Exhibition “my Homeland Is Within My Soul” at the State Pushkin Museum

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For the first time in Russia, the Russian and Western European art of the late 19th–20th century from the collection of the Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery (MAGMA) will be on display at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts as part of the 33rd International Music Festival “Sviatoslav Richter December Nights.”

For the first time in Russia, the Russian and Western European art of the late 19th–20th century from the collection of the Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery (MAGMA) will be on display at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts as part of the 33rd International Music Festival “Sviatoslav Richter December Nights.”

MAGMA was founded in 2001 by Viatcheslav Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, renowned international public activist, entrepreneur and philanthropist committed to the ideal of tolerance as the basis for social stability in the world.

This exhibition of works by the world-renowned artists in MAGMA’s collection is a shining example of the ideas of tolerance, cooperation between national art schools and interpenetration of cultures. The title of the exhibition comes from a poem by Marc Chagall, “My Homeland is within My Soul,” reflecting the key concept of this project – wherever we are in this rapidly changing world, we are home.

The exhibition encompasses 100 works of painting, graphics and sculpture by the most famous artists who created a unique artistic world reflecting the distinctive features of their worldview and centuries-long national traditions. The exhibition consists of several sections, each dedicated to a specific period in art history.

The White Hall features works representing two periods – Art of the turn of the 20th century and the first third of the 20th century. It opens with the legendary painting A Parisian Café by Ilya Repin, a renowned Russian painter of the Peredvizhniki school. This painting was created in 1874–1875, much earlier than similar themes were explored by such famous Impressionists as Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Édouard Manet. The Russian Silver Age is represented by such stars of theatre stage design as Lev Bakst (Leon Rosenberg) and Valentin Serov. The first stunning success of Sergei Diaghilev’s “Saison Russe” at the Théâtre du Châtelet was tied to their names. Bakst produced scenery and costumes for many ballets of the “Saison Russe.” His costume design for the ballet “Narcisse” (1911) by Nikolai Tcherepnin is on display at the exhibition. Both artists’ creative interests included the culture of classical antiquity. While Bakst embodied it in the images created for the theatre, Serovrefersto Greek mythology in The Rape of Europa (1910), where he finds that initial integrity and harmony of being that was missing in the turbulence and vanity of the early 20th century. The lyric and romantic aspect of Russian painting is represented in works by Zinaida Serebriakova and Savely Sorin.

Transformations in the public conscience triggered a search for new art forms and new expressive language. This folklore-based primitivism served as the foundation for a unique phenomenon in world art history: Russian Cubo-Futurism in its many variations. Nathan Altman, Robert Falk, David Shterenberg and El Lissitzky are all artists whose careers began at exactly this challenging stage in the evolution of avant-garde in Russia. Altman’s Jewish Funeral (1911) is based on one of the archetypical themes in European art, reflecting the irrevocable passage of time. Works by David Shterenberg and Robert Falk are metaphysical in their own way. Falk’s Still Life with Watermelon and Bun (1925) and Self-Portrait with Gray Hat, created in 1931 when Falk lived and worked in Paris, and Shterenberg’s Church (Green) (1912) are part of this exhibition. El Lissitzky’s art is represented by the book Sihat Hulin (Legend of Prague) (1917), which is extremely rare and hard to find. The lithograph with artist’s colouring is in the form of a Torah-like scroll.

École de Paris was an international union of artists representing several generations who came to Paris from the 1890s to the 1920s from various countries in Europe and America. The École de Paris part of the collection features works by its most prominent members, such as Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Chaim Soutine.

Like many immigrants from Russia, Marc Chagall spent the first half of the 1910s in Paris, where he became well-known. His art is seamlessly tied with mythological and folklore traditions of the ancient Jewish culture. Vision – Self Portrait with Muse (1917–1918) was created in Vitebsk shortly after the First World War, but it reflects his still vivid memories of life in Paris. Bella with a Bouquet of Anemones (1926) is brimming with incomparable lyricism. It was created during Chagall’s first years in Paris, after 1923 when he finally settled in France. Bright accents of red, pink and green and large planes of violet and deep blue surrounding the bouquet all impart a sophisticatedly smart and solemn tone to the painting, elevating its initially lyrical atmosphere to the level of worship of the only, one-of-a-kind woman, his fair one.

Amedeo Modigliani and Chaim Soutine, both of whom came to Paris from the outskirts of Europe, were two artists so dissimilar in appearance who happened to be neighbours in the legendary “La Ruche” and became close friends. Modigliani’s paintings amaze us with the elegance, gracefulness and slenderness of their human figures and the exquisite sentimentalism of their female images. His Portrait of Girl in a Black Dress (1918) displayed at the exhibition is an example of this grace. Soutine’s paintings are no less appealing, full of energy and inner drama, even tragedy, which deforms the contours of figures and faces in portraits, vessels and dead fowls in still lifes, and trees and houses in landscapes – the detached, sad Le Patissier de Cagnes (1922-1923), mournful Woman in Green (1920-1921), famous Nature Morte a la Raie (1923-1924) and Le Boeuf Ecorche (1924). His expressive landscapes portraying a little city in Provence – L’Escalier Rouge a Cagnes (1923 – 1924), Rue a Cagnes (1924) and Paysage à Cagnes-sur-Mer (1924 – 1925) – dazzle with their spiriform interiors. He deforms the silhouettes of small houses, makes the streets crooked and transforms the red stairs in one of the paintings into an analogy of the Old Testament “ladder,” a stairway connecting heaven and earth. This section of the exhibition also features a large panel by Lado Gudiashvili from 1925, with elements of virtuoso, expressionistic yet melancholic pastiche; abstract compositions by Sonia Delaunay, including her legendary Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France (1913); Ossip Zadkine’s sculpture Slave (1922)and Harlequin with Accordion (1919) by Jacques Lipchitz. Works by Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner and Louise Nevelson are also on display.

Alexander Tyshler was a unique artist who played a significant role in 20th century Russian art. MAGMA’s collection includes several of his works created in various periods, using various techniques and even in various forms of fine arts. Tyshler’s famous paintings Director of Weather and Flood (1926), with their symbolic and allegoric meaning, are his earliest works in the collection. His Lyrical Series No. 5 (1928) is full of poetry. Tyshler’s latest work presented at the exhibition is his Girl with Still Life (1955). In this work talent for myth-making of an artist who was always closely associated with theatre world evolves into a new form. The artist combines folklore principles with utopian thinking; he builds castles in the sky and gorgeous still lifes over the heads of his beautiful, nameless heroines. The festive atmosphere that was characteristic of Tyshler’s art, even during the darkest times, finds a new lease on life.

In the section Art of the Late 20th-Early 21st Century, visitors will see works by a pleiad of Non-conformists who opened a new page in history, as well as paintings by Western European artists of the 20th century.

Non-conformists did not form a unified movement or declare ideological aims. They belonged to a circle of non-formal art without being members of an organisation. These artists defended their right to create according to their own aesthetic and philosophical principles. They based their work on the experience of the Russian avant-garde of the first third of the 20th century and contemporary trends in the foreign art, while using diverse styles and techniques – from expressionism and cubism to abstract expressionism and pop art. This exhibition mainly features works by artists whose careers began during the “thaw” period in the early 1960s: Vladimir Weisberg, Mikhail Shwartzman and Vladimir Yakovlev. Their very system of values looked like a dissident and non-conformist statement.

Dmitry Lion was one of these ingenious artists, and his career lasted from the late 1950s through the 1990s. His numerous graphical works form a unique universe characterised by minimalism of expressive media. Text fragments, often unreadable, are part of the images, revealing commonalities between word and picture. Visitors will see Leon’s To Foresee Is To Interfere (1959), Wall (1959) and Apocalypse (1959).

Vladimir Weisberg is one of the most mysterious painters of the non-formal artists. A light sfumato or mist clouds his objects and human forms, poetizing each of his paintings. The earliest work by the artist in this collection is Portrait of Guinsberg in a Plaster Cast (1960). With grainy pointing strokes he creates an ephemeral image of a man. In Still Life with Cockleshells (1969), Composition with Four Cubes (1975) and other works, Weisberg creates his own spatial models in the viewer’s eyes. The silver-grey palette dissolves contours, turning them into light ghosts.

Yet another non-conformist, Vladimir Yakovlev, combined the spirit of a naive worldview with expressive brushwork, and archetypical and metaphysical meaning of the images he fancied in such works as Fish (1974) and Animal’s Head (1974).

The collection comprises several works by Eduard Shteinberg, one of the most consistent adherents of modern geometric abstraction. His Compositions, dated 2000 and 2001, juxtapose flat geometrical figures of local colours overlapping each other or continuing lines. Light and dark tones harmoniously add to and match each other, creating unique ensembles.

The exhibition displays works by Mikhail Shwartzman dating from 1957 through the 1980s from his famous series Hieratures – including his early paintings Glass of Water (1957), Flute Players (1958), and Mama (1962-1963) and his later Gethsemane (1976) and Winged Heart (1977-1978).

There is one work by great Soviet artist Dmitry Zhilinsky, who considered the art of the past to be a benchmark and example of supreme beauty. Man with Dead Dog is a reproduction of the famous painting in the Tretyakov Gallery, made for MAGMA in 1999.

Works by conceptualist artists demonstrating the diversity of this current within non-formal art in the late USSR and post-Soviet Russia form a large and significant part of MAGMA’s collection. They include several paintings by Erik Bulatov – Portrait of Olga Andreeva (1966) and the conceptual The Russian 20th Century (1990), showing a vertical spaceship bell tower looking skyward as a positive alternative to a tragic horizontal landscape.

The name of Ilya Kabakov became a symbol and made Conceptualism one of the most notable Russian trends in world art in the second half of the 20th century. The key vehicle of Conceptualism – an artist’s ironic reflection on any topic whatsoever, a subtle intellectual interplay with a broad range of trivial and non-trivial signs and symbols, from social and political life to art history – reached their culmination in Kabakov’s work. His landmark paintings Path and Beetle (both 1982) are superb examples of this.

The exhibition features eight works by the great conceptualist artist Viktor Pivovarov – the paintings Triptych with Snake (2000-2001) and Wet Hair (2012) and three-dimensional installations from the Made of Glass series (2010), including Look Up!, Thoughtful, Between Snake and Rabbit. Pivovarov creates new and interesting images using discoveries made by surrealists and masters of “metaphysical painting,” as well as by cartoon and children’s book illustrators.

The exhibition also showcases Vladimir Yankilevsky’s Artist and His Model (1993) and the sculpture Jacob and the Angel (1995) by Grisha Bruskin.

Western European art of the 20th century is represented by an early work by Mark Rothko, Portrait of Joe Liss (1939), and two paintings by a British artist Lucian Freud, Guy Half Asleep (1981-1982) and Ali (1974).

“My Homeland Is within My Soul” at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts will be a real Christmas present for all art lovers, giving audiences in Russia a new look at works by familiar artists and a chance to discover new masters with distinctive styles that greatly influenced the development of art around the world.