«There exist many painterly manners. However, it is not the manner that matters, but the ability to see beauty» (Alexei Savrasov, the painter)

Articles (About exhibitions):

Message of time in the context of culture

The Image of Homeland exhibit seems to have been a major event in the cultural life of Russia in 2006-2007. It was marked with true paintings of undying worth separated in time by some 150 years at least. The fact that an exhibit successfully held in Vologda for few months was continued in Moscow where the role of the host was performed by the Central House of Artisis testifies to the energetic search for new forms of Realism. The outworn quotation ‘search for new forms’ so frequent in dissertations on art is the only one that exactly conveys the combined effort of the local government and Vologda Picture Gallery, on the one hand, and the authoritativ Union of Artists of Russia and Art Prima Gallery that is powerfully asserting itself among other Moscow private collectors, on the other. Actually, while during the perestroika private art collections generally found themselves in opposition to the govenment-sponsored art galleries, which survived since the Soviet time, recent years have seen some improvement in the relationship of art-dealers and government structures, especially when the former started to show interest in ‘mining’ the so-called topical art movements. Without trying to pass judgement on the above art movements or the activities of those government officials who supervise the corresponding money flows, one cannot help noticing that traditional realistic art found itself short of the official interest and money, as well as of the attention of the art-dealers. To be more precise, Realism suffers from the lack of commercial promotin: although the marketability of realistic art is quite evident, investment in its ‘promotion’ seems to be a different story. The long-accepted goverment schemes have only featured Realism in the retrospective of art and no one is willing to allocate money for actualization of those schemes. Exclusion cound only be made for some individual masters who have always held a promined position.

But time flies and there has come a moment when the interests of the Union of Artists, a corporate organization with seasoned aesthetic principles, for one thing, those of private entrepreneurs investing in art, for another, and those of the government sections obliged to be engaged in collecting and preserving spiritual and cultural values – which were not designed to debase but, on the contrary, to harden the backbone of the society and state that turned out to be so rickety and fragile – happily coincided. One of the factors which encouraged such solidarity of interest, beside new developments in religion, philanthropy, education and literature, in plastic arts and the theatre, were the canvases of those painters who saw themselves as successors of the Russian cultural tradishion. Art Prima Gallery is one of the first whose activity seems to be the most approximate and authentic in reaching that goal. They have settled down to bring realistic art out of the past to the foreground, to turn museum rarity collecting into a fashionable, high-profile art business.

Both the Union of Artists of Russia and Art Prima Gallery advisory panel in Moscow claim professionalism to be their high priority in judgement of a painting. That statement calls for a more detailed discussion. As a rule, the art that is downright commercial, though it might be appealing to the buyer with its catchy workmanship and loud praise from the critics, tends to be of a very low quality. The Image of Homeland, on the contrary, gives a happy example of a very scrupulous selection of paintings based on the criteria which exist as certain kind of code among painters and are dificult to express verbally, although they have proved to be effective through a few generations of master. By the way, every exhibit of the Image can also be viewed as a good investment and conspicuous consumption. Both above aspects are a matter of no small consequence, for the Union of Artists was meant and has always been a union of producers, not sellers. The Khudfond, an organization with its numerous subsidiary productions that was to do with commercial matters of the Union, now seems to be a poor job provider both for the individual artists and for the entire Union. It seemed improper to discuss such subjects before, with the exhibition in view, primarily because of the Union and its role in the business, but now the circumstances make us see good sense and potential efficiency in the co-operation of a team of like-minded artists and a commercially-minded gallery.

So the motivation of the sponsors of the Image show clear. The Union that can boast of its own decades-long history is interested in presenting canvases of its leading masters along with the works of their predecessors in order to demonstrate the present-day Russian art being well-rooted in the 19th-century tradition. While museum workers who cherish every canvas they may come across, no matter classic or modern, toil hard to make out the principles which their collcection is supposed to be based on, the Art Prima workers claim to be serious art-dealers who, on the one hand, seek for that what is educationally valuable, and, on the other, follow the tough criteria dictated by the market – good quality and high professionalism of the painting. Anyway, it is certain, both for Vologda, as it used to be for Lipetsk and Kirov before, that in Moscow such an exhibition is doomed to success. The matter is not in the appeal of landscape, in the popularity it inevitably enjoys, or in the great eclat, well deserved though, of the artists to be presented and carefully selected painting to be shown. The intense public interest aroused by the traditional genre of landscape shoud be viewed as a symptom of great want of such art in the society. The most evident reason for it might be the growth of patriotic feeling in the society. The role of landscape in forming a positive image of homeland – mind the complete similarity to the name of the exhibit, which is not a mere coincidence! – is by all means fundamental in forming patriotic feeling. This role is so great and important that any promotion of landscape painting could be considered part of the common cause of encouragement of love for homeland. That is why so important is Art Prima’s initiative to hold the Image of Homeland, which has already been shown in other places, in Moscow.

Moreover, such events may become an antithesis of the new phenomenon that has not been thoroughly apparaised or analyzed yet. The fact is that man’s in-born appetite for visual images has recently found its satisfaction in hi-tech products. The most radical experts might be ready to jump at conclusions that realictic painting is doomed, as they already did after the successive invention of photography, film and television. Although Art has always found a way to meet such kind of challenge, the current one seems more ominous since it differs from the previous by scale: guantity threatens to grow into quality. The number of pictures downloaded on our PCs or mobile phones is thousand-fold bigger than the numer of dagerotypes and photos in our family albums. The Internet database is growing mainly with photographs. Today even newspapers tend to use high-quality full-colour prints. Advertisements look more and more naturalistic with their pictures of mount-watering spring water, amazingly fluffy jumpers washed in a wonder-washing liquid or a sparking, bearing a watery glint, body of a representative car. Modern man finds himself under the pressure of a visual aggression. Under the circumstances, a painted landscape seems to be a kind of a reserve in the sea of imitative products. The landscape, devoid of banality, keeps on asserting an absolute fact: harmony does exist in this world!

While in the past, at the time of grand styles, architecture used to be the focus of all aesthetic principles, nowadays landscape painting performs, to a certain degree, a similar role along with some other functions typical of a guardian of fundamental characteristics of an epoch in art. Thus, landscape, if compared to other genres, is completely destitude of irony. You can only spot it in compositions which include genre scenes and humans added to the landscape as mere staffage. The main idea of landscape is presumably cosmogonic, and consequenty, landscape is oriented to, so to say, the upper registers of life. The viewer’s emotional associations and the artist’s desired perfections are similarly oriented. Certain levels of artistry on the part of the painter are able to bring any motif or subject to such perfection that its real relationship with the surrounding world. Through perfection of his skills the artist manages to take the thing out of real life and bring it to life on his canvas. Mind you that in doing so no coding or ostentatious symbols are used.

In fact, it may be the reason why the genre of landscape has become the last and the most reliable citadel of realistic art, for its aim is to speak clearly of very complicated things. In their works landscape painters did not seem to be particularly interested in high-lighting the most frequent motifs, but, actually, in ‘canonizing’ them and working out the basic principles of landscape composition. The exhibit clearly demonstrates those figurative associations which connect the representatives of the other generation, such as Alexei Savrasov, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Vasily Baksheyev, Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, Stanislav Zhukovsky, Pyotr Petrovichev and Leonard Turzhansky with our contemporaries who use the same language speaking about the phenomena extremely attractive for the Russian heart. The audacious confrontation of canvases belonging to different times, even epochs, as they are presented at the exhibition, has been much spoken and written about. There is only one thing to add: infinite resources of  the realistic tradition have been marked in those works very graphically through evidently great evolution of painting itself. A trained eye could definitely and without an error spot canvases which were painted in different periods. That ‘Guess What?’ game has made up an exciting scenario of an exhibition that suggests an experienced viewer read the messages left by different periods of time in the context of cultural values.

The specific character of the genre hallmarks almost religious attitude is implied in common recognition of ‘sacred’ sites which do not only look ideally flawless, but sre also associated with the poetic genius of the great masters who used to work there. Such is the open vast of the Volga banks in the landscapes of Arkady Plastov, the Arkhangelsk land on the canvases of Vladimir Stozharov, the Russian North in Nikolai Romadin’s paintings and Rostov Veliky in Vyacheslav Zabelin’s ones. Such is ‘Akademichka’ (the Artists’ Village in Vyshny Volochek) which is associated with so many names that it would mean to remember, probably, all the participants of the exhibition. Seeing a familiar landscape enables you to compare the treatment of it by different painters at different times. That graphically illustrates the logical development of Russian art, which, of course, enhances the exhibit with additional associations.

Excited, first-hand dialogues over decades between the previous generations of artists and our contemporary ones through their paintings helped to discover unexpected and far from evident parallels. Thus, sophisticated network of the painterly texture and the heroic character of the imagery make Konstantin Bogayevsky and Alexei Sukhovetsky, though they belong to different epochs, look like alter ego of each other. At the same time the paintings by Valery Strakhov and Vladimir Shcherbakov, despite being stylistically different from the above mentioned works, seem to be in harmony with their monumental solemnity.

Nevertheless, the impression of the exhibition goes far beyond such allusions, no matter how attractive they may sound. The searching scrutiny of real faith brings some painters to the level of true revelation winning eye-worship of the awe-struck viewer who refuses to see the landscapes of Nikolai Krymov, a convinced analyst, as ‘harmony approved by algebra’ but ae a sudden discovery of how beautiful this world is. The same challenge and perfection can be found in the works of Krymov’s pupils and followers, Fyodor Glebov and Yuri Kugach.

The canvases of Viktor Tsyplakov, which look full of light, show off their specific charm in the deep colour concentration of the shadowy spots. If admiration could be understood as elevation of mind over commonness, that would be the main idea of the exhibition. With different artists it takes different forms – an epos, like in Valentin Sidorov’s paintings, or a fairy-tale, like in Vladimir Telin’s landscapes, or as if a picture of the past on Yuri Grishchenko’s canvases or as if materialized essence of life in Mikhail Abakumov’s painting. Or, like on the canvases of Nikolai Fedosov, who had been brought to such an early grave, the main idea sounds like the ability of the Russian heart to be equally responsive to the harmony of a naturally perfect form and the unseen to the ordinary eye, implied meaning of things. True is the saying citing the words of Coran: “The Spirit is one spirit but the gifts are different” (in another translation: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12).

Singleness of diversity or “flourishing complexity”, according to the outstanding philosopher Konstantin Leontiev. That is what distinguishes this exhibition that follows the path of Russian painting for 150 years, being, at the same time, highly up-to-date and making you think both about the eternal mission of art and about the peculiarities of today’s market, about the continuity of Russian artistic tradition and about the ways of its future development.

Холодная весна. Кусково, 1996-99