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Neizvestny was born 9 April 1925 in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg). In 1942, at the age of 17, he joined the Red Army as a volunteer. At the close of World War II, he was heavily wounded and sustained a clinical death. Although he was awarded the Order of the Red Star "posthumously" and his mother received an official notification that her son had died, Neizvestny managed to survive.
In 1947, Neizvestny was enrolled at the Art Academy of Latvia in Riga. He continued his education at the Surikov Moscow Art Institute and the Philosophy Department of the Moscow State University. His sculptures, often based on the forms of the human body, are noted for their expressionism and powerful plasticity. Although his preferred material is bronze, his larger, monumental installations are often executed in concrete. Most of his works are arranged in extensive cycles, the best known of which is The Tree of Life, a theme he has developed since 1956.
Although Nikita Khrushchev famously derided Neizvestny's works as "degenerate" art at the Moscow Manege exhibition of 1962 ("Why do you disfigure the faces of Soviet people?"), the sculptor was later approached by Khruschev's family to design a tomb for the former Soviet leader at the Novodevichy Cemetery. Other well-known works he created during the Soviet period are Prometheus in Artek (1966).
During the 1980s, Neizvestny was a visiting lecturer at the University of Oregon and at UC Berkeley. He also worked with Magna Gallery in San Francisco, and had a number of shows which were well-attended in the mid 1980s. This gallery also asked him to create his "Man through the Wall" series to celebrate the end of Communism at the end of the 1980s. He subsequently ended his relationship with the gallery.
In 1996, Neizvestny completed his Mask of Sorrow, a 15-meter tall monument to the victims of Soviet purges, situated in Magadan. The same year, he was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation. Although he still lives in New York City and works at Columbia University, Neizvestny frequently visits Moscow and celebrated his 80th birthday there. A museum dedicated to his sculptures was established in Uttersberg, Sweden. Some of his crucifixion statues were acquired by John Paul II for the Vatican Museums. In 2004 Neizvestny became an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.
- Voronov N.V. Ernst Neizvestny. Moscow, 1991.
- Studio of Ernst Neizvestny web site
- Kolodzei Art Foundation and the Kolodzei Collection of Russian and Eastern European Art
- Sculptor Ernst Neizvestny