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HLAM – Society for Artists, Writers, Entertainers and Musicians

  • Name:
    HLAM – Society for Artists, Writers, Entertainers and Musicians
  • Kind of Organisation:
    Association
  • Introduction:

    As Shanghai’s largest and most popular Russian émigré association focused loosely on art, HLAM provided a platform for weekly encounters between the self-professed bohemians and a general audience. The HLAM evenings included theatre scenes, comic routines, dance numbers and poetry readings.

    Word Count: 42

  • Content:

    Shanghai’s largest art association was formed in 1933. Its ironic self-designation HLAM was made up of the first letters of the Russian words for “Artists, Writers, Entertainers and Musicians,” homophonous with the Russian word for “trash”. The Shanghai HLAM was a revival of a 1920s' art society based in Harbin. More than anything, HLAM injected ebullience and a sense of camaraderie into the stressful and often depressing reality of the émigré existence. Among the organisers were ballet choreographer Eduard Eliroff, satire writer Alexey Petroff (pseudonym Polichinelle), jazz orchestra conductor Abel Bershadsky, musician Alexander Kirsanoff, photographic artist Leonid Skvirsky, actress Vera Panova-Richter and others.

    The association's first meeting took place on Wednesday, 1 November 1933, and since then HLAM gathered once a week, always on Wednesdays. It organised its first art event in December – an exhibition of paintings by Vladimir Tretchikoff, the young artist’s first private show. Soon afterwards, Tretchikoff left for Singapore and began to attain celebrity; when he returned to Shanghai briefly in 1939, he revisited HLAM and showed the members his acclaimed works.

    HLAM co-existed with numerous Russian societies focused on visual art, music and literature, such as the Ponedelnik, whose Monday meetings were frequented by many HLAM members. But HLAM found its niche in the organising of thematic parties, quizzes and concerts, famous for their boisterous and amicable atmosphere. The highlights were seasonal comedy shows, known as Kapustnik – a potpourri of stand-up routines and musical numbers, presented by the HLAM members. The core membership grew quickly to 70 people, while the number of attendees often reached several hundred and was limited only by the size of the venues.

    In spite of its popularity, HLAM did not have a permanent address. For its parties and occasional exhibitions it used spaces like the Bohemian Hall at the Renaissance restaurant, Tkachenko Brothers’ Garden Restaurant (later renamed Alcazar) and Arcadia Cabaret – all located in the central French Concession, where most Russians lived. The annual “Bohemian Ball” took place in larger and more prestigious venues, such as the Canidrome and the Paramount Ballroom. Each ball centred on a given theme: in summer 1935, it was Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird, while the 1938 topic was Hollywood Nights. The proceeds from the balls went to HLAM’s benevolent fund and to designated charitable causes, such as the construction of the Russian School in 1933.

    The singer and poet Alexander Vertinsky, who was a frequent performer at HLAM’s Wednesdays, claimed that the quality of the artistic life fostered by this association was low, because of the vanity and unprofessionalism of its members: “Artists, writers, entertainers and musicians? HLAM has none, simply because there aren’t any real artists in Shanghai. Granted, there are some musicians, but they are usually busy on Wednesday evenings, playing in the dance halls. The Wednesday participants are mostly beauticians, hairdressers, tailors, petty reporters and various crooks.”

    Indeed, HLAM enabled well-off amateurs from among the diaspora to satisfy their artistic vanity. The aspiring performers would be coached in singing and acting, given a repertory and brought onto the stage. The banquet setting and the good-humored ambience during these recitals ensured the favourable response of the public. In spite of Vertinsky’s scorn, HLAM bestowed on him the title “First Knight of the Russian Bohemians,” in 1936.

    Each year, two of the most active HLAM members would be crowned Mister and Miss HLAM. In 1934, these were the painter Thais Jaspar (then Taisia Homiakoff) and the photographer Leonid Skvirsky. In 1935, HLAM activist Eduard Eliroff took over the organisation of the citywide beauty pageant Miss Shanghai. The experiment was not entirely successful, because Eliroff’s insistence on the “artistry” of the event prompted him to remove the option of unlimited paid voting for favourite candidates, and that dampened the interest of the public and the candidates. In spite of that, Eliroff continued to organise yearly beauty pageants in the 1940s, attended mostly by the Russians.

    In May 1938, after 135 Wednesday meetings, HLAM announced its intention to produce a printed almanac to summarise its five years of activity. “An artistically printed album” with a run of 200 copies was meant for distribution among all Russian émigré organisations around the world. There is no evidence of the completion of this project, but Alexander Yaron, the most likely candidate for the design of the almanac, proved to be one of the longest-standing members of HLAM. He was its secretary when the Japanese occupation of Shanghai entered its darkest and most restrictive phase, forcing many public venues to close and many organisations to disband. In 1942, under pressure from the occupation authorities, HLAM reorganised into the Russian Society of Émigré Artists and became subordinate to the Russian Emigrants’ Committee, thus ending its “bohemian” existence.

    Word Count: 777

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Bohemian Hall, Café-Restaurant La Renaissance, 795 Avenue Joffre, French Concession (now Huaihai Lu, Xuhui Qu); Tkachenko’s (Alcazar) Restaurant, 643 Avenue Joffre (now Huaihai Lu, Xuhui Qu);
    Arcadia Cabaret, 291 Route Courbet, French Concession (now Fumin Lu, Jing’an Qu) Shanghai

  • Signature Image:
    Wednesday party at HLAM, photography, around 1930 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).
  • Media:
    Portraits of Members of Harbin’s HLAM society, magazine page, photo collage, Piliulia (The Pill), 1922. Abel Bershadsky is at the top left.
    HLAM banquet in a restaurant, photography, around 1930 (© Amir Khisamutdinov). The Russian lettering for HLAM is at the back.
    La Renaissance restaurant at 795 Avenue Joffre, photography, Modern Miscellany (Shidai), no. 12, 1932.
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Shtein, Edward. “Hudozhniki russkogo Kitaia, HLAM I Ponedelnik (Russian Artists in China, HLAM and Ponedelnik).” New Review, no. 213. 1998.
    Vertinsky, Alexander. HLAM. Dorogoy Dlionnoyu (Those Were The Days). Moscow, 1991.
    Knyazeva, Katya. “Miss Shanghai: The Years of Infamy.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society China, vol. 79, 2019.
    Petroff, Victor. Shanhai na Vampu (Shanghai on the Whangpoo). Washington, 1985.

    Word Count: 54

  • Author:
    Katya Knyazeva
  • Date of Founding:
    1933
  • Date of Disbandment:
    1942
  • Participants (selection):

    Eduard Eliroff (Polichinelle), Abel Bershadsky, Alexander Kirsanoff,  Leonid Skvirsky,  Vera Panova-Richter, Vladimir Tretchikoff, Alexander Vertinsky, Thais Jaspar, Eduard Eliroff, Alexander Yaron

  • Metropolis:
    Shanghai
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Katya Knyazeva. "HLAM – Society for Artists, Writers, Entertainers and Musicians." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2952/object/5145-11304837, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Alexander A. Yaron
    DesignerJournalistArtistPhotographer

    An autodidact and a versatile commercial artist, Alexander Yaron applied his talent in portraiture, photography, interior design, advertising, layout and illustration. His best known projects were illustrated art magazines and books produced as part of Adcraft Studios, in tandem with Ivan Kounin.

    Word Count: 42

    Kounin, Ivan, and Alexander Yaron, editors. The Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1940. Portrait of Alexander A. Yaron, photography.
    Alexander Yaron, Along the ancient channel, print, Ponedelnik (Monday),1933 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).Alexander Yaron, portraits, drawings, Highlights of Art, 1938 (© Natalia Kounin).Alexander Yaron, poster for the Russian Ballet, 1936 (© Amir Khisamutdinov).Kounin, Ivan and Alexander Yaron, editors. Diamond Jubilee of the International Settlement of Shanghai. Post mercury Co. fed. Inc. U.S.A.,1940. The double page shows the covers of Adcraft Studios’ magazines, including Highlights of Art, and others.Yaron Studios, advertisement for Central Air Transport Corporation, China Weekly Review, 20 September 1947.
    Shanghai
    Leonid Skvirsky
    PhotographerIllustrator

    Leonid Skvirsky was one of the most successful photographic artists in Shanghai. His experimental take on lighting and staging of the models ensured him critical acclaim, awards in international competitions and patronage of the elites.

    Word Count: 35

    Vladimir Zhiganov. Russkie v Shanghai (Russians in Shanghai), Shanghai 1936. Sam Sanzetti, Portrait of Leonid Skvirsky at work, photography.
    Victor Sassoon (with a camera), Leonid Skvirsky and model Lulah Thompson, in Skvirsky’s studio, 23 January 1935 (© DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University).Sam Sanzetti and Leonid Skvirsky, portraits of Shanghai society women, Shanghai Sunday Times, 19 February 1935.Stamp of Skvirsky Studio (© author’s collection).
    Shanghai
    Ponedelnik
    Association

    Ponedelink was the most influential and the longest-running art society in Shanghai. Committed to promoting awareness of Russian culture and to developing its members' taste and erudition, it published the finest art magazine of the diaspora.

    Word Count: 36

    A meeting of the Ponedelnik society, photography, January 1931 (© Amir Khisamutdinov). Vera Kuznetzova, Mikhail Kichigin and Vasily Zasipkin are sitting around the table.
    Cover of Ponedelnik (Monday)(© Amir Khisamutdinov).Severny, Pavel. Lady, Shanghai 1938. Alexander Yaron, cover design, Lady, 1938 (© Mikhail Drozdov). Pavel Severny and Alexander Yaron were collaborators at the Ponedelnik Society in Shanghai.La Renaissance restaurant at 795 Avenue Joffre, photography, Modern Miscellany (Shidai), no. 12, 1932.A. T. Hull, Jr., HLAM-organised beauty pageant Miss Shanghai in the Arcadia Cabaret at 291 Route Courbet, photography,1940 (© Time Inc.). Alexander Vertinsky is in the centre, Eduard Eliroff (with a ribbon) is on the right.
    Shanghai
    Thais Jaspar
    Artist

    Combining the vocation of philanthropist with that of an artist, Thais Jaspar was equally at ease among the foreign elites and Soviet diplomats in Shanghai. Her pleasing portraiture was much in demand by her friends and clients.

    Word Count: 37

    Thais Jaspar, Self-portrait, drawing, around 1938, Shanghai (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).
    Thais Jaspar at her Shanghai home, photography 1930 (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar (right) in front of her work celebrating the victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War, photography, Shanghai, 1945 (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar (back row, right) teaching an art class, 1940, Shanghai (© Central State Archive of the Museum of Literature and Art, Ukraine).Thais Jaspar, paintings, North China Daily News, 19 June 1949.
    Shanghai