Eduard Steinberg 1

Steinberg. (© Barbara Klemm)

Steinberg. (© Barbara Klemm)

Eduard Steinberg (Эдуард Штейнберг), or Edik as he was known to his friends, left this life on March 28, 2012; he was 75 years old. For the previous twenty years, he had lived in Paris or Tarusa, the town of his childhood, where he used to arrive in spring and summer.

Edik was one of the most significant non-conformist artists. He was often called the successor of Malevich, but his art, in which there are especially strong spiritual and religious themes, situates itself quite distantly from suprematism. Today, two years after his death, it is already clear that the usual epithet of ‘Russian’ or the designation ‘artist of the 21st century’ are far too fine for Steinberg. He is an artist of world importance. And, as demanded by an artist of such importance, his oeuvre stands timeless.

In his primitivist works, borrowing geometric patterns from suprematism, one finds all the vastness of Russia. He, like a surveyor, marks out the contours of what is essentially boundless. His work is aesthetically pleasing because it is metaphysical. It is profound. He expresses beauty through symbols. The heavenly and the earthly worlds combine in it.

In 1992, the Tretyakov gallery organised a major exhibition of Steinberg’s works, the first one dedicated entirely to the artist. Since then, several other exhibitions have taken place in Russian and European museums.

In 2015, for the first time since the death of the master, a series of personal exhibitions will be held in museums across Russia, as well as the Wiesbaden Museum in Germany.

2008. (© Tretyakov gallery)

2008. (© Tretyakov gallery)

Composition. (2009).

Composition. (2009).

The Zaitsevs(?) (1986). (© Wiesbaden museum).

The Zaitsevs(?) (1986). (© Wiesbaden museum).

Gouache. (2000).

Gouache. (2000).

Tarusa. (1962).

Tarusa. (1962).

The first time I was in Edik’s studio was in 2006. I was writing a monograph on a French artist famous for his ‘white on white’ period. I was well familiar with and fond of the lyric abstractions of the 1950s, but, upon acquaintance with the works of Steinberg, I fell in love forever with geometric abstraction. I was deeply impressed with his oeuvre. And with Edik himself. I loved his eccentric appearance, his voice, I liked him and his wife Galya, and I liked the way they lived. They’d married in the 60s and had never been apart. We became friends fairly quickly, largely thanks to Galya Manevich. Once they invited me to stay with them in Tarusa. There I began to film Edik. He barely knew two words in French; I didn’t speak Russian. Still, we understood each other but insufficiently well to conduct an interview. From mutual sympathy and a willingness to open up some correspondence with each other was born the format for my video. We exchanged a few phrases, I would direct the camera at him, and he, the artist, would lead me where he would. We made a series of photomontages in which Edik talked about himself and his life. We often filmed in his studio, and I became a witness to his process of creativity, to the secrets of his art; I observed his techniques and his mastery of the genre. In these artless frames appears the whole of Edik, his open heart and eccentric manner, his outlook on life, and the rhythms of his own existence and perception of the world.

This is a rich and fascinating biographical material. Fragments of these recordings will be included in future exhibitions of Steinberg’s works. Similarly, they will be included in the documentary film and monograph (authors: Galina Manevich and Gilles Bastianelli) that will be published in 2015. The introduction and the main text of the monograph is written by Jean-Claude Marcade, the famous French art historian, expert on the Russian avant-garde and scholar of Steinberg. And Galina Manevich is preparing a biography in Russian which will include the works of scholars, essays and correspondence of Steinberg, his interviews and remembrances by his friends.

On the second anniversary of his death, it seems important to me to note one remarkable fact: his language, which we – his admirers – consider wonderful but wholly abstract, has become concrete for our children, the teenagers of the 21st century, who cannot imagine life without the Internet. They don’t care about symbolism, primitivism, suprematism and other -isms. In their fresh, uncomplicated view, the works of Edik Steinberg appear in a completely new interpretation: they see in them elements of their own avatars. All these triangles, squares, crosses and circles already take upon a meaning as though they had been painted in the context of their young lives. Welcome to the virtual world of our children. Soon they will take us with them to the museum to look at Steinberg, to study him, to learn the secret of his spiritual world so that they will grow up and understand themselves better.

[Translated loosely from ‘Two Memories of Eduard Steinberg‘, on colta.ru.]

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