TSERETELI IN PARIS. LE DERNIER GRAND STYLE
In one of its halls the Unesco Headquarters in Paris has a splendid work by Miro, a mosaic wall of rare beauty and harmony with perfect composition, rhythm and colour.
The exhibition of Zurab Tsereteli’s works held there during May 2007 included this room as well, a great honour and also a great challenge for an artist. To hold your own next to this masterpiece by Miro is no easy matter. And in general to exhibit your works in Paris, where everything, Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the memorial museums of Rodin and Picasso and the very town itselfvibrate with art, and where all periods and styles and all major artists are present. You have the feeling that any moment now Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne or Matisse might come and sit down at your table. So to be counted one of their equals is something very few modern artists could ever hope for.
Foreigners often drop into the Tsereteli gallery in Prechistenka in Moscow - artists, gallery lovers, collectors, art critics. Some shrug their shoulders at Tsereteli's work and dismiss it with a condescending, "That's Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso! We've seen all that before.” As if such remarks somehow belittle Tsereteli. Yet to say that an artist's work reminds you of the great creations of Gauguin, Matisse or Picasso, that it is even comparable with them, is in fact the highest compliment one can make.
To find Tsereteli guilty of imitating the great French painters is impossible. He is far too original for that, far too national in spirit. The criticism that he resembles Matisse or Picasso, is not intended to suggest that he simply plagiarises them. It implies perhaps an unwillingness to believe that Tsereteli is in the same class as the great PostImpressionists. That they are united by the same attitude to the world, the same understanding of art. The same style. The last great style of European and Russian art. Not in the sense that nothing can follow it. But in the sense of being most recent. The most meaningful.
Tsereteli himself constantly refers to his closeness to the Post-Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso and Chagall. He is also close to Pirosmanishvili and Tischler, for whom he has the greatest admiration, and is proud to call himself their pupil and pay tribute to their memory in his work. His sculpture has much in common with that of Rodin.
The exhibition at the UNESCO Headquarters demonstrated this closeness most clearly. Tsereti possesses what the great painters and sculptors of the 20th century possessed in the same degree: a brilliant mastery of form, strong resonant colour, a play of colour and light, and skilful textural contrasts of bronze and stone, oil painting materials or enamel, watercolour drawing or mosaic. What makes him like them is perhaps first and foremost his excellent schooling: his splendidly professional eye and hand, fluent drawing and keen sense of space and rhythm, which enable him to work in all trends, media and styles; to create the conventional and abstract as well as the strictly realistic; to feel at home in everything, be it exaggerated grotesque or delicate lyricism, highly conceptual symbolism or extreme naturalism. This is possible thanks only to his enormous capacity for work, the hours spent practising, like a violinist or pianist, the constant quest for perfection of what would seem to be an already perfect art. The great artists of the past lived and worked like this, and so does Tsereteli.
Like Picasso, Tsereteli experiments in many forms: stained glass and tapestry, oil painting and graphics, mosaics and enamel, ordinary flat enamel and also three-dimensional enamelwork, an absolutely new medium invented by him.
And like Chagall and Dali, Tsereteli pays homage to the Bible and borrows images from the Old and New Testament, creating his own type of "icon-painting” in mosaics, enamel and sculpture. His gallery in Moscow is full of Biblical images and they were also present in Paris, resounding powerfully in unison with Gothic cathedrals and the Early Renaissance rooms in the Louvre. The monument to Pope John Paul in Brittany, one of Tsereteli's most recent and powerful works the model for which was on display in the Unesco Headquarters, seemed to unite him and all of us, Russians, present at the opening of the exhibition, in a very special way.
But most important of all and most vital in our unkind age, the quality that was characteristic of the great masters of the Grand Style of the 20th Century and that is also highly typical of Zurab Tsereteli, is the remarkably humane element in his art, his true humanism, the fact that his art is concerned with man.
Like all his multi-faceted art, Tsereteli's exhibition presented the lives and destinies of all sorts of individuals, comic and touching, wise and griefstricken, great and small, in the sense that Gogol and Chekhov used the concept of the "small man” and that Daumier, Manet and Gauguin embodied it in their work.
Tsereteli embodies the specific spiritual qualities of his art in images of Georgian street musicians, in the figures of two Jews, and in portraits of his friends.
Zurab Tsereteli does not level accusations at anyone, nor does he seek to impose his ideas on anyone. He creates constantly with an inspired and impassioned sincerity.