1989, 1989, black-and-white photograph, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Erdenebileg has written about the disagreements amongst the GHS founders concerning whether students need to learn how to draw first and then to reflect, or if thinking about their ideas before drawing and visualising them is more important.36 By 1994, he had left the college to teach at the Mongolian State University of Science and Technology, where he continues to teach to this day.

The Legacy of the Green Horse Society: A Project for the Future

Artists in Mongolia today offer strikingly opposing viewpoints regarding the legacy of GHS. The conceptual artist Batbileg Chimedtseren, who studied at Dresden Academy of Art, comments:

I don’t think GHS was that revolutionary. It would be revolutionary if GHS was founded during Soviet times and was active. What was so groundbreaking about creating modern art in the post-Soviet period? After the fall of communism, people could do or say anything they wanted. So I think GHS’s legacy has been exaggerated.37

There are elder generations of artists who are eager to attribute very specific meanings to artworks; most significantly, they see art as something meant to be understood. At the time of his first solo exhibition at the UMA earlier this year, I was interviewing Erdenebileg when two older artists approached us. One of them started to talk about his impressions of the work, noting that it was ‘very interesting to look at, but I can’t understand it, I really can’t. I am feeling as if I was hit in the head. I am thinking, what is this?!’ Erdenebileg smiled and approved of his comment: ‘I like it, that sentence you said is good enough for me.’38 Scholarly acknowledgement of the legacy of the GHS has also been inconsistent. For instance, despite contributing an essay to the publication Green Horse: A Step into the Thinking, Mongolian art historian and curator Uranchimeg Tsultem opted not to mention GHS in her 2011 essay ‘Modernity and Tradition in Mongolian Contemporary Art’. She briefly mentions the fall of communism, but jumps ahead to the year 2000 without detailing the GHS’s developments.39 In a period of just nine years, for reasons unknown to me, the scholar went from praising the GHS to completely excluding them from Mongolian art history. Yet, it is in the hands of each author to create a narrative, to decide what to include and what to leave behind. As an author, I want to make a call for the inclusion of the GHS as crucial contributors to our art history.

Erdenebileg speaks of his own views regarding the legacy of the GHS as follows:

We were young, idealistic and we ‘acted’ with our pure instincts instead of overthinking like I do now. Maybe that was representative of the time then. Now, in this age of digital environments, these artworks make people stop and think. In some ways, this is similar to what GHS did for the public in the early 1990s. We offered alternatives; we used every possible material we could find to make art. In terms of audience, they seem to have matured compared to what was happening thirty years ago, when we were laughed at. Nobody is laughing now.40

As the new generation of Mongolian artists continues to evolve, their ability to process complex ideas about art has already surpassed the expectations of local institutions. The need for a long-term research project, which can analyse the legacy of the GHS and produce an objective art history of post-Soviet Mongolia, is a critical step towards understanding the body of art being produced now.

The Green Horse Society Epilogue

Erdenebileg currently teaches at the Mongolian State University of Science and Technology. He recently had his first ever solo exhibition, ‘To Exist, To Be Receptive’ (23–30 April 2017), at the UMA’s Art Gallery. As for Enkhbold, based on the very little information available about his involvement with the GHS, his artistic research continued to develop into the creation of a new artistic trend called ‘extra Mongol zurag’, a combination of Mongolian symbolism and calligraphy, until his death in 2004. Mashbat parted ways with GHS in 1992; Anima, his independent art school, celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2014. After a serious illness, Gansukh has returned to art-making and is preparing for his solo exhibition. Dalkh-Ochir has continued to make art and worked as the head of GHMAC until 2000. Shortly before that time, an accidental fire broke out on the college premises and students’ lives were tragically lost.41 Despite not being directly involved in the incident, Dalkh-Ochir, as the college’s director, was deemed responsible, prosecuted and sent to a penitentiary. After his release, he established the Blue Sun Contemporary Art Centre, Ulaanbaatar, in 2002, and continues to work in the visual arts field, mostly as a curator. Most recently, he curated the Mongolian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, in 2017.

Footnotes
  1. See my ‘Let’s go back to the beginning: From Mongol Zurag to photography’, in ‘Stranger’s Identity Explored through Contemporary Art Practice: In-Between Mongolia and the UK’, unpublished doctoral thesis, Leeds: Leeds Beckett University, 2013, available at https://archive.org/details/ TsendpurevTsegmidPhDThesis2Parts2013 (last accessed on 11 June 2017).

  2. Throughout this essay, I will refer to the founders by their first names. In Mongolia, while a person’s full name usually appears on official documents, it is common practice to use only a person’s first name in other documents. The surname alone is never used to refer to a person. The Western practice of passing down surnames does not exist in Mongolia, where, rather than a grandfather and grandson sharing their surname, the grandson takes his father’s first name as his surname.

  3. In Buddhist art a green horse is depicted ridden by Maidar, the Buddha of Future. This is just one amongst many portrayals of Maidar.

  4. Galsansukh Baatar, ‘Green Horse or Art Is To be Extinguished, Long Live Art’, in Green Horse Society (ed.), Nogoon Mori: Setgekhui ruu Khiisen Alkham / Green Horse: A Step into the Thinking (trans. Oyunbayar Namsrai and Deirdre Tynan), Ulaanbaatar: Khaan Printing, 2002, p.9.

  5. Andrew Solomon, ‘Nomad’s Land’, Artnews, March 1999, available at http://andrewsolomon.com/ articles/nomads-land/ (last accessed on 11 June 2017).

  6. Uranchimeg Tsultem, ‘Contemporary Art Youth of Green Horse’, in GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step into the Thinking, op. cit., p.11.

  7. Enkhbold Tseren is the only GHS founder who is no longer with us. There is no or very little published information on his career except in the GHS publication (ibid.), which includes his CV and texts he wrote.

  8. A better translation of the Mongolian word  Bц is ‘process’ rather than ‘action’.

  9. The publication was created by the founding members of the society with a grant from the Open Society Forum – Mongolia. Gansukh Batbayar worked as the main contributor and project manager; it was designed by Erdenebileg Galsandorj; Oyunbayar Namsrai and Deirdre Tynan translated it. I observed numerous inconsistencies in the English translations of the essays. However, I am quoting from those translations here as the inconsistencies are not misleading. The publication is available at https://archive.org/details/218810180MongolianModernArtGreenHorseSocietyCatalogue2002
    VANJILArtsCentre (last accessed on 11 June 2017).

  10. VAC is a small professional arts organisation established in 2013 that aims to contribute to the development of contemporary art practices, offering professional services and working with artists. See the centre’s website, available at http://www.vac-artscentre-mongolia.org/ (last accessed on 27 June 2017)

  11. Ernst H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, London: Phaidon, 2011, p.483. Though the book is widely seen as one of the must-reads of art history, it offers less than a page of information about socialist art. The history of socialist art is not confined to former members of the USSR. For example, Mongolia was not a formal part of Soviet Union, but it adopted socialism and the art and culture of the country was heavily influenced by this system.

  12. See http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/socialist-realism (last accessed on 12 June 2017).

  13. This planning tradition is still in operation in the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.

  14. Over thirty of Tsevegjav Ochir’s paintings are in the collection of the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery, the country’s biggest state-run gallery.

  15. The main aspect of Socialist Realism was overemphasis on the positive and the intentional suppression of the actual reality of the system – but this is not to say that the attractive landscape pictured did not exist then. A large part of the Mongolian countryside remains unspoilt, renowned for its rugged beauty and diverse landscapes. Two-thirds of the population still lives in rural areas and their main income comes from livestock management.

  16. Gerelmaa Baasanjav, ‘Capitalist Art: The Repressed Thinking’, To   M/The Brief, vol.6–7, no.261–62, February 2015, pp.66–71.

  17. Ibid., p.66.

  18. GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step Into the Thinking, op. cit., p.4.

  19. Caroline Humphrey, A Monastery in Time: The Making of Mongolian Buddhism, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, p.17.

  20. See Uradyn E. Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, p.52.

  21. William R. Heaton, ‘Mongolia in 1990: Upheaval, Reform, But No Revolution’, A Survey of Asia, vol.31, no.1, Jan 1991, pp.50–56.

  22. Conversation with the artist, 24 November 2013. All translations mine unless otherwise noted.

  23. Conversation with the artist, 20 December 2013.

  24. Gansukh Batbayar, ‘We Formed from I’, in GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step Into the Thinking, op. cit., p.4.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Ibid., p.9.

  27. GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step Into the Thinking, op. cit., p.4.

  28. Mashbat Sambuu declined my request for an interview.

  29. The UMA organises numerous annual group exhibitions, including ‘Spring’, ‘Autumn’ and ‘The Best Artwork of the Year’.

  30. GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step Into the Thinking, op. cit., p.5.

  31. Conversation with the artist, 20 December 2013.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Conversation with the artist, 23 November 2013.

  34. GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step Into the Thinking, op. cit., p.3. The original translation was: ‘Art must be freethinking, which does not be governed by any theory and view.’ To fully interpret the meaning of the sentence, I used my own translated version.

  35. This attitude was described to me by various sources (informally). I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss it with former officials at the four institutions.

  36. Ibid., p.12.

  37. Conversation with the artist, 29 April 2017.

  38. Conversation with the artist, 4 May 2017.

  39. Uranchimeg Tsultem is one of only a few English-speaking Mongolian art historians and curators. More information on her research is available at http://arthistory.berkeley.edu/mobile/people/ person/2038826-uranchimeg-orna-tsultem (last accessed on 15 June 2017). See her ‘Contemporary Art Youth of Green Horse’, in GHS (ed.), Green Horse: A Step into the Thinking, op. cit., pp.10–11; and ‘Modernity and Tradition in Mongolian Contemporary Art’, in Saara Hacklin and Annu Wilenius (ed.), Bare House: Pori – Rotterdam –Ulaanbaatar = Nücgėn Bajšin, Pori, Finland: Pori Art Museum, 2011, pp.142–55.

  40. Conversation with the artist, 26 April 2017.

  41. This is a taboo subject among the remaining GHS founders. Despite several attempts to clarify exactly what happened, I have not been able to identify the year or the number of students who died.