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Alexandr Zhdanov; Soviet Dissident Artist and D.C. Barfly
"I didn't want privileges from those scum," he told The Washington Post in 1993, spitting for emphasis. "I only wanted to paint, or to be heaved out with my art. Worse than taking me out and shooting me, they spit on me."
During the 1980s, his vigorous artwork was featured on U.S. television news, yet he was not allowed to show his work in official galleries or museums. He and his wife, Galina Gerasimova, staged periodic hunger strikes, and on Oct. 22, 1987, they chained themselves to a tree outside the gate of the U.S. Embassy.
Soviet agents handcuffed them together and dragged them away, breaking Gerasimova's leg in the process. They were banished for "artistic incompatibility with the Soviet Union" and given a month to leave the country.
After living for about year in the Russian immigrant community of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., they moved to Washington and eventually settled in a rough neighborhood on North Capitol Street. Gerasimova, a mathematician in the Soviet Union, cleaned houses and looked after children to support her husband as he struggled to restart his career.
After the collapse of communism in 1989, his art was exhibited in prestigious Moscow galleries, and in 1993 his former country gave him a one-man exhibition at the Russian Embassy.
His changing fortunes only left Mr. Zhdanov embittered. He alleged that the State Department, in a conspiracy with the KGB and CIA, refused to turn over 1,500 paintings he left in Moscow. His wife wrote hundreds of letters and once marched with a sandwich board in front of the White House to rally support for her husband. The State Department could find no evidence of an agreement, and many of the paintings were later found intact in a Moscow apartment.
On the open market, his paintings have sold for almost $50,000, but Mr. Zhdanov had a way of undercutting his best interests. He quarreled with gallery owners, sometimes demanded that collectors return his paintings and often sold artworks worth thousands for a $50 bar tab.
"He had the arrogance of someone a little bit removed from reality, which he was," said Rogers, the art dealer.
In recent years, Mr. Zhdanov often retreated to paint at a small house near Front Royal, Va., but the rural peace was almost too much for him. Soon enough, he would be back at Madam's Organ with more paintings to sell.
"In the 15 years I've had that bar," said Duggan, the owner of Madam's Organ, "he never bought a drink or a meal -- and he earned every one."
Survivors include his wife, of Washington; his stepdaughter, Vassa Olson of Locust Grove, Va.; and two grandchildren.