russian expressionism

The exhibition in the Russian Museum is called “The Echo of Expressionism. The Art of Leningrad in the Middle – Second Half of the Twentieth Century”, the duration is January 23 — March 9, 2020.

The artists represented here did not rebel against the Soviet regime: they simply somehow managed to live “past the Bolsheviks”, using the expression of Viktor Shklovsky. And brightly, on the verge of tearing, expressed emotions, attention to the unsightly sides of life, flashy colors, wild combinations of ideas and material: this is the same “aesthetic dissent” that is so characteristic of a generation of dissent.

As the curator of the exhibition, Ekaterina Andreeva, notes that urban catastrophe is the main theme of expressionism. And Leningrad, a city that survived two blockades (into civil and World War II), a city that became “one of the regions” from the capital of the great empire, felt the consequences of this catastrophe better than any other. The very nature of the city, its history and destiny made this metropolis a field of expressionist artists. Therefore, it was Leningrad that became the main hero of the exhibition.

The soviet expressionism exhibition has more than 200 works by 59 authors. The first hall presents a dialogue of two generations: the heirs of the Russian avant-garde, who naturally came to the aesthetics of expressionism (here the wonderful canvases by Tatyana Glebova, students of Filonov and Vladimir Sterligov, a student of Malevich) seem to come around, resonate with the works of Alexander Arefiev, Richard Vasmi.

“Foyer” by Alexander Arefiev, 1954

Announced by the formalists in 1949, who managed to complete their art education and who didn’t finish, the artists of the Arefiev circle immortalized a very important thing for us: the Leningrad myth. A ghostly city, saturated with high culture, a contradictory city-power, permeated by the indomitable movement of the Neva, the city of the Bronze Horseman and the “poor Eugene” forever running from it, he appeared before us as a city of free people.

“Sailor” by Konstantin Simun 1961

You can’t walk calmly past the sculptures of Konstantin Simun. Perhaps the most memorable of all is the Sailor. The head in a peakless cap is forged from a piece of rusted iron. These look like old battle helmets in museums. It seems that the lacunae of our memory gap in the history of generations/

Screaming with unprecedented colors, “Landscape with a violin” by Sholom Schwartz, the icon-painted “Self-portrait” by Vladimir Sterligov, the alarming “Glow” by Georgy Traugot… All these artists, different in age, were familiar with each other in one way or another. And although they do not belong to any general school, the impulse of inspiration and freedom of creativity was transferred from hand to hand.

“Airport” by Timur Novikov, 1983

Otherwise, a wonderful Timur Novikov would not have appeared in Petersburg-Leningrad, whose panel “Airport” meets us at the entrance to the exhibition as a warning about the upcoming “hooliganism”. On the panel, sewn from a piece of dark cloth, a collage of beautiful stewardesses carved from glossy magazines, punch cards, painted lights of the airfield and some kind of futuristic aircraft. And at the end of the exposition are the magnificent “Portrait of George Guryanov” and “Leningrad landscape”, capturing the arrow of Vasilyevsky Island from an unusual perspective. By the way, the red-haired character in the portrait is extremely similar to Van Gogh, only seen through the prism of Munk’s “Scream”.

In general, this existence of Leningrad expressionists inside the “cultural capital”, this observation of the beauty of museums, parks, and ancient sculptures noticeably distinguishes Petersburg nonconformists from all others. In their works, the whimsical and natural academic tradition is combined with a destructive beginning.

A typical example of this is the work of Solomon Rossin, who from his youth set himself the task of depicting the life of an entire vast country – the USSR. A boy from a repressed family, he lived in the Southern Urals and the Russian North and finally settled in Gatchina to be able to regularly visit the Hermitage. He created “Choral Paintings” of Soviet life but his best work of all presented at the exhibition is “Poet”. Colleagues laughed that coming to the Hermitage, Rossin certainly went first to the works of Rembrandt, and then Picasso. In his “Poet” one can feel the influence of both of these artists. And Victor Krivulin, a mystical poet-philosopher, depicted on it was also a kind of brand of the “dissident” Leningrad.


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