Special issue N2. USA–RUSSIA: ON THE CROSSROADS OF CULTURES
Even before its mid-September opening in 2005, RUSSIA! garnered a great deal of positive advance press in the United States. In its September issue, the fashion magazine Elle included this “stupendous exhibition” as #24 in its exclusive annual “Top 25” list.1 Vogue proclaimed that the show would make clear that between icons and abstraction, Russian art was far from a “Siberian wasteland.”2 To be sure, such articles were related to the predominance of Russian-inspired styles in the fashion industry’s fall lines, but they spread word of the show to these publications’ substantial readerships.
The idea of writing these notes came up in anticipation of the "In the Russian Tradition.” exhibition, due to open at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC in December 2004. The collection to be shown in Washington and later in Minneapolis, at the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA), features Russian paintings from the period of 1900 through to the 1970s, from both the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Minneapolis collection.
America in the eyes of the artists, actors and musicians of the Silver Age of Russian culture was an enigmatic and fabulously rich country - a country to go to on a tour or to earn money. Only a handful of such artists gradually came to view the New World as not just a source of income but also as a special cultural hub with distinct traditions and roots. One such was Léon Bakst, the Russian artist of international renown who spent the second half of his life in France.
“Crossroads: Modernism in Ukraine, 1910-1930”, the first major exhibition of early 20th century Ukrainian art was shown in Chicago at the Chicago Cultural Centre, and in New York at the new Ukrainian Museum. Featuring the best of high modernism from Ukraine, the exhibition included more than 70 rarely seen works by 21 Ukrainian artists; each of the works was shown for the first time in the United States. The avant-garde, art nouveau, impressionism, expressionism, futurism and constructivism movements were presented in a new light. Americans - the general public and art critics alike - were equally enthusiastic about the exhibition.
“GRANY” FOUNDATION PRESENTS
The Spring 2010 exhibition “Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention” at the Jewish Museum in New York was a highlight of the city’s artistic season, revealing in particular the artist’s Jewish identity. Man Ray, later titled a “prophet of the avant-garde” in America, was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 in Pennsylvania, the eldest child in a Jewish family of Russian origin. Emmanuel was nicknamed “Manny”, and from 1912 onwards, when the Radnitzky family took the surname Ray, he began to use “Man Ray” to label himself as an artist; while never completely rejecting them, he nevertheless came to free himself from his familial roots. As Man Ray he concentrated on building up an artistic identity which found its realization in creative photography, the visual arts, film-making, poetry, literature and philosophy.
More than 60 years after his early death, the work of Arshile Gorky continues to be reassessed: the last decade alone has seen the appearance of three new biographies of a figure who is now seen as one of the key forerunners of Abstract Expressionism in America, and a “bridge” between earlier European directions and the New World in the 1940s. A major retrospective exhibition of the artist opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in October 2009, before transferring to Tate Modern in London over the Spring, and will close this September at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles - by any standards, an impressive “tour” for such an artistic project.
An insulting term to dismiss a new type of art, a term that, in turn, becomes the positive identifier of that group, is by now a cliche. In 1874 a journalist in “Le Charivari” newspaper in Paris mocked a young artist named Claude Monet, who was exhibiting a painting called “Impression, Sunrise”: “Impression,” wrote the critic, “I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it ... and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” Likewise, when a Donatello sculpture was placed in the same room as some contemporary painters at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, a critic mourned, “Donatello au milieu des fauves” - “Donatello surrounded by wild beasts” - and the term “Fauves” stuck.
The exhibition of work by Richard Pare in New York’s Museum of Modern Art features one of the most immediate and tragic phenomena in the history of Soviet (and Russian) modernist architecture. The exhibition “The Lost Vanguard” highlights some 75 photographs by the architectural photographer Richard Pare, who has worked from 1993 to the present day, making eight extensive trips to Russia and the former Soviet republics and creating nearly 10,000 images to compile a timely documentation of numerous modernist structures, including the most neglected. The exhibition was made possible by the Russian Avant-garde Fund and Senator Sergei Gordeev, its founder and president.
Richard Serra is undeniably a great name in contemporary art. Each of his installations or exhibitions is considered a major artistic event. Serra’s sculpture is associated with a certain laconism in form, as well as minimal plastic means aimed to reach the maximum of expression. His multi-tone self-supporting steel installations are the result of a new sculptural mentality and reveal a novel semantics in sculpture.
I happened to be in New York in March this year and naturally did not miss a chance to visit the 2008 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This most important survey of the state of contemporary art in the USA today should by all means be of special interest for me - a representative of a country which has very little (or better to say no) experience in organizing such cultural events: 74 in the Whitney in New York against 2 in Moscow! Nevertheless the idea to make a comparison seemed real - each large-scale survey mirrors the most vivid tendencies common for the state of contemporary art in general. My expectations came true. As it was put by Donna de Salvo, the Whitney Chief Curator and Associate Director for Programmes: “The Biennial is a laboratory, a way of ‘taking the temperature’, of what is happening now and putting it on view... In dealing with the art of the present, there are no easy assessments, only multiple points of entry. For the Whitney, and for our public, we hope the Biennial is one way in."
"Sexy” perfectly defines the current state of the Russian art market - appealing, interesting, stimulating and inviting. Since the late 1990s Russian art has steadily emerged as one of the most dramatic, dynamic and exciting collecting areas. The meteoric rise in prices achieved each season at auction captivates every business and art-related paper and journal. Conjecture abounds in media headlines that address successful auction buyers in a most reductionist manner, the “mysterious Russian,” or the “anonymous Ukrainian;” these are the new heroes who buttress auction sales across different collecting categories. Individuals from different industries scramble to uncover identities and dissect collecting patterns. Who are these masked individuals? How can we characterize their collecting behavior?