20th-century Art in the Tretyakov Gallery

Irina Lebedeva

Article: 
INTERNATIONAL PANORAMA
Magazine issue: 
#2 2006 (11)

The Tretyakov Gallery is one of the major museums of national art in Russia. Evolving from a private collection, today it boasts an art collection unique in its characteristics, diversity and scope. Its significance and its place in the contemporary art scene is defined by its special mission, one that combines two very important functions. One of them is traditional - to preserve, study and popularize the vast pool of works of Russian art of the i2th-20th centuries, assembled during the 150 years of the museum’s existence. Another function, a very important one today, is to address topical issues of the contemporary art scene.

The Tretyakov Gallery is a dynamically developing museum, and it thinks of its present and future in such terms. At present, Russia doesn't have a museum of modern art able to adequately tell the story of 20th-century art and to follow contemporary artistic practices, and the gallery, given that current situation, endeavours to partially carry out this mission. The museum is unique because its collecting and exhibition activites are divided between two premises: its old building, on Lavrushinsky Pereulok, houses a collection reflecting the centuries-old history of Russian art, from icons to the works of the artists of the early 20th century, while its Krymsky Val location is a depositary and permanent exhibition space for works created by 20th-century artists, and contemporary artists of very varied schools also display there.

The Tretyakov Gallery is today the only Russian museum that has attempted to put together an exhibition "20th-century Art” embracing the most diverse material - varying in genres and stylistic trends, and reflecting the particular history of national art. Preparing this sort of display is a difficult project of far-reaching importance. The exhibition opened in 1998 - with art of the first half of the 20th century - followed in 2000 by art of the second half of the 20th century - and provoked a lively discussion among experts, art critics and in the media.

The exhibition at The Tretyakov Gallery. Photo. 1933
The exhibition at The Tretyakov Gallery. Photo. 1933

Over the years, it became obvious that perceptions of art of the eventful 20th century are in a state of perpetual change, and that society is becoming less rigid in its views on many aspects of the modern art scene. All this suggests a conclusion that an exhibition of 20th-century art should not be based on traditional exhibition principles of the past. Whatever approach is used, such an exhibition is bound to provoke debate and questions. As international experience shows, a good way to tackle this difficult situation is to make the "20th-century Art” exhibition a series of temporally bounded autonomous projects replacing one another.

In the year when the gallery celebrates its 150th anniversary, the Krymsky Val team is confronted with the task of preparing a new version of its permanent exhibition. Its first section is to open during the commemorative festivities, featuring the classical avant-garde of the 1910s-1920s and the avant-garde of the end of the century - the 1960s-2000s. The second section is to be put together during the year of the anniversary.

The Tretyakov Gallery started acquiring modern art as early as the 1910s. Then the museum came into possession of such remarkable works as "Pumpkin" (1914) by Ilya Mashkov, "Portrait of Natalia Konchalovskaya" (19151916) by Pyotr Konchalovsky, "A Bunch of Flowers and a Bottle of Paint" (1909) by Natalia Goncharova, and "Gate with Tower New Jerusalem" (1917) by Aristarkh Lentulov. These pieces were very few, and the gallery started seriously thinking about collecting modern art only in 1918, after it was nationalized. The Gallery Board determined it was necessary to give priority to acquiring contemporary works of fine art, graphic art and sculpture. It was noted that a paucity of works by the artists from the "Bubnovy Valet” (Knave of Diamonds) group was a big gap in the collection of one of Russia's most important art museums.

Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. The Artist’s Self-portrait with His Family (The Sienese Portrait). 1912
Pyotr KONCHALOVSKY. The Artist’s Self-portrait with His Family (The Sienese Portrait). 1912
Oil on canvas. 226 by 290 cm

This oversight was corrected quickly, in the first half of the 1920s. According to guides published then, the works by the Knave of Diamonds artists until 1928 represented the newest trends in the gallery's collection. A Department of the Newest Trends was established for the first time to handle this novel material and to continue acquiring modern art. The next step taken by this newly-founded department was to acquire for the gallery works of more radical artistic styles.

The first avant-garde pieces were deposited at the gallery in July and August of 1927, after the State Museum Fund was closed. A section of the permanent exhibition featuring the newest art began to present works by Lyubov Popova, Marc Chagall, Pavel Filonov, Alexander Rodchenko, David Burlyuk, and Vladimir Tatlin. Familiarizing the general public with the most radical art trends at a full exhibition, rather than through occasional pieces, became possible only when the Moscow Museum of Painting Culture was closed in 1929. Organized in 1919, this museum during the ten years of its existence accomplished a major task in collecting, studying and popularizing and preparing several versions of the exhibition of the newest art of the 1910s- 1920s.

A large part of the museum's holdings went to the Tretyakov Gallery, with more than 100 pieces showcased at the permanent exhibition of the modern art department. These pieces included such works, now internationally renowned, as "Black Square” (1915) by Kazimir Malevich, "Improvisation No. 7” (1910) by Vasily Kandinsky, "Counter-relief (1916) by Vladimir Tatlin, and "Musician” (1916) by Ivan Klyun - one of the few surviving cubist sculptures of that period. Similarly famous now are the paintings by Nadezh- da Udaltsova ("Self-portrait with Palette”, 1915), "Painterly Architectonics” (1918) by Lyubov Popova, "Non-objective Composition” (1916) by Olga Rozanova, "Nonobjective Painting. Composition 56 (76)” (1917) by Alexander Rodchenko, and many others. The beginning of the history of showing the avant-garde at the Tretyakov Gallery can be dated to the acquisition of these pieces. Over several years every exhibition at the Gallery displayed these works, until 1936, when on the orders from above the pieces were put in the museum's reserves, away from the public eye, where they would remain for 50 years.

In the 1920s the art scene was flourishing not only due to avant-garde trends, with various other associations and groups in existence. The most influential among them included the Society of Easel Artists (Obshchestvo Stankovis- tov, OST), the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (Assotsiatsiya Khudozhnikov Revolutsionnoi Rossii, AHRR), the "Four Arts” (Chetyre Iskusstva), the "Makovets”, the Society of Russian Sculptors (Obshchestvo Russkikh Skulptorov, ORS) and others. The works of the artists who displayed at these group shows comprise a major portion of the gallery's collection; many became classics of the period and gained renown. Over several decades, the museum put together comprehensive solo collections of Yury Pimenov, Alexander Deineka, Pyotr Williams, David Shterenberg, Fyodor Bogorodsky, Konstantin Istomin, Alexander Drevin and many others.

The changes in social and political conditions in Russia inevitably had an impact on the working principles of a museum of the size of the Tretyakov Gallery, including its collecting principles. The establishment of the Soviet Art Department in 1930 determined for many years trends in the selection of contemporary paintings, works of graphic art and sculptures; 1932 saw the establishment of the dedicated Unions of artists, writers and musicians, respectively. Thus, the state came to control the art scene in its entirety, and that same scene was radically changed by the system of government buying and official exhibitions with their rigid selection of works for display. Thus, in the wake of one of the biggest art shows of the period, titled "The Industry of Socialism” (1939), the Tretyakov Gallery received several pieces that were to become Soviet classics: Sergei Gerasimov's "Holiday at the Collective Farm” (1937), Vasily Efanov's "Unforgettable Meeting” (1936-1937), and Yury Pimenov's "New Moscow” (1937). Over subsequent decades, the collection process varied somewhat, with a major part selected from the big official-themed exhibitions, the All-Soviet and All-Russian exhibitions, and the solo shows of artists of different generations; sometimes the artists' studios were visited by selectors, as well.

In the 1930s, the future of the Tretyakov Gallery became a topic of debate, as the expanding museum quite soon outgrew the capacity of its modestly-sized building on Lavrushinsky Pereulok. The rapid expansion of the museum holdings, especially in contemporary art, and the inadequate conditions of storage in its premises that were not always well-equipped for that purpose, as well as an acute need for additional space for the permanent exhibition and temporary shows made circumstances all the more difficult. The construction of a new building, in 1936, to a design by Alexei Shchusev, did not solve the problem. In the 1950s plans were initiated to build a venue large enough to accommodate the gallery's various holdings, and Krymsky Val, not far from the Kremlin and Lavrushinsky Pereulok, was chosen as the site.

However, plans for moving the gallery did not materialize. Construction dragged on, and it was not until the late 1970s that the Central House of Artists opened in one section of the building, while another was granted to the Paintings Gallery of the USSR, which started to assemble a collection of Soviet art from different regions of the country. This collection incorporated, among other works, more than 1,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings presented in 1983 by the Artists' Union of the USSR.

The problems that the Tretyakov Gallery had encountered over many years did not disappear, and the situation reached a critical state. Finally, in 1985, the project to restore the museum building on Lavrushinsky Pereulok began. At the same time, the decision was made to merge the Tretyakov Gallery and the Paintings Gallery of the USSR, which allowed to move the gallery's vast collection of Soviet art to Krymsky Val; since then the museum's activity has been divided between the two locations.

The Soviet art collection from the Paintings Gallery of the USSR was incorporated into the large and varied collection of 20th-century art now belonging to the Tretyakov Gallery. The museum acquired works of many renowned artists, which complemented its existing solo collections: among them were paintings by Dmitry Zhilinsky, Viktor Popkov, Tair Salakhov, Andrei Mylnikov, Semyon Chyikov, Natalia Nesterova; sculptures by Yekaterina Belashova, Sergei Konenkov, Sarah Lebedeva; and drawings by Alexander Pakhomov, Lev Bruni, Pyotr Miturich, Artur Fonvizin, Valentin Kurdov and others.

A show titled "Exhibition of Works Presented to the Tretyakov Gallery and the Paintings Gallery of the USSR” was organized after the collection was moved from Lavrushinsky Pereulok in 1986. Alongside works of Russian and Soviet art, the exhibition featured the Russian avant-garde - for the first time after the long interval of 50 years.

The works of Vasily Kandinsky, Ivan Klyun, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Marc Chagall, and Lyubov Popova displayed at the exhibition were donated to the Tretyakov Gallery by the famous Moscow collector George Kostakis. One of the most prominent art collectors of his day, Kostakis is well known both in Russia and in the West, and he assembled a unique collection of the Russian avant-garde of the first third of the 20th century. His collection featured the entire range of artistic innovations of the 1910s- 1920s in paintings, graphic art, book illustration and theatre design. Collections of Ivan Klyun, Lyubov Popova, Kliment Redko, and Ivan Koudryashev that Kostakis put together brought about a dramatic change in the perceptions of the diversity of the first decades of the last century.

The major collection of paintings and drawings donated by Kostakis was the second largest group of the avant-garde received by the Tretyakov Gallery. Thanks to this art collector, the museum adequately reflects the diversity of avant-garde artistic trends of the 1910s-1920s shown at the permanent exhibition "20th- century Art”, and at numerous art shows both in Russia and abroad.

The tradition of the gallery's founder Pavel Tretyakov - to collect and donate works of art - has continued over the decades, and remains real today. In the major collection of 20th-century art, which makes up a half of the gallery's entire collection, many of the works were donated - not only by collectors, but also by artists' relatives and heirs and by artists themselves, including painters, graphic artists, and sculptors.

There are important contributions from the collections assembled by Ivan Sarkisov-Serazini, Sergei Gorshin, Kazimira Basevich (Basevich's gifts include the "Red Horse” (1912) by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin); a splendid collection of graphic art donated by Alexei Sidorov; and individual pieces donated by foreigners like Evelyn Cournand, Ж.Кюниссе-Карно?, Salome Andronikova-Halpern and others. All of them - some on display, others held in the reserves - are treasured by the Tretyakov Gallery.

Some works, when they enter the museum's collection, fill existing gaps and expand our knowledge of 20th-century art, stimulating viewers to approach this period in the life of Russian art as one of unbelievable complexity and full of conflict. In preserving the artistic heritage of the last century, the artists' relatives have been particularly important - again and again, their gifts have become a real addition to the Tretyakov Gallery. For instance, drawings by the sculptor Nikolai Andreev were donated by his widow, Maria Gortynskaya; Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers donated a splendid collection of El Lissitzky's drawings. Natalia Rozhdestvenskaya passed to the museum a large collection of Vasily Rozhdestvensky's paintings, Mirha Spendiarova presented works by Sergei Romanovich, N.Timofeeva - works by Ivan Koudryashev, Yevdokia Glebova - works by Pavel Filonov. A son of the artist Pyotr Konchalovsky gave to the museum his father's paintings, including the major work "Tsar Bova” (1914). A huge collection of paintings, drawings and archives of Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova came to the gallery in 1988, from Paris, after the death of Larionov's widow, Alexandra Tomilina.

Assembling a major collection featuring a wide array of the most diverse trends of 20th-century art would have been impossible without gifts from the artists themselves, and over several decades the museum's reserves grew with such assistance. In recent years, artists' gifts have become especially important, because the system of financing state museums does not bring resources sufficient for making the needed acquisitions for modern art collection.

The handling of the modern collection is directly related to the issue of what future path the museum will adopt. In order to give this material an adequate perspective, the gallery established the Newest Trends Department, as it already had once long ago, in the 1920s. A modern art collection, in 2001 transferred to the Gallery from the Tsaritsino Park-Museum, formed the basis of the department. This collection, assembled over two decades by researchers at the Newest Trends Division headed by Andrei Erofeyev, includes work by famous as well as beginning artists. Paintings, graphic art, sculpture, photography, objects, installations - all comprise material untraditional and unusual for the Tretyakov Gallery. Having come into possession of these works, the museum now can exhibit 20th- century art reflecting its diversity.

Contributions from governmental organs, non-profit organizations and major corporations are becoming increasingly more important for the expansion of the collection. Some interesting works by contemporary artists were acquired with the help of British American Tobacco Russia, the TsentrInvest Group, Citibank, and Vneshekonombank.

О.Я. РАБИН. Один рубль № 3. 1967
О.Я. РАБИН. Один рубль № 3. 1967
Холст, масло. 100 х 62. Дар Правительства Москвы в соответствии с пожеланием Vladimir Nemukhinа в 2006

As a gift on the gallery's anniversary, the Moscow government decided to donate to the museum a 15-piece collection previously in the possession of the artist Vladimir Nemukhin. Works by Oskar Rabin, Lydia Masterkova, Lev Kropivnitsky, Oleg Tselkov, Ullo Sooster, Vladimir Nemukhin, Olga Potapova, and Nikolai Vechtomov have been displayed at the gallery's shows over several years, and now will become part of the permanent exhibition "20th-century Art”.

Vladimir Nemukhin. Abstraction. 1962
Vladimir Nemukhin. Abstraction. 1962
Mixed technique on canvas. 80 by 52 cm. Gift of the Moscow City Government. Earlier belonged to Vladimir Nemukhin's collection. Tretyakov Gallery

The two-decade twin location period of the gallery has seen many shows, including those designed to study and popularize the art of the last century. To name the most recent - "Bubnovy Valet” (The Knave of Diamonds), "Soobshchniki” (Associates), "Moscow-Warsaw-Moscow”, and a solo exhibition of Marc Chagall; the simultaneous "Andy Warhol” and "Russian Pop-Art”; and "Golubaya Roza” (Blue Rose). These exhibitions, made possible by the financial backing of sponsors and donors, including the StroiTeks Group, Severstal Group, Alcoa Inc., and British American Tobacco Russia, were very popular and provoked media interest. Such success leads us to believe that the gallery's efforts in studying and popularizing 20th-century art will meet with a generous response from different groups in Russian society.

Illustrations

Kasimir MALEVICH. Haymaking. 1928–1929
Kasimir MALEVICH. Haymaking. 1928–1929
Oil on canvas. 85.8 by 65,6 cm
А.М. РОДЧЕНКО. Композиция № 66. Плотность и вес. 1919
А.М. РОДЧЕНКО. Композиция № 66. Плотность и вес. 1919
Холст, масло. 122 х 74
А.А. ЭКСТЕР. Флоренция. 1914–1915
А.А. ЭКСТЕР. Флоренция. 1914–1915
Холст, масло. 100×146. Дар Г.Д.Костаки в 1977
Robert FALK. Red Furniture. 1920
Robert FALK. Red Furniture. 1920
Oil on canvas. 105 by 123 cm
Ilya Mashkov. Still Life. Fruit on a Tray. 1910
Ilya Mashkov. Still Life. Fruit on a Tray. 1910
Oil on canvas. 80,7×116,2. Tretyakov Gallery
Sergei KONENKOV. Torso. 1913
Sergei KONENKOV. Torso. 1913
Marble. Height 99 cm
В.Е. ТАТЛИН. Натурщица. 1913
В.Е. ТАТЛИН. Натурщица. 1913
Холст, масло. 143×108
Alexander DREVIN. Road after a Thunderstorm. 1933
Alexander DREVIN. Road after a Thunderstorm. 1933
Oil on canvas
David SHTERNBERG. Aniska. 1926
David SHTERNBERG. Aniska. 1926
Oil on canvas. 197 by 125 cm
Sergei GERASIMOV. A Festival at the Collective Farm. 1937
Sergei GERASIMOV. A Festival at the Collective Farm. 1937
Oil on canvas
Yury Pimenov. «You Give Heavy Industry!» 1927
Yury Pimenov. «You Give Heavy Industry!» 1927
Oil on canvas. 260×212. Tretyakov Gallery
Alexander DEINEKA. Construction of New Factory Shops. 1926
Alexander DEINEKA. Construction of New Factory Shops. 1926
209 by 200 cm
Dmitry SHAKHOVSKOY. Bread. 1967
Dmitry SHAKHOVSKOY. Bread. 1967
Wood. 90 by 65 by 50 cm
Dmitry Krasnopevtsev. Still-life with Arrows. 1969
Dmitry Krasnopevtsev. Still-life with Arrows. 1969
Oil on fireboard. 69.5×53 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
О.Н. ЦЕЛКОВ. Агава в желтом горшке. 1956
О.Н. ЦЕЛКОВ. Агава в желтом горшке. 1956
Холст, масло. 103,5 х 68. Дар Правительства Москвы в соответствии с пожеланием Vladimir Nemukhinа в 2006
Nikolai Andronov. Raftsmen. 1960–1961
Nikolai Andronov. Raftsmen. 1960–1961
Oil on canvas. 210 × 275 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Dmitry ZHILINSKY. At the Sea. Family. 1964
Dmitry ZHILINSKY. At the Sea. Family. 1964
Levkas, tempera on woodchip board. 125 by 90 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Irina STARZHENETSKAYA. Two in the Boat. 1982
Irina STARZHENETSKAYA. Two in the Boat. 1982
Oil on canvas. 113 by 137 cm
Natalia NESTEROVA. Catching Butterflies. 1981
Natalia NESTEROVA. Catching Butterflies. 1988
Oil on canvas. 97 by 116 cm
А.Г. СИТНИКОВ. Гроза. 1976
А.Г. СИТНИКОВ. Гроза. 1976
Фанера, масло. 115×110

Back

Tags:

 

MOBILE APP OF THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY MAGAZINE

Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play