The joys of Russian art
The real Museum highlight of the Russian trip was our morning in the New Tretyakov Gallery, whose relationship to the old Tretyakov not unlike that of Tate Modern to old Tate. That is to say it basically houses 20th century and later art. And you can get there easily by Metro, so enjoying that experience on the way. I liked the figure of a studious intellectual lady at our local stop.
The thing that took us to the Tretyakov in the first place was the display of time-expired Soviet statuary in the garden. And this was indeed good, especially in the snow. But it wasn’t quite as good as what I saw in the equivalent in Sofia a couple of years ago (the Moscow ones were a bit too tended to match that neglected, nostalgic, Sofia feel).
But slightly more of a surprise was the extraordinary paintings and ceramics inside the gallery. My knowledge of twentieth-century Russian/Soviet art is a fairly bog standard one – Malevich, Kandinsky and Chagall come to mind, but beyond that things get a bit uncertain.
Well, after we had walked very slowly through about three or four rooms (just a tiny proportion of the whole), I remember turning to the rest of the family and observing that I hadn’t seen a single painting that wasn’t really good. Even, as we moved on through time, those that one might be tempted to smirk at (happy workers in the tractor factory et al), were real top of the range!. (To be honest, I got the feeling that things weren’t quite as great after about 1960, but that might be because I was completely knackered by then.)
The Chagall sequence for the Jewish Chamber Theatre in the early 1920s was one standout moment. They were all together in a single room, and for us the whole thing was as impressive as the Calder room in Washington DC I enthused about a few weeks ago.
But every turn brought a gem, like his group of artists (by Pavel Korin).
Or this mock-up of the 1925 Workers’ Club in the Soviet Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition.
And the ceramics were as great as you would predict, but not just the plates. I was particularly taken with the porcelain chess set, by Natalia Danko, pitting the communists against the capitalists (note how the capitalist pawns are in chains). Sadly the museum shop didn’t seem to have grasped (or were rejecting on good principles) the commercial possibilities of replicas of this kind of thing.
Anyway, if you are ever in Moscow, I’ would make a beeline straight for the new Tretyakov. But, you say, I shan’t be flitting off to Russia anytime soon. Well you are in luck. When we got back, I discovered something I should have known all along: that there is an exhibition about to open at the Royal Academy on Soviet revolutionary art, from 1917 to 1932. So make a beeline for that instead.