Friday, April 1, 2011

Levitan Again

Today I got up early to get another look at the Levitan show. Rather than circle through the pretty parts of town, I thought I'd save some time by cutting across on the main drags:Valovaya Ulitsa and Zhitnaya Ulitsa (it seems that "Ul" is short for "ulitsa" or "street", as in "Ulitsa Sezam" or "Sesame Street"). When traveling, everything is picturesque and engaging, so it was a nice walk in a light snowstorm.

I got there a little early, and there was already a crowd at the doors. Queueing up doesn't seem something we Slavs naturally do, at least without all the training I've received, so there was quite a mass of people at the door. I don't think it's an ill-natured thing, at least in most cases it seems to be an opportunity to chat while milling about, ever closer to the door.

On the second trip through, Levitan is as amazing as ever, or moreso. Everyone in the crowd was taking pictures, so I snuck a couple of HDRI images with my iPhone to try to record his impasto.

I was also able to confirm that one picture I'd hoped to see--a farmer plowing his field--had been removed for some reason. Darn. Have to schedule another trip ;-).

After the show crowded up, I went upstairs to the sadly deserted Russian Art of the 20th Century galleries, a sort of rogues gallery of appalling state-approved abstraction, Socialist Realism, various sculptures exhorting one to something or other and some really bodacious nudes, symbolizing "wheat", or "socialist youth" or something. I didn't particularly care. There was one really juicy portrait of a worker that I very much admired, especially in comparison to advertising art which it's equivalent to. I've uploaded a full-resolution shot for your enjoyment.

The standouts were work by Tatlin, much of which was reconstructed because it had been broken up (*sigh*) , a small collection of nicely done animal carvings, and some Kandinsky posters. Here's a link to a much more detailed and knowledgeable description of the galleries than my own from The Moscow News.

After that, I went to the Tretyakov Gallery proper to see the older art. The roomful of Repins and the roomful of Serovs were delightful--technically wonderful, with great narrative power (in the Repins) and an ability to flatter without seeming obviously to do so (with the Serovs). There was also a roomful of Shishkin's landscapes. I'm ambivalent on him--he's technically superb, and his sense of light and structure in a forested space is spectacular, but he veers a little sentimental for my taste. When I see his work, I'm reminded of Currier & Ives prints.

There were a number of beautiful landscapes whose painters I couldn't note due to my lack of Cyrillic, but I'm definitely going to look for them online. Among the painters whose work I really loved and whose names I could puzzle out: Vasily Vereshchagin, Lev Lvovic Kamenev, and Vasiliy D. Polenov. Russian art history doesn't dovetail perfectly with Western art history, so there's a lot of interesting archaisms and  prefigurings in there, and I'm definitely going to keep researching. Google has the Tretyakov as part of their gallery view service now, so I can visit whenever I want.

A couple of canvases by Aivazofsky were fun (he's tacky, but revels in it delightfully) and some giant historicals and fantasy pieces by Victor Vasnetsov rounded out the day for me. The icons were much larger than I'd thought, and utterly spectacular, but I don't know enough to comment on anything but their design elements, which were strikingly modern. A lot of the rest of the work left me feeling as though trapped in the older areas of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: too many sweet, sweet children and dark, stone faced patriarchs and matriarchs all slightly out of drawing or oddly proportioned.

Back home tomorrow. I can't wait to come back here.

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