Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery
The Museum of Avant-Garde Mastery, MAGMA, was formed on the basis of the private collection of the well-known public figure, businessman, philanthropist and patron Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. It is MAGMA’s special concept that makes it different from other museums and private collections of 20th- and 21st-century art. The Museum sees its mission as showing the contribution that artists of Jewish extraction who were born in Russia made to the world’s avant-garde, modernist and post-modernist art: in other words to the art of the 20th century.
MAGMA’s collection includes 300 works that were gathered over the course of seven years, a relatively short period for such a collection. The clear vision behind the museum’s concept made the work go faster. This is not just a collection of works based on someone’s likes and dislikes. A list of artists was compiled in advance and the works were acquired systematically. The museum is proud for the largest and best private collection of works by Chaim Soutine.
Even the name of the museum sounds innovative, suggesting a look at what avant-garde art really is. The museum’s collection explores the forces that cause people to realise what has come before them, what is new and where the pioneering energy of an artist lies.
It took time to develop the concept behind the museum. But in the end, all the preparation resulted in a very harmonious collection of works by thirty great Russian Jewish artists who are recognised as geniuses abroad. The paradoxical character of the collection is that, although these artists are highly regarded all over the world, many people in Russia know nothing about their works or that they even exist at all.
The Museum’s collection opens with The Rape of Europa, by Valentin Serov. This is a programme work that occupies a special place both in Serov’s oeuvre and in the overall history of Russian art. It was painted in 1910, right at the start of the new century, and marks the moment when Russian art turned from realism to modernism.
The basis of the first part consists of masters of what was called the School of Paris, whose members were for the most part Jewish. Marc Chagall, Chaïm Soutine, Ossip Zadkine, Jacques Lipchitz, Sonia Delaunay, Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo were all émigrés from the Russian Empire and, together with their mutual friend Amedeo Modigliani, they all had an immense influence on 20th-century art. Very closely linked to this core of the School of Paris, and aesthetically close to them, were the artists Nathan Altman, Robert Falk, David Shterenberg and Alexander Tyshler, who had lived and worked in Paris but spent most of their lives in the Soviet Union.Works by Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson and Lucian Freud occupy a special place in this first part of the Museum, and any collection of modern art would be incomplete without them.
The second part of MAGMA consists of a quite unique collection of works by artists who were born and shaped in the Soviet Union. Various names are applied to their art: Non-conformism, Underground Art or the Second Russian Avant-garde. The Museum has works by artists who were known as the ‘Sixties’ (from the Soviet 1960s) – Vladimir Weisberg, Oskar Rabin, Vladimir Yakovlev, Eduard Steinberg, Dmitry Lion and Vladimir Yankilevsky – and also by artists of the 1970s: Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Viktor Pivovarov and Grisha Bruskin. It was in particular the efforts of Non-conformist artists that broke down the Iron Curtain, which throughout the entire Soviet period had cut art in Russia off from artistic processes around the world. Of particular note is the Museum’s range of works by Mikhail Shvartsman; it is the most important collection of paintings and drawings by this artist.
Few museums or private collections can boast of such an assembly of Erik Bulatov’s works. His picture Horizon, from 1971, which has become a very important milestone in the history of unofficial Russian art, occupies a place of honour in this collection of rare quality and significance.
The collection also includes works by the artist Grigory Bruskin. Although he cannot be considered a top-level master, his works are valuable to us, especially in light of his contribution to forming the ideology of the collection. Grigory Bruskin has found his own language and therefore is absolutely recognisable. He is the creator of a very interesting project that is called Alephbet (The Alphabet). It is a tapestry, a fundamental work, 11 x 3 metres, hand made, on which 160 stories from the Torah are woven.
The concept behind the collection has more to do with education than art criticism. Its task is to show that Russia is not only a source of natural wealth, but also a powerful source of spiritual life and culture. There are still many various forms of Russophobia in the world, not confined to politics alone. This project is an integral part of an international programme called the Jewish Positioning System (JPS), which was created to influence public opinion about Jews using positive examples and focusing on their contributions to society and the country. The JPS programme also serves to strengthen the national identity of Jews and fight assimilation.