Art Roundup – March 2015

Yuristanbek Shygaev.

Yuristanbek Shigayev.

Heads up y’all. Sonia Delaunay at the Tate Modern from April to August 2015! Nothing like a bit of avant-garde to set the pulse racing.

Russian art in the aftermath of the Second World War at London‘s Saatchi Gallery. This runs from March 13 – April 6, 2015.

Contemporary Kazakh art is brought to a European audience at Strasbourg’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. This runs through March 8 – blink and you’ll miss it.

More Central Asian contemporary art titled Silk Route of Central Asia at Studio 65a in London. Running till March 7, 2015, there are works by Kyrgyz, Belarusian, Uzbek and Kazakh artists, e.g. Yuristanbek Shigayev on the right.

Rather London-centric this time, and I’ll really have to make an effort to go see that last one – it’s a bit out of the way. Still, hope dwells eternal, etc.

Have a good March, folks.

Fedotov’s Favourite Family

In the previous post, we saw Pavel Fedotov’s lovely painting of Nadezhda Zhdanovich at the fortepiano. The Zhdanoviches were a large, close-knit family, quite likely Fedotov’s favourite, for he painted several of its members over the years.

The Zhdanoviches were a poor noble family, happy for the most part, but stricken with ill fortune -many of them died young. There were eight children, four boys and four girls, born to the patriarch, Pyotr Zhdanovich, a minor courtier. The boys, following family tradition, joined the cadet corps, while the girls were educated at a school for the lesser nobility.

Pyotr Zhdanovich. (1846-7).

Pyotr Zhdanovich. (1846-7).

Olga Zhdanovich (Pyotr's wife).

Olga Zhdanovich (Pyotr’s wife).

Pavel Zhdanovich.

Pavel Zhdanovich.

Mikhail Zhdanovich.

Mikhail Zhdanovich.

Anna Zhdanovich.

Anna Zhdanovich.

Alexandra Zhdanovich.

Alexandra Zhdanovich.

Pavel Fedotov and Domestic Art – An Example

Pavel Fedotov (1815 – 1852) was born in a poor family, and in his youth was handed over to the Moscow cadet corps. Upon finishing his training there, he entered service in the Finland guard which at the time was quartered close to the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. Even while a cadet, he had shown promise at drawing; his skill was so impressive that he was allowed to take evening classes in art at the Academy from 1834 onwards. Ten years later, he resigned his military job and became a full-time artist.

Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanovich at the fortepiano. (1849).

Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanovich at the fortepiano. (1849).

Fedotov painted sympathetic pictures of his friends, and scenes of the guardsman’s life, but his especial interest was in domestic art, and in 1848 was titled the master of the art of the home. His paintings on the theme of Russian society are marked by a delicate irony and drama. But fame and recognition were fleeting because of his association with the Petrashevists, for which he was criticised and attacked. In 1852, this led to a mental breakdown, which shortly thereafter resulted in his death.

The Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanovich at the fortepiano, which Fedotov executed in 1849, shows the fourteen year old sister of Pavel Zhdanovich, a friend of the artist. The Zhdanoviches were a large, close-knit family living at the corner of the 7th line of the Vasiliyev Island, and all of them willingly posed for Fedotov. For instance, there is an earlier painting of Nadezhda in a red dress. This painting above was made at a time when women were being educated at the Imperial Educational Society for Noblewomen at the Smolny Institute. It is known that she subsequently married A. I. Werner, an officer in the Finland guards, and lived till 1915. All that time, she carefully preserved letters, poems and drawings by Fedotov. In 1912, when she was 76 years old, she donated the archive to the Russian Museum. The archive included the painting above.

Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanova in childhood. (1846-47).

Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanova in childhood. (1846-47).

Fedotov painted portraits of his colleagues and close friends throughout his creative life, and because they depict people dear to the artist, it is impossible not to feel all the love and warmth that characterizes his work. He himself very clearly disassociated himself from the portraits painted to order by other painters, because very often there was a certain artificiality and excessive idealization of the model. “Is it possible to capture the soul of a person who has come to you for the sole purpose of having a portrait painted of him?” he said. In his works, Fedotov, on the other hand, tried to create a simple home environment, surrounding the subject with objects that are precious to her, and strove to ensuring that her pose remained natural and relaxed. As a result Fedotov’s portraits are filled with intimacy and character.

All these features of Fedotov’s art are captured completely in the image of Nadezhda Zhdanova. The artist has successfully limned the slight turn of the figure which faces the viewer as it slides its fingers over the keyboard. The modest dress emphasises the ordinariness of the scene, and the simple background with no room for anything extraneous, only serves to reinforce the impression of quotidian life.

Portrait of Elizaveta Zhdanovich. (1846).

Portrait of Elizaveta Zhdanovich. (1846).

On the light gold coloured wall the silhouette of the girl stands out particularly clearly – soft, supple and graceful. A confident and dynamic painting technique is evident in the intimate portrait; the background is worked in with vigorous and energetic strokes; the head, like one in a miniature painting, is delineated clearly, with all the features of the hair clear, and with a marked emphasis on the clear, open and peaceful expression on Nadezhda’s face. Her back bends in consonance with that of the chair, while the sound of the plinking piano is audible in the smooth movement of her hands, while her shadow on the wall provides an illusion of space. The bright palette with a predominance of white, light blue, yellow and brown is perfectly in tune with the feminine and delicate feature of the girl. Warmth of perception is achieved by the soft artistic lighting that envelops all that’s visible here. In short, the portrait is filled with completeness and charm, which it achieves in its simplicity and elegance.

Despite the undoubted merits of Fedotov’s works, many of his contemporaries never missed an opportunity to accuse him of dilettantism and technical shortcomings in his paintings. For example, in the portrait above, Nadezhda’s left arm appears shorter than the right; the fortepiano is painted, it seems, from a more elevated point of view, which gives the impression that it is not flush with the wall, but rather penetrates it. Most likely, this is due to the fact that the artist painted the piano and the pianist’s hands not at the time of the sitting, but much later, from memory. Be that as it may, these errors do not detract from the charm in Fedotov’s portrait, but bring to mind a special vision of the world, which at the time was still to be discovered in the future, by impressionists – a vision that Fedotov could already glimpse, anticipating the coming generation of artists and sensitively divining their new artistic codes.

(Taken from Antiquities of Petersburg: Portrait of Nadezhda Zhdanova at the fortepiano. Pavel Fedotov.)

An Obit or Two

Two Russian artists died recently. Georgy Kovenchuk (1933 – 2015) was a St Petersburg-based graphic designer, book illustrator and painter. He was popularly known as Gaga, and was a grandson of the futurist Nikolai Kulbin. Kovenchuk studied graphic art at the Academy of Art, was a member of the Union of Artists, and during Soviet times, was one of the authors of the Military Pencil, agitprop posters made by some of the best Leningrad artists of the 1960s. His first solo exhibition was in 1971 and closed down for ‘formalism’. In 1975, Kovenchuk’s illustrations to Mayakovsky’s Klop (The Bedbug) became a byword for the application of the traditions of the Russian avant-garde to book design. Censors banned the book and it wouldn’t have been released had it not been for the efforts of the likes of Lilya Brik and Valentin Pluchek. In 2013, the illustrations were republished by Timofei Markov in a separate silkscreen cover.

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Vladimir Ovchinnikov (1941 – 2015) was born in the province of Perm where his family had been evacuated from Leningrad. He was not trained as an artist, but worked as a scaffolder at the Hermitage museum, the Mariinsky theatre, where he decorated churches. In 1964, he organised an exhibition of five artists at the Rastrelliyev gallery of the Hermitage, which (besides him) included Mikhail Shemyakin, Galina Kravchenko, Oleg Lyagachev and Vladimir Uflyand. He became one of the earliest of the unofficial artists (the non-conformists) to be allowed official exhibition in Soviet times – in 1974 and 1975, his works were put up at the houses of culture. Here the Soviet citizen was able to see domestic contemporary art distinct from the officially affirmed socialist realism, and to see its development from abstraction to surrealism. Subsequently, Ovchinnikov became a member of the Academy of Contemporary Art at St Petersburg.

In front of the TV. (2000).

In front of the TV. (2000).

Angel at the telescope. (2007).

Angel at the telescope. (2007).

Ovchinnikov’s art is generally always figurative with an important role played by its subject. In the works of the 1970s, everyday scenes of Leningrad life dominate, in which are embedded subtle mythological or biblical referenes. In later works, the artist addresses himself to twentieth century literature, developing the theme of absurdity as a timeless reference of modern reality.

ovch4 ovch5

Art Roundup – February 2015

Man, the months sure do speed by. This month begins with the tragic news of the conflagration at a huge library in Moscow that destroyed well nigh on a million documents. It boggles the mind that even in the 21st century with every manner of fire-proofing available, it is still possible to lose treasures at such staggering rates.

Patrol

Patrol, by Nikolai Roerich. (1905).

Meanwhile, in London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery there continues an exhibition on Geometric Abstraction, which traces the story of abstract art following Malevich’s black quadrilateral: Adventures of the Black Square continues till April 6, 2015, and features not only Russian abstractionists but also works from Latin America and Iran, among others. I’ll be sure to nip over to this one – it’s not far from my workplace.

Over in New York, there is an exploration of views on the Russian avant-garde by the new Left, contemporary artists left cold by the increasingly conservative and nationalistic official culture. At The James Gallery is Specters of Communism: Contemporary Russian Art, running from February 7 to March 28, 2015.

In honour of the centenary of the birth of the great collector George Costakis, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has organised Georgy Costakis: Departure from the USSR, exhibiting choice selections of works he donated to the gallery when he emigrated in 1977. You only have a week to savour this special exhibit – it ends February 8, 2015 – but as the art works are in the Tretyakov anyway, you probably won’t miss much even if you didn’t go.

And to bring up the rear, the Samara Art Museum in Kuybyshev has an exhibition of Nikolai Roerich‘s work, running till February 23, 2015.

Pavel Pyasetsky and the Trans-Siberian

I’m reading Christian Wolmar’s To the Edge of the World: The Story of the Trans-Siberian Express, the World’s Greatest Railroad, which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in railways and Russian history. By 1900, the Trans-Siberian railway was taking on passengers across the country, but Western observers continued to hold it in contempt. To counter that view and to demonstrate its equality among European railways, the Russian government commissioned the magnate in charge of the Orient Express to come up with an attractive display at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. Nagelmackers arranged for four carriages to be built and equipped specially for the exhibition – the very acme of luxury and design. Visitors would pay to sit in a carriage for a meal, and:

…the real treat was the exhibit designed by Pawel Pyasetsky, who was specially commissioned by the railway to demonstrate the ‘experience’ of travelling on the Trans-Siberian. To give a sense of movement to the ‘passengers’ tucking into their three-course meals, the artist devised an elaborate arrangement outside the windows of the dining car to give the feeling of a virtual train ride. A moving panorama was created by means of an elaborate series of belts moving along at varying speeds. The front one travelled rapidly, carrying mundane features such as sand and rocks, while the next, slightly slower, had plants such as shrubs and brush. Behind that, there was a third, again somewhat slower, showing distant scenery while the fourth, which rolled along the slowest of all, was Pyasetsky’s masterpiece, a set of watercolours on lengthy scrolls, with scenes that he had sketched on trips along sections of the railway that had been completed early.

The watercolours included scenes from the cities of Moscow, Omsk, Irkutsk and Beijing and the idea was to give viewers the impression that they had journeyed along the whole railway. The show actually lasted forty-five minutes and there were nine separate scrolls with a total length of around 900 metres.

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 4

Q: With which museums did you have the most effective relationships while working on the Encyclopedia?

A: We worked with an enormous number of museums, but mainly with the Russian Museum, the Tretyakov, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, where the Costaki collection is; we received lots of slides. But in fact we collaborated with many regional museums, after all the avant-garde in 1919-20 had spread across all of Russia. There was an ideological programme to establish contemporary art museums. I’ve been working on the subject for many years and can say that nearly a thousand works were transported out of Moscow to provincial towns, wherever there were some sort of art schools. Kandinsky, Malevich and lesser artists were taken to around 40 towns. In later years, about 30% were lost, while the remainder were preserved in museums, and we obtained reproductions from them.

Q: In the beginning of the interview, you said you were thinking of publishing one volume. Now there will be three. I’ve held the first two in my hands, and they are pretty heavy, and more importantly expensive. Truly the Encyclopedia is a seminal work of exceptional importance, but who can buy it for 22 thousand rubles? Libraries?

A: Of course we’d like libraries to have these books. There is an idea to find money to make additional copies – for libraries and museums. With the majority of museums we have had agreements and we’ll give them copies. For them, our book is very important. Several collectors have also written to me, saying that the Encyclopedia has helped them understand some things, and find attributions for works in their collections.

Q: How is it so expensive? Because of the illustrations?

A: No, not just that. We paid honorariums to the authors and museums for the rights. The cost of all the work is not small.

Q: Can we expect that in the Non/fiction exhibition the books will be a bit cheaper?

A: Certainly. There will be the lowest price at which the books can be bought, and there will also be a student discount for those with student IDs. After all, we are humanitarians.

Q: The budget always affects the final result, whether it’s big or small. Did your funding change during your work?

A: The budget kept climbing all the time, and I’m very grateful to our sponsors who took care of all the costs and never argued with me. The number of authors kept rising; we also had a powerful editorial team: a literary editor, a producer, a proofreader. All of them read it. Though I still to this day find various errors in the final book. But as an old-time worker in the industry, I understand that these are unavoidable. In one place, the photographs of two women artists are mixed up. I hope that after the third volume comes out, we can make an online version of the Encyclopedia and a website dedicated to it.

Q: An electronic version can be expanded, broadened, and importantly – constantly updated. That is, in the future, do you plan to continue working on the text?

A: Of course, there is work for the future, but I don’t know for how far in the future. The site could go beyond the Encyclopedia, there could be articles on major artists, including Malevich and Kandinsky.

But first, the third volume needs to come out, which in fact is the most difficult. If in the first two books everything is clear – the alphabet and the last name determine the location of the artist, then in the last tome it’s not even clear what title to give to some articles. For example, everybody knows the (ГСХМ) State Independent Artists’ Studios, which were established under the Stroganov school and the Moscow school of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. These were transformed into a completely different status, new teachers appeared there who taught the avant-garde. These studios then expanded to a dozen and a half other towns – Tver, Novgorod, Vitebsk, and they were all called differently: ГСХМ, СГХМ, ГОСХУМ. In Soviet times, they loved abbreviations, but there was no uniformity among them. And how to bring them all into a single view, I still haven’t decided. The third volume will also contain articles on exhibitions, journals, publishers, or even about some artistic cafe. We’ll design it differently, with pictures not appearing stand-alone, but rather within the text. This will make the design more difficult, but there’s no alternative.

Q: Do you think that in the first two volumes you have been able to achieve a stylistic coherence, an encyclopedic uniformity?

A: We tried to do so, though there isn’t such a rigidity here as in other encyclopedias where everything is specified: write this way and no other. As our theme is art, not physics, not an exact science, we decided to allow our authors some freedom in language. One of our principles was to allow an authorial point of view. We welcomed this, and when it was missing, we had to add it ourselves. Rakitin and I wrote 150 articles each, and edited many others.

Q: What would you consider your greatest achievement in the Encyclopedia?

A: I think we have revived names that had been forgotten by everyone. This is the main thing. About famous artists, it’s always possible to find something, but about those who established the backdrop, there’s almost nothing. Malevich, for instance, had eighty students in Vitebsk, and we wrote articles about all for whom we were able to find some information. We found, maybe, twenty people. Of course, among his students were Chashnik and Suetin, but there were also complete unknowns – for example, the Finnish artist Ahola-Valio.

Undoubtedly, with the release of the Encyclopedia we also have plans to promote and popularise the Russian avant-garde, because it is not well-known in our country. Many artistic types like to brag, “I don’t like the avant-garde! Anyone can paint like that, anybody can paint the Black Square.” You understand that this is the favourite excuse of everyone who understands nothing about art. Well, be the first to paint it, then! Invent it! There is much for the Russian to be proud of; they only need to know more about the time.

Black suprematist square, by Kazimir Malevich. (1915).

Q: The avant-garde is such a diverse phenomenon, it has many different faces. You have combined them into one publication, and more importantly – showed the real faces of an enormous number of avant-garde artists. Did some general image develop?

A: When you leaf through the book, you see hundreds of people who perished tragically, because it was a terrible time, the Civil war, the terror… There was an incredibly talented artist, Semashkevich, who was executed in 1937, his paintings confiscated and lost somewhere in the Lubyanka. We found around ten works of art, and yet he had been extraordinarily prolific.

Many people died tragically, many abandoned the avant-garde because life forced them to: they couldn’t feed their families, they couldn’t survive solely on their art, they had to change job. But still they wouldn’t be part of the crowd, they were engaged in art because they loved it. It’s a slice of an entire era: everything that happened in the country in those years has been reflected in the art. And that’s why the multifaceted avant-garde is so striking. I think we were able to demonstrate it – and that’s also and important achievement of our Encyclopedia.

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 3

Q: Besides Malevich, who else has appeared for the first time in the pages of your publication?

A: We have examples of graphic artists hitherto unknown. About 10 to 15 works by unknown artists. Anna Zherebtsova, for example. Who here knows about Anna Zherebtsova? She was a Russian artist who lived in Paris. We only had a short biography, which I had dug up somewhere, and a single painting – and we published them.

Q: Ideally, each work must undergo a thorough examination for inclusion in this publication. Nevertheless, it is technically difficult to do so. Would you say you are responsible for every illustration published here? I ask you this question not as an art expert, but rather as a publisher, to whom in fact can be sent all sorts of pictures.

A: Indeed I should bear responsibility, and I have to say that I do bear it, although I cannot guarantee all 100%  of the material. This is because I received several items from authors in Ukraine, Belarus, and regional museums. Some articles I haven’t even seen in real life – I’ve only come across reproductions. And I hope that everything sent to me from museums is authentic. If not, is it possible to trust anybody? After all, if a museum sends you a slide, it means there is a guarantee, that is you can go to the museum and see the original. Rakitin and I regularly held meetings to decide which items to include and which not. And when our opinions coincided, which happened most of the time, we would agree to publish. If we had arguments, we wouldn’t.

Q: There are quite a lot of stories about suspicious works from the avant-garde. Is this is a real opportunity in the fight against counterfeiting?

A: To be honest, I don’t see any opportunity, and there are lots and lots of such stories. The most prominent event – Goncharova’s story, when in 2010 and 2011, there came out two books. The first was a monumental monograph Goncharova by the English art-historian Anthony Parton, a well-respected professor. I counted 70 suspicious works in it. I won’t say that these are counterfeits, but they are suspicious because until then they had not appeared anywhere. I can understand finding one or two pieces, as I did with Malevich, but 70? That’s suspicious. The following year, a catalog-raisonné of Goncharova came out in France – of all her works accomplished in Russia. There we counted 400 works which had suddenly appeared; nobody knew about these before and now there they were. How can one fight this? We conducted several interviews with the Tretyakov Gallery, discussed with journalists together with the famous collector [Pyotr] Aven. He collects Goncharova, and it was painful for him to see all this. The Tretyakovka got ready to write to the publisher that they had placed pictures from the Tretyakov along with suspicious works. This is the only way to fight, but to say for sure that these works were fakes, we can’t do that, we haven’t seen them. To do this, you need to examine each picture, conduct chemical tests, X-ray analyses. Who is going to do this? And will they be given the works to examine? No, of course, never.

Q: In your view, how do auction houses function as filters?

A: To a very small extent. Auction houses always state that they are not responsible for the work. This is their main principle. Of course, when a Goncharova is under the hammer, they take the opinion of experts, but there are also different experts. If the expertise is provided by the one who produced the catalogue, then the Goncharova would always be in order. But 400 works! This catalogue achieved the absurd. Goncharova has a Futuristic painting from 1913 – Cyclist – in which a cyclist pedals along a street. In a Futuristic manner, she depicted many legs, conveying in this way a sense of motion. All this is against a background of shops with signs Hats, Silk, and so on. This is very characteristic of her, and she had just one such work. In the catalogue-raisonné, there appears a cyclist who rides in the opposite direction, also against a background of shops, then a motorcyclist who travels first in one direction, then in the other, and then some other fellow on a scooter. Also against a backdrop of shops. And all these are Goncharova, you understand? Surprisingly, the catalogue, which should contain information about the origin of the works, exhibitions, previous owners, contains no such thing. It says ‘private collection’, and that’s it. But as far as I know, these were stopped, the works don’t appear at auctions, because there was a scandal, and a scandal always appears to work as a filter.

Cyclist, by Natalia Goncharova. (1913).

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Further reading:

  1. Sylvia Hochfield, “Protecting Goncharova’s Legacy“, ARTNews, January 7, 2011.
  2. Dr. Anthony Parton’s Response to the Tretiakov Gallery, June 2011.

Art Roundup – January 2015

Happy new year, folks. What does 2015 offer for the aficionado of art from the erstwhile Russian and Soviet empires?

a) Well, the Melnikov house in Moscow has been opened to the public. Tickets sold out for the first opening in a matter of days, but the next batch of tickets will be released on 12 January 2015 at the Schusev State Museum of Architecture for those wanting to see the experimental house in February and March. As with all these things, you snooze, you lose.

b) You can grab a set of short courses on Russian art at the Watts gallery, Guildford, England, starting 12 January 2015.

c) The Louvre in Paris is said to open a gallery dedicated to Russian art in 2015. I could only find a press release from a few years ago, so do keep a lookout.

d) Oh, wow, wow, wow. The Kunstforum in Vienna will hold a tremendously exciting exhibition titled Love in Times of Revolution, featuring artistic couples of the avant-garde. It starts in October 2015 – damn, that’s a long wait.

Have an excellent 2015!

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 2

Photo: Global Expert and Service Team

Q: You worked with nearly 170 authors. Did you ever encounter a situation where for some artist or group of artists you were unable to find a specialist?

A: No, not really. The large number of authors came about organically, almost snowballing in the process. At first we planned only one volume, but then realised that we had to write about this and that, and so on. Some artists were recommended by the authors themselves. Let’s say Irina Arskaya from the Russian Museum was engaged with the Union of Youth; she herself suggested that I add a range of artists on whom she had information and photographs and examples of their work. Naturally I agreed, because I was unfamiliar with many of them. In this way, the Encyclopedia grew to three volumes, and we were soon forced to start excluding some of the ideas of our authors. In fact, there was no deficit of specialists in the researches, and I must add that the most valuable of them turned out to be attached to museums. It was also useful that our work coincided with the preparation of the general catalogue of the Tretyakov Gallery, which is now being readied for publication. We worked with some of the authors from the Tretyakov.

Q: You and your authors found a lot of archival material during your searches. Are there any obvious lacunae in the archives? Perhaps some periods of the avant-garde are sparsely covered, or because of emigration of the artists, a lot has been lost?

A: Certainly there are lacunae, and they mostly fall within the earlier period of the avant-garde, the pre-Revolutionary period, that is before 1917. Not even 1917, but rather before 1915. The avant-garde of that period was only forming, and in the background of everything else – the Wanderers, the Union of Russian Artists, symbolism, Vrubel, Repin, Serov – it appeared as a marginal activity. There is very little material on these marginal avant-gardists, and we need to seek it piecemeal. We know about many of the works of the time only because of publications in journals, such as Ogonyok, which came out from the beginning of the century. In them we might find portraits of the artists, and sometimes of their works. And then we discovered that the works themselves no longer exist: they disappeared in the Civil war, in the Revolution, or somewhere else. This is the most difficult period, because everything else is copiously documented, in the 1920s, things were more civilised. And when the avant-garde emerged from its sidelined position and transformed into an important, coherent style, then it began to leave a large amount of information and material.

Q: The Avant-Garde being one of the brightest periods of Russian art and firmly established in the world of art, often attracts speculation. There are regular discussions on the authenticity of a painting, and the appearance of ‘new’ works. Because of this, the selection of illustrative material and its expertise is paramount – on what basis did you choose the works that you wanted to show?

A: Of course, our main objective was to show the major works of an artist. To take Malevich: the goal was to show paintings from all his periods, from impressionism (he began as an impressionist) to realism. In his last years, he attempted to paint realistic portraits. In the middle of his journey was suprematism. Accordingly, we had to take a painting from each of his phases. The second objective – the paintings should still be in museums, which is why works from museum collections dominate in the book, nearly 80 or 90% of the total number of illustrations. From private collections come the remaining 10%, but these collections have been completely authenticated, with names and times. Therefore we have no irregular works, and we sometimes had to reject some works so that unnecessary questions would not be raised.

Q: Nevertheless, there are works presented in your Encyclopedia that have not been seen in major journals. Some works have appeared for the first time.

A: Yes, Malevich, for example.

Suprematism of the Spirit, by Malevich. (1919-20).

Q: You refer to the picture Suprematism of the Spirit (1919-1920) from a private collection?

A: Yes, this has been confirmed as a Malevich, in my opinion, by attributions by art historians, among whom are such famous specialists as Charlotte Douglas, who lives in America. She is the president of the New York Malevich society.

Q: Under the title of Suprematism of the Spirit, we are aware of other items, including paintings from the Khardzhiev collection which surfaced in 1997 and fell into the Khardzhiev-Chaga collection at the Stedelijk Museum separately from the main part of the collection. What is all that about?

A: That’s an entirely different matter. The theme Suprematism of the Spirit was very important to Malevich in the years 1919-20, when he was in Vitebsk. I think that this picture is from there, when he decided that painting was no longer necessary to him. At that moment he created suprematism, discovered the main thing in painting – white on white – and understood that painting was pretty much dead. He occupied himself with theory and created various forms, such as Suprematism of the Spirit, for his students. Malevich has several Suprematisms – one with Khardzhiev, the work in our Encyclopedia which was once published in German catalogues, and there even is a lithograph, it was produced in 1920 in the Unovis almanac. This almanac came out as a limited run, and only two or three copies have reached us in the shape of manuscripts, where printed texts were cut up with scissors and pasted into an album with large pages, in which appear colour reproductions. One example is stored at the Tretyakovka, while the others are in some private collections in France.

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]