Americano-Soviet pop art


Zerkalo No.21. Chitat s pomoshchiu zerkala

[Mirror #21. Read with a Mirror]

Publication: Niu Iork, 1975.

BAKHCHANIAN, Vagrich (also BAKHCHANYAN), Zerkalo No.21. Chitat s pomoshchiu zerkala

A booklet of contemporary art by a Ukraine-born Armenian artist, then just recently emigrated to the US. Extremely rare: only copy traced.

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Our Notes & References

A conceptualist self-made art book by “one of the pillars of Soviet nonconformism” (Kazak, our translation here and below) – inscribed by Bakhchanian to a Russian poetess, translator, journalist and radio presenter in Los Angeles and New York.

Extremely rare: we could not locate any other copies worldwide. OCLC only lists his works from 1981 onward.

Most likely his first ‘book’ printed in America, Bakhchanian’s self-printed artwork features lithographs in frottage technique with inverted captions intended to be read with a mirror. The only other example from this intriguing series we could locate is “Zerkalo #12” — created in Moscow in 1973 and described as the sole existing copy — with a manuscript title and captions in pen and ink, and lithographs rendered in a similar style. Our “Zerkalo #21” is most likely a symbolic continuation of “Zerkalo #12” and possibly the only other work from this series; it is also possible that it was produced in a very limited number of copies, if not just one.

Bakhchanian united here Soviet cliché formulas, including newspaper titles, verses and routine expressions from daily life, with images from commercial and popular ‘Western’ cultures. The book opens with the famously provocative erotic scene from “Promises! Promises!” (1961), captioned in Russian “Trust and solidarity”, followed by a photograph of president Nixon shaking hands with Leonid Brezhnev, with the caption “Six roubles for a dozen”; it also includes several other movie shots, such as a bed scene from “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971, captioned “Meeting after eighteen years”), a razor add: “For the first time in engineering practice. Electricity cuts steel”, a photograph and a modified verse of the Abkhazian Soviet poet Ivan Tarba, a portrait of Napoleon (“Doctor’s counselling”) and a “crossword” showing a chess game.

Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to an Armenian family, Vagrich Bakhchanian (1938-2009) studied in Kharkiv Studio of Decorative Arts in the workshop of the famous avant-garde artist of the 1920s Vasyl Yermilov. He became a graphic designer for a local technical newspaper, before moving to Moscow in 1960, where he worked at the “Literaturnaia gazeta” [Literary Newspaper] and joined the circle of conceptualist artists.

Bakhchanian is credited for the famous and ever-relevant pun phrase “My rozhdeny chtob Kafku sdelat byliu” [“We were born to make Kafka come true”], inspired by the short-lived publications of Franz Kafka in the USSR in 1964-68 and is “considered by scholars as one of the founding fathers of Sots-Art [Soviet pop art], along with Vitalii Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, Leonid Sokov and Aleksandr Kosolapov” (Kazak). In 1974 he emigrated to the US, and lived in New York: “along with [Joseph] Brodsky and [Sergei] Dovlatov, he was viewed as the most important author of literary Russian America” (Kazak).


Iraida Vandelos (1932-2020, a Latvian-born Russian poetess, translator, journalist and radio presenter at the “Voice of America” (1963 –1987) in Los Angeles and New York; gift inscription dated 28 November 1975 on lower wrapper).


Olga Kazak. “Vagrich Bakhchanian – “armianin na 150%” // Armianskii muzei Moskvy i kultury natsii, 2019.

Item number



Physical Description

Oblong 8vo (19.8 x 12.1 cm). 12 ll. coloured lith. with captions in Russian in inverted letters.


Original printed wrappers, stapled.


Spine fragile and chipped, some small tears to wrappers’ edges.

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