A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde; curated by Roxana Marcoci and Sarah Suzuki with Hillary Reder; Museum of Modern Art, NYC, through March 12
Review by Roann Barris, Radford University
One might be excused for thinking that the entry sign to the exhibition is one of the art works in the show. The assertive, sans serif lettering, which increases in scale, and the angled parallelogram with a circle at its end, speak to the dynamic sense of velocity created by the art of the Russian avant-garde. This economy of design is also seen in El Lissitzky’s cover of Wendingen: barely four forms, two lines, and the title angled between the lines and oriented in the same direction as the grey rectilinear slab. The thin lines continue from the front cover to the back. Indeed, one of the most exciting features of this exhibition is the ample inclusion of such print works, which also includes an array of LEF magazine covers, books designed by Lissitzky, and illustrations by Olga Rozanova. Of course, one cannot overlook the wall of marvelous movie posters by the Stenberg brothers or the room of movies where the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and others, are continuously projected.
Upon entering the exhibition, two things are especially striking: first, the extent of MoMA’s holdings in Russian art is a veritable history of the avant-garde. Simply stunning in its depth and quality, much of it is never on view. We know that Alfred Barr began collecting Russian art on his trip to Russia in the late 1920s, but less widely known is the degree to which this collection continued to grow throughout the twentieth century. A second and equally strong impression is one of synergy. Regardless of medium and artist, there is a recognizable direction of development. There is nothing random or haphazard about the evolution of Constructivism and Suprematism. Yet, isn’t this how we tend to think of it: as an avant-garde that is not held together by style because the artists affirmed that they were against style? Perhaps this show teaches us that style in this case refers to an attitude about velocity, angularity, a sense of dynamism, and most important, about the communication of ideas through composition.
The New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, welcomed this show for another, but equally important, reason. In her December 9 assessment of the exhibition, she noted the role of this exhibition as marking a revolutionary change in how the Museum of Modern Art chooses to display its art. Thus, she concludes that a second revolutionary impulse can be observed–-one which, in this case, suggests an approach to exhibitions that is broad, pulls on the entire collection of the Museum, and enables visitors to see just how the synergy I described previously characterized this moment in Russian art.
The graphic design media may be the most impressive works of all. Although they are not likely to look very different in real life, rarely do we have the opportunity to see so many copies of the radical LEF journal laid out in one place at the same time. Another high point is seeing so many works by one artist together on a single wall or filling a room – the Lissitzky Proun room, for example, and the wall of prints by Lyubov Popova. The individual works may not be newly surprising (although in Popova’s case, they are), but it increases their resonance when so many are seen together. Surely, the artists themselves were aware of this effect as they worked in series.
A viewer unfamiliar with Russian art is in for an exciting surprise. The visitor who has devoted years to studying this period will also be surprised in a different way – namely by that feature of resonance and the almost dizzying profusion of seeing so many works of Russian art in one place.
A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde is on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017.
Roann Barris, a professor of art history and Art Department chair, has long been interested in Russian theater and graphic design. Not long ago, she returned to Moscow where she reexamined the materials she had used in her doctoral research on Russian constructivism, and revised much of what she had originally believed.
Exhibition: “Oleg Vassiliev: Metro Series & Selected Works on Paper from the Kolodzei Art Foundation”
Opening reception on Monday, January 23, 2017, 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
at the Harriman Institute Atrium (420 W 118th Street, 12th floor, New York)
The exhibition on view until March 10, 2017
Oleg Vassiliev was born in 1931 in Moscow; lived and worked in New York. He died in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2013. He has been the recipient of numerous artistic awards and grants, including from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1994 and 2002). In 1999, he was the first recipient of the “Liberty Prize.” His work has been displayed in museum exhibitions across the globe. His prominent solo museum exhibitions include Oleg Vassiliev: Memory Speaks (Themes and Variations) at The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow in 2004 and The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg in 2005; The Art of Oleg Vassiliev, The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011; Oleg Vassiliev: Space and Light at the Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick in 2014-2015.
Oleg Vassiliev is regarded as a key member of the Nonconformist Art movement; rather than confining himself to the discussion of contemporary political and societal issues, Vassiliev’s work explores concepts reaching beyond questions of social order. Among his immediate influences are the lyrical realist landscape paintings of Isaac Levitan and Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist art. As the Russian artist Erik Bulatov puts it, Vassiliev’s painting “connects such disparate lines of development in Russian art as nineteenth-century realist painting, landscape painting in particular, and the avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s.” Though he immigrated to the United States in 1990, Russia and Russian art continued to play an important role in Vassiliev’s work. Rather than reject past artistic experiments, Vassiliev embraced them, combining traditional artistic concepts with nonconformist ideas and influences from early 20th Century abstract art. The past and present seem to collide in his work, and this work, too, appears timeless—at once belonging to the past and the present. Linked to this idea of timelessness, is the idea of transitional space. Throughout his works, Vassiliev emphasizes the importance of memory. Individual memories, often the starting points of his work, become universal explorations of memory and the act of remembering.
This exhibit is presented by the Kolodzei Art Foundation, a public foundation (est. 1991) that organizes exhibitions and cultural exchanges in museums and cultural centers in the United States, Russia and other countries, often utilizing the considerable resources of the Kolodzei Collection of Russian and Eastern European Art, publishes books on Russian art, and provides art supplies to Russian artists. The Kolodzei Collection of Russian and Eastern European Art is one of the largest private art collections, and consists of over 7,000 works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and videos, by more than 300 artists from Russia and the former Soviet Union. For additional information visit www.KolodzeiArt.org or email Natalia Kolodzei
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Alexander Gray Associates
Exhibition: Sergei Eisenstein: Drawings 1931–1948
January 7 – February 11, 2017
Gallery talk: Joan Neuberger discusses Eisenstein’s drawings
Saturday, January 14, 2017, 4:00 PM
Alexander Gray Associates in collaboration with Matthew Stephenson presents a rare private collection of drawings by the Russian filmmaker and theorist, Sergei Eisenstein on view for the first time in the Americas. These sexually explicit drawings, completed between 1931–1948, span the period of his travels in Mexico and the United States in the 1930s until his death in Moscow in 1948.
A renowned film director and film montage innovator, Eisenstein also wrote extensively and made upwards of 5,000 drawings throughout his life, including designs for film sets and storyboards. This group, however, reveals Eisenstein’s sexual imagination, in part informed by his own bisexuality as well as his considerable reading and travel. Arranged in groupings that demonstrate a diversity of content, the drawings on view are intimately scaled, mostly monochromatic, with flashes of colored pencil typically in red or blue.
As historian Joan Neuberger notes, during his time in Mexico, “Eisenstein confirmed that drawing was no less important in his work as an artist than film-making and theory writing,” though it remains lesser-known. Many of his films are subtly subversive in his refusal to broadly prioritize propagandistic Soviet Realism over experimentation with camera techniques. In his “sex drawings,” Eisenstein engages in pointed institutional critiques, occasionally through the inclusion of Christian iconography and clergy members entwined in sexual acts that might be read as sacrilegious. He also illustrates figures engaged in intercourse in public spaces including the circus, nightclubs, and the streets. One red and black pencil drawing includes the text “Drag,” and features two figures in an environment that evokes a nightclub, likely in New York. One figure wearing a man’s suit appears to be reaching up the second figure’s dress as they recline on a sofa. Through his exploration of this content, Eisenstein constructs succinct and transgressive visual stories in a medium that was intentionally less public-facing than his films.
Also present in many of these drawings are irreverent depictions of inter-species relations including: a scene of matadors and bulls engaged in oral sex, and a fornicating alligator and rabbit captioned “Fucking, according to the Best System.” These pairings highlight Eisenstein’s fascination with dualities, which he called the “unity of opposites,” as well as his interest in representing a broad range of behaviors and desires reflecting the Freudian topicality of their time. Eisenstein’s experiences in Hollywood are apparent in these drawings, in particular his interest in Walt Disney’s films, which he claimed were “the greatest contribution of the American people to art,” and which informed his sometimes cartoonish style demonstrated in a drawing of a nude man draped backwards over an expressively wide-eyed giraffe.
After spending six months in California, Eisenstein traveled to Mexico to begin filming ¡Que Viva México!, an epic about the country’s history. He intended his trip to last three to four months; it lasted over a year. In 1946, Eisenstein wrote, “it was in Mexico that my drawing underwent an internal catharsis, striving for mathematical abstraction and purity of line. The effect was considerably enhanced when this abstract, ‘intellectualized’ line was used for drawing especially sensual relationships between human figures.” This interest in line and interplay of figures underscores his connection to the work of Mexican muralists including Diego Rivera, who Eisenstein first met in 1927, and whose work he greatly admired.
The drawings on view have a rich history. When departing Mexico, Eisenstein was stopped, questioned and his luggage searched at the United States border where the drawings were nearly confiscated for their incendiary nature. Upon his return to Moscow at the height of Stalin’s rule he kept the explicit images hidden until his death in 1948. His widow, the writer and filmmaker Pera Atasheva, donated most of his graphic archive, with the exception of his sex drawings, to the Russian State Archives of Literature and Art in Moscow (RGALI). Atasheva entrusted the erotic drawings to Eisenstein’s close friend and collaborator, the famous Soviet cinematographer Andrei Moskvin, who protected the director’s reputation by keeping these drawings hidden. After Moskvin’s death in 1961, his widow safeguarded the drawings. In the late 1990s her heirs sold the drawings to the family of present owner. A quarter of the drawings were also donated to the permanent collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Also on view to provide visual context and connection to Eisenstein’s cinematic practice is a continual projection of the 1979 edit of ¡Que Viva México!, Eisenstein’s unfinished film which he began filming in Mexico in 1931. The film footage was edited by various people and released without Eisenstein’s participation in 1933, 1934, 1939, 1940, and ultimately by his assistant director, Grigorii Alexandrov in 1979.
About Matthew Stephenson
Matthew Stephenson is a London based art dealer advising and representing artists and artist’s estates and assisting private collectors and institutions through the exhibition, acquisition and selling of 19th, 20th century and contemporary art.
About Joan Neuberger
Neuberger is Professor, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin.
Alexander Gray Associates
Alexander Gray Associates is a contemporary art gallery in New York. Through exhibitions, research, and artist representation, the Gallery spotlights artistic movements and artists who emerged in the mid- to late-Twentieth Century. Influential in cultural, social, and political spheres, these artists are notable for creating work that crosses geographic borders, generational contexts and artistic disciplines. Alexander Gray Associates is a member of the Art Dealers Association of America.
Exhibition: Grounding Vision: Waclaw Szpakowski
Curated by Masha Chlenova and Anya Komar
Miguel Abreu Gallery
88 Eldridge Street (Lower East Side), New York City
January 13-February 19, 2017
The opening reception will take place Wednesday January 18, 2017
Exhibition: A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde at MoMA
On December 3, 2016, the exhibition “A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde” opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; it will be on view until 12 March 2017. The exhibition traces the arc of the pioneering Russian avant-garde from its earliest flowering in 1912 to the moment of the Stalinist decree in 1934. Bringing together almost 300 breakthrough objects across mediums from MoMA’s extraordinary collection, the exhibition, planned in anticipation of the centennial of the Russian Revolution, probes the myriad ways that an object can be revolutionary.
The exhibition will be complemented by a public program “The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond” on February 8, 2017 from 6-8pm. Admission is free but a reservation is required.
Exhibition: Thoughts Isolated: The Foksal Gallery Archives, 1966-2016
Fri, Nov 18, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm | The James Gallery
Please join us in the James Gallery for the opening reception of “Thoughts Isolated: The Foksal Gallery Archives, 1966-2016”
Friday, November 18th from 6 to 8pm
Founded by artists and critics in 1966 in Warsaw, Poland, the Foksal Gallery has thrived through transitions in the realms of government, the economy, and the art world. Today, at a time when New York City’s artist-run spaces are encountering serious threats to survival, the case of Foksal Gallery becomes ever more relevant. How does Foksal Gallery illuminate new ways of building a sustained art community and legacy? The archives tell the story of the gallery as a model of an arts space run as a collaboration between artists and critics and engaged consistently in critical reflexive dialogue about its purpose/mission and meaning.
The exhibition opens on the occasion of Foksal Gallery’s 50th anniversary featuring the Foksal Gallery Archive’s unique set of resources of original papers, photographs, printed matter and artworks collected since the gallery’s founding. The exhibition includes early exhibition catalogues, invitations, posters and flyers, often designed by the artists themselves. Original material such as maquettes and designs for exhibitions are also to be found, as well as a large amount of photographic documentation of performances, installations and social gatherings at the gallery as well as sound and moving image recordings of early happenings and events.
Curators: Katherine Carl, Katarzyna Krysiak, David Senior.
Cooperation: Bartek Remisko and Martyna Stołpiec. With special thanks to Anna Ficek and Jennifer Wilkinson.
Organizers: James Gallery, the Graduate Center, CUNY and Foksal Gallery, Mazaovia Institute of Culture, Warsaw.
The exhibition was made possible by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland; the support of the Polish Cultural Institute-New York; and the patronage of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute/Culture.pl; and Anka Ptaszkowska.
Additional support from The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York; The Kosciuszko Foundation; The Polish Institute of Arts & Sciences of America, Inc.; Artists Alliance Inc.; Artists Space; CEC ArtsLink; EFA Project Space; Franklin Furnace; NURTUREart Non-Profit, Inc.; Residency Unlimited.
The exhibition will be open November 19th through December 17th, 2016
Exhibition: A Vibrant Field: Nature and Landscape in Soviet Nonconformist Art, 1970s-1980s
Mar 04, 2017 - Jul 31, 2017
Zimmerli Art Museum
Dodge Gallery (Lower Level)
New Brunswick, NJ
A Vibrant Field: Nature and Landscape in Soviet Nonconformist Art, 1960s-1980s is the first exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum to explore the wide range of meanings that the natural world held for unofficial artists in the Soviet Union. Drawn from the strengths of the Dodge Collection, the exhibition brings together works produced in the period between thaw and perestroika that challenged the link between nature, optimism, and progress, which socialist realist aesthetics had promoted. Approximately fifty objects across media are featured, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, and performance, by more than twenty-five artists and artist groups from the Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine. Despite the artists’ diverse backgrounds and creative approaches, together their works establish nature as a vibrant subject matter, push the boundaries of landscape as a genre, and limit the appropriation of landscape imagery in the name of socialist ideology. In turn, the status of nature in late socialism, and one’s individual or collective place within it, is explored as an open–and vital–question.
A Vibrant Field assembles varied perspectives, vantage points, and orientations that underlie how one experiences nature, both in the physical sense of navigating nature as a real environment and in the conceptual sense of coming to know, describe, represent, or assign it with symbolic value. The exhibition is mapped along three principle zones of inquiry. The first, Visions, draws together work that takes to task the process of visualizing spaces in nature in order to elucidate, reimagine, or critique how humans relate to or inhabit them. In this section, particular attention is paid to works that highlight ecological concerns resulting from the exploitation of natural resources and rapid pursuit of industrialization in the Soviet Union. In Reflections, artists place less emphasis on the material landscapes in nature than on how they become a picture and the role of artistic convention, memory, and ideology in mediating this process. Finally, Encounters considers the emergence of land art and performance-based practices in nature in the 1970s and 1980s that provided a freer alternative to urban communality, ritual, and public space in the Soviet Union. Through their direct encounters with the land, artists in this section approach nature not only as a subject matter or a backdrop to their work, but in some cases as an actor or co-producer.
Organized by Anna Rogulina, a Dodge-Lawrence Fellow at the Zimmerli and Ph.D. student in the Department of Art History at Rutgers, and SHERA member
This exhibition is made possible by the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund.
Exhibition: From Russia with Love: Selections from the Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Collection of Russian Art
Mead Art Museum
Open until May 2017
Thomas Porter Whitney (1917–2007), a 1937 graduate of Amherst College, went to Moscow as a member of the US diplomatic corps during the Second World War. He married a Russian woman and soon became a connoisseur of the riches of Russian art and culture behind the public facade of the Soviet regime. When the couple relocated to the United States, in 1953, they were not allowed to export many cultural goods. Whitney began to collect rare books, manuscripts, and artworks in a systematic way only in the 1960s.
By the end of the 1980s Whitney had amassed over six hundred paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures by some 170 artists, most from the first half of the twentieth century. The collection he ultimately assembled represents the creative life of Russian cultural elites who, under the Soviet regime, were forced either to emigrate or to go underground to avoid persecution. Many of the artworks were purchased from émigrés who sold their possessions in times of financial need. The most significant works, however—including those on view in this exhibition—came from trusted galleries and auction houses.
Through the purchases he made, Whitney not only captured major trends in Russian art, but paid tribute to the multifaceted artistic currents—including sacred art, book illustration, geometrical abstraction, stage design, and the manifold treatments of representational motifs—that shaped twentieth-century Russian art. This exhibition presents highlights from Whitney’s collection, most of which he gave, toward the end of the century and near the end of his life, to his alma mater.
Organized by Bettina Jungen, Thomas P. Whitney, Class of 1937, Curator of Russian Art. Presented with generous support from the Julia A. Whitney Fund for Russian Art and Faye DeWitt.
Exhibition: Vincent Hloznik: Between War and Dream
August 16 – September 16, 2016
BBLA Gallery at National Bohemian Hall
321 East 73rd Street, 3rd Floor, New York City
Closing Reception: Thursday, September 15, 6:30 - 8:30 PM
The exhibition Vincent Hložník: Between War and Dream features 20 Surrealist-inspired linocut prints by Slovak artist Vincent Hložník from the series Dreams (Sny) (1962) on loan from Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection at Hebrew Home at Riverdale. They represent a turning point in the artist’s career as his figurative motifs—always related to the exploration of the human condition—began to take on more symbolic and metaphorical meanings. Detached human limbs, monstrous figures assembled from eyes and teeth, the Angel of Death, and threatening flanks of silhouetted and stylized archaic warriors signal unspecified danger, while angles and voids create an instability that marks the very real threat of annihilation, whether from war or nuclear arms.
Vincent Hložník (1919–1997) was a key figure in modern Slovak art as both a teacher and artist, and was responsible for establishing the Department of Graphic Art and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava after joining the faculty in 1952.
This event is organized by the Consulate General of Slovakia in New York, Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection at Hebrew Home at Riverdale, with support of BBLA.
Viewing hours: Monday - Friday 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
(Please note that BBLA’s exhibition space is occasionally closed for events. Call 212-988-1733 to verify access.)
Exhibition: “Thinking Pictures”: Moscow Conceptual Art in the Dodge Collection
Sep 06, 2016 - Dec 31, 2016
Voorhees Gallery, Zimmerli Art Museum
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
“Thinking Pictures” draws on one of the great strengths of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. It presents the visually provocative objects that distinguish Moscow Conceptualism from the forms associated with its namesake, the canonical oeuvres of American and British conceptual artists, in particular. This exhibition focuses on more than 40 individual artists and several collectives who lived and worked in Soviet Moscow from the 1960s to the 1990s. They were concerned with the essential task of creating an audience in an environment that lacked galleries, critics, and a viable art market but had its own institutional framework—one that privileged painting (Socialist Realism).
The exhibition presents a diverse range of artworks by several generations of artists who responded to the experience of ideological conformity (and its dissolution) as it had been enforced within official art academies. Oriented toward irony and parody, but also toward serious speculation about the place of the individual in Soviet society and Western art history, artists engaged in a dialogue with the priorities of official culture on the one hand, and those of modernist, including conceptual, art in the West, on the other. They challenged the hierarchical ordering of media that characterized late Soviet modernity by redefining the role of visual thinking in the creation of installations and albums, as well as a process of self-archiving, to create a richly allusive visual and performative culture. The term “thinking pictures” (umozritel’naia zhivopis’) was coined by artists in the late 1970s to capture the new role played by painting in the post-conceptual era.
“Thinking Pictures” introduces contemporary audiences to these artists’ historical gambit and sheds light on the complex role visual art plays in the viewer’s own lives. Although a number of exhibitions devoted to the art of the Moscow Conceptualist circle have been organized in Europe and Russia over the past decade, “Thinking Pictures” is the first in the United States since Perspectives of Conceptualism in 1991, which traveled extensively and ultimately found a home at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. The Zimmerli exhibition features important works by major artists recognized widely in the art world (Eric Bulatov Ilya Kabakov, Komar and Melamid, Viktor Pivovarov), as well as such others at the center of this movement as Yuri Albert, Yuri Leiderman, Igor Makarevich, and Irina Nakhova. An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
Organized by Jane A. Sharp, Research Curator for Soviet Nonconformist Art
The exhibition and accompanying publication are made possible by the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, The Thickman Family Foundation, and by donors to the Zimmerli’s Major Exhibition Fund: James and Kathrin Bergin; Alvin and Joyce Glasgold; Charles and Caryl Sills; Voorhees Family Endowment; and the Jerome A. Yavitz Charitable Foundation, Inc.-Stephen Cypen, President
September 21, 5-8pm / Exhibition Celebration
5pm: Curator-led roundtable discussion with exhibiting artists