Art Roundup – December 2014

Nearly the end of the year, folks, and time for yet another roundup of Russian and related art.

  1. In the Museum of Russian Icons, Moscow, there is an exhibition of the works of priestly artist and missionary Alexander Men’. It runs till December 16.
  2. At the Yasnaya Polyana Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy is an exhibition “The Unknown Mashkov“, which runs till December 9.
  3. In Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Oil Painting is an exhibition of the works from the Melnikov School in the Repin Academy of Fine Arts. Titled “The Distant Transparent“, this continues till December 15.
  4. Barcelona’s La Pedrera hosts an exhibition of the constructivist Lazar (El) Lissitzky. Titled “El Lissitzky. The Experience of Totality“, it ends Jan 18, 2015.
  5. Till December 7 at the Museum of Russian Art, Jersey City, NJ, is an exhibition of the Ukrainian circus artiste and artist Irene Koval.
  6. If you are interested in contemporary works of art from Central Asia, a good place to see what’s happening is the ENE Central Asian Art site. Ene means ‘mother’ in Turkmen and it is a Singapore-based organisation. Check out their gallery here.
  7. And there is an exhibition of Armenian dolls in Yerevan – traditional or French-inspired or Soviet-approved – you can find quite a collection. At the Yerevan Historical Museum, this runs to the end of the year.
  8. Georgian art flowered in the 1950s after the death of Stalin, and the works of Kalandadze, Nizharadze, Bandzeladze, Tsutskiridze and others can be seen at the Georgian National Museum‘s exhibition “Post-Stalin Liberalisation in Georgian Painting“, running in Tbilisi.
  9. If we do Armenian and Georgian, then surely we must do Azerbaijani as well – equal favour to these historic rivals, I say! Baku’s Museum of Modern Art has an exhibition titled “Stone”, featuring the sculptures of the Azerbaijani artist Huseyn Hagverdi.

And that’s it for the roundups of the year!


Domestic Architecture of Pre-Revolutionary Moscow 6

This series of posts comprises a few loosely translated extracts from Bolshoi Gorod, a fine Russian magazine of art and culture. In April last year, they did a small series on pre-Revolutionary private dwellings in Moscow, and these seemed of artistic interest in this blog. The tragedy is that it’s impossible for the average man-on-the-street to enter these residences, which are closed to the public even on the two days of the year (April 18, May 18) that are named Days of Culture, and it took nearly half a year of attrition and persuasion for Bolshoi Gorod to obtain access.

The Lazarev Institute

Armenian embassy, Armenian pereulok, 2.

In 1750, the Lazarev (Egiazaryan) family emigrated from Persia to Astrakhan, and afterwards came to Moscow, where they purchased from the merchant Sherimanyan a parcel of land with a house between Myasnitska and Maroseika streets. Since then, for nearly 300 years, this region has become the paramount centre of Armenian life in Moscow.

At the end of the 18th century, the Lazarevs were among the wealthiest families in the empire. A courtier of Catherine II, Ivan Lazarev, owned sixteen thousand serfs and craftsmen assigned to his factories. In 1782, in the neighbouring property at No 3, Armenian pereulok, began the construction of the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross (this was demolished in the 1930s), while in 1815, replacing the old house, a neo-classical edifice was built under the architects Timofei Prostakov and Ivan Podyachev. The Lazarev school was established in this building, which twelve years later became the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages. Arabic, Persian, Tatar, Turkish, Armenian, Georgian and other languages were taught there, to which at the end of the 19th century was added Sanskrit. Students obtained a gymnasium and high school education here; the majority of the students were Armenians (e.g. in 1905, out of 148 students, 89 were Armenian), but students of other nationalities studied here as well. For instance, Konstantin Stanislavsky graduated from the Lazarev Institute – his father believed that knowledge of Oriental languages would help him in his family mercantile activity.

Suren Khachaturov established the Armenian theatre studio in the Lazarev building in 1919. Khachaturov was the elder brother of the composer Aram Khachaturyan. An auditorium with 300 seats was situated in the former assembly hall. In 1921, the building was converted for the House of Culture of Soviet Armenia, while the Lazarev institute was combined with other centres of Oriental studies in the city to form the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies. In 1953, one of the wings housed the permanent mission of the Armenian republic. These days, the building is occupied by the Armenian embassy. Till recently, the right wing of building housed the Armenian theatre under the supervision of Slava Stepanyan.

Old cast-iron staircase leading to the library

Old cast-iron staircase leading to the library

The old premises of the library, which now displays books from Lazarev printing house, pre-revolutionary photographs of the Institute's life and letters, including mentions of the XVIII century.

The old premises of the library, which now displays books from Lazarev printing house, pre-revolutionary photographs of the Institute’s life and letters, including mentions of the XVIII century.

Sculpture of Peter I in the vestibule of the embassy.

Sculpture of Peter I in the vestibule of the embassy.

Chandelier, gifted to the Lazarev institute.

Chandelier, gifted to the Lazarev institute.

lazar5 lazar4

Caryatids decorating the ceremonial entry into the hall.

Caryatids decorating the ceremonial entry into the hall.

Assembly hall. In the 1920s, it hosted the performances of the first Armenian theatre in Moscow.

Assembly hall. In the 1920s, it hosted the performances of the first Armenian theatre in Moscow.

The Lazarev Institute.

The Lazarev Institute.

Lives of the Artists XXI

Marcos Grigorian (1925 – 2007) was an Iranian-Armenian artist born in Russia. Yvette Tajarian recalls his portraiture:

For painting portraits Marco had a very interesting approach in choosing the model. Not everyone could earn the honour to become one. These were mainly people that surrounded him, but in his own words “people that had something to say”. He was interested in the inner beauty rather than the outer. The colours in the portraits that he painted during the last 20 years are softer and more natural. The background is often devoid of any colours. In my opinion, he has tried to draw attention to the portrait only. These are more expressionistic works. He expressed people on canvas the way he saw them.

I remember how he told me laughingly that he used to have quarrels with beautiful women after he would paint them. He used to tell me they did not understand art. Women wanted to see themselves more beautiful and since during the process of painting he did not allow them to see the canvas, seeing their curvy and crooked characters in the end made them feel offended. It was very difficult for Marco to let go his canvases and his works in general. He wasn’t very lavish either, and rarely gave the paintings to the models; however in my case I was lucky. During the last 3 years of his life he had not painted any works and every time he saw me he used to say “I have to paint you…”. One month before his death, when he was at home in the evening he asked me to come the next morning so that he could paint me. I had certainly waited for that day for a long time. He painted me for 1 hour and 40 minutes during that hot summer. I was very happy that day, but was surprised once I had seen the painting. He said that this was the Yvette that he knew – serious, demanding, struggling and achieving her aims. He added in the end, “I will name this painting Saint Mary”. I laughed and asked who has seen St. Mary with red hair? He answered saying, “My Saint Mary has red hair.”

Marcos Grigorian

Marcos Grigorian (born Kropotkin, Russia, 1925; died Yerevan, Armenia, 2007) was an Iranian-Armenian sculptor, painter, carpet weaver and installation artist. He was educated in Rome, worked in New York, acted as a villain and anti-hero in several Iranian films, and was a teacher of art in Teheran, one of the founders of Iranian modernism. 1

One of his earliest ground-breaking works was a cycle of murals on the theme of the Holocaust. These were a dozen panels 6 x 10 feet.

Holocaust series (1957-59).

Holocaust series (1957-59).

At the same time, he began adding earth to his artworks, a process that resulted in the Earthworks series, to focus on using earthen materials to symbolise man’s transient nature on earth. 2

New Birth. (1970).

New Birth. (1970).

Dry Farm. (1977).

Dry Farm. (1977).

He also began to experiment with the age-old tradition of carpet weaving, introducing an avant-garde design to its elements.

Ara and Shamiramis Uraptu. (Designed 1957, woven 1987).

Ara and Shamiramis Uraptu. (Designed 1957, woven 1987).

In 1970, Grigorian joined the faculty of art at the Teheran University, where he began to instruct young Iranians in the principles and philosophies of modern art. He himself had experimented in multiple styles (figurative and abstract) and media (as we’ve seen above, graphic, fabric, and installation), but he inculcated in his students a love and appreciation for traditional and folk art and their possibilities in the modern. On the other hand, his abstractions remained novel, especially for Iranian audiences, as he incorporated bread, baskets, straw and earth into his paintings. 3


  1. Hengameh Fouladvand, “Marcos Grigorian“, Encyclopedia Iranica, 2012.
  2. Marcos Grigorian, Earthworks (Exhibition catalogue), p. 128, Gorky Gallery, 1989.
  3. Staci G. Scheiwiller (ed.), Performing the Iranian State: Visual Culture and Representations of Iranian Identity, Anthem Press, 2013., p. 104.


Well, nobody can say that I don’t practise what I preach – as I mentioned in this month’s roundup, there’s a SEE USSR exhibition at the Grad Gallery in London, an exhibition of Intourist posters from the 1920s onwards, brilliant examples of graphic design, modernism and the inevitable Socialist Realism. I went there a bit ago, and walked around and gawked, and a lovely woman at reception assured me I could take pictures if I wanted, and here they are.

There’s one cavil, though. The lighting is pretty fraught in the gallery and the glare off the reflective covers of the posters is agonising. You can see what I mean – the photos didn’t really come out very well no matter what angle I tried to grab them from. Oh well.

Notice how Westernised the designs are? There was no comparable model in the Russia of the 1920s, and Intourist was granted permission to use any means to attract visitors wielding hard currency into the country. Soviet commercial design therefore was based on the graphic art of Germany and France, seeking to inveigle the Western tourist with familiar styles and tropes.

Crimee, by Nikolai Zhukov & Sergei Sakharov. (1935).

Schepetovka-Baku, by Maria Nesterova.

The posters above depict a reality so far removed from the contemporary USSR that one can easily imagine irony. But that’s what advertising is for – to present glamour beyond the everyday, to entice the visitor, to pretend that the jazz age was as pervasive in Communist lands as in Paris in the 1920s.

So what could you do once you arrived in this wondrous Soviet Union? Why, you could hunt:

Hunting in the USSR, by Georgy Savitsky. (1931).

Hunting in the USSR

Hunting in the USSR, by unknown artist. (1930s).

Or you could go skiing:

Winter in the USSR, by Nikolai Zhukov. (1935).

You could even do a tad of summer sport:

Summer sports in the USSR, by unknown artist. (1930s).

Or you could go trippin’ to exotic lands. Flaunting the minorities was a famous pastime of the Soviets, mainly to show a bit of exoticism, but also to propagate the decree of universal fraternity and equal rights under communism. (‘The aesthetic and political benefits of this decree should not be underestimated as it allowed millions access to a modern standard of living while at the same time it enriched and diversified the Soviet cultural scene through such institutions as the Jewish National Theatre or the State Georgian Rustaveli Theatre, with most of their plays performed in ethnic minority languages.‘ (From the exhibition writeup for these posters.) Nesterova’s posters show a particularly romanticised view of the ethnic minority, belying the ongoing destruction of traditional culture in these lands.

Les Stations de Cure en URSS, by Maria Nesterova. (1930s).

Tbilisi, by Viktor Klimashin. (1930s).

Asie Centrale Sovietique, by Maria Nesterova. (1930s).

This was, after all, a country of a 189 nations:

USSR – Country of 189 Peoples, by Nikolai Zhukov and Sergei Sakharov. (1934).

And how would you travel? If you were a foreigner, you could fly into many cities of the USSR in style:

Par avion en URSS

Once in the country, you could whizz about in fancy cars:

Georgian Military Highway, by Alexander Zhitomirsky. (1939).

Or by train on bridges vaulting over the fashionable automobile:

L’Armenie Sovietique, by Sergei Igumnov. (1935).

You could even leave the country by ship!

Odessa-Istanbul, by unknown artist. (1930s).

By the second half of the 1930s, Intourist’s modernist language was becoming taboo. Avant-garde and Art Deco was out, and under the increasing strictures of Stalin, Soviet Realism became paramount. Check out the transition from Leningrad to Moscow, from the old to the new realist era:

Leningrad, by Nikolai Zhukov. (1935).

Moscow, by Sergei Sakharov. (Late 1930s).

Check out some more Intourist posters at Dieselpunks!

The Divine Weed 1

In these health-conscious times it is probably not often recalled that smoking was once considered the height of style. Ever since tobacco arrived in Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, it had been thought medicinal, therapeutic, fashionable. By the nineteenth century, it was known as the divine weed. Art followed life, and through the eyes of artists, we can see the evolution of smoking and smokers. Here is a series of paintings from Russia and environs.

Young woman with cigarette, by Pyotr Zabolotsky.

Young woman with cigarette, by Pyotr Zabolotsky.

Young woman with cigarette‘ by Pyotr Zabolotsky (1803-1866) is first, and a surprising theme it is too. Women who smoked were considered somewhat infra dig, and yet this lovely, evidently upper-class woman, has no compunctions about being seen with a cigarette.

Soldier resting, by Mikhail Larionov. (1911).

Turkish woman smoking a pipe, by Mikhail Larionov. (1928).

Above are a couple of works by Mikhail Larionov.

Self-portrait, by Teodor Axentowicz. (1888).

Self-portrait, by Teodor Axentowicz. (1888).

I’d never heard of Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938), a Polish-Armenian artist, but this self-portrait is remarkable.

Mr Padegs and the Astral, by Kārlis Padegs. (1939).

Mr Padegs and the Astral, by Kārlis Padegs. (1939).

Self-portrait, by Kārlis Padegs. (1932).

Self-portrait, by Kārlis Padegs. (1932).

Two paintings by the Latvian artist Kārlis Padegs (1911-1940). He died tragically young of complications from tuberculosis, and was long forgotten until rediscovered in the 1980s.

Trumna chłopska, by Aleksander Gierymski. (1894-95).

Yet another Polish artist is Aleksander Gierymski (1850-1901), who painted Trumna chłopska (‘Peasant coffin’) between 1894-95.

Pokkasakki, by Vilho Lampi. (1929).

Pokkasakki, by Vilho Lampi. (1929).

And here’s Pokkasakki (Card players?) by the suicidal Finnish artist Vilho Lampi (1898-1936).

Man with pipe, by Boris Grigoriev. (1920s).

Man with pipe, by Boris Grigoriev. (1922).

Boris Grigoriev’s ‘Man with pipe‘ is from 1922, after he left Russia for France. This was painted in Brittany.

Portrait of Meyerhold, by Pyotr Konchalovsky. (1938).

Portrait of Meyerhold, by Pyotr Konchalovsky. (1938).

Pyotr Konchalovsky (1867-1956) painted the director Vsevolod Meyerhold in this languid pose. Check out the dog on Meyerhold’s leg, only slightly more alert.

Passerby, by V. Kalinin. (1974).

Passerby, by V. Kalinin. (1974).

This is a much more recent work, a caricature perhaps? Passerby – by V. Kalinin.

Lives of the Artists XV

Zarui Muradyan, younger daughter of the famed Armenian painter Sarkis Muradyan, reminisced recently about her father. One of the things she talked about was her father’s brilliant painting ‘My Daughters’. You may recall it from my post on Sarkis a few months ago.

One of the best known works of my father is “Wedding in Hrazdan”  depicting a traditional Armenian wedding with typical rustic imagery. There I figured for the first time – a baby in the arms of the mother. Then I appeared in the painting, “My daughters” in 1969. It was a portrait of my sister and me – I was ten, my sister was twelve. The idea to make such an unusual portrait for him came unexpectedly and urgently one day. My sister and I had been gifted red dresses, and my mother bought us red stockings. And when we put on the dresses and tights, my father said to her: “Come on, I’ll paint them a portrait.” He told us to find red shoes and dragged us into the studio.

15 years later, the famous German businessman and art collector Peter Ludwig, one of the richest men in Germany, whose company produced chocolate, arrived. Today we have the famous Ludwig Museum in Cologne and its branches in different cities of Germany. Those days he would come to the USSR to buy works of Soviet art, in large numbers, in fact. Suddenly he came to Armenia and bought two of my father’s works: “Antuni” and “My daughters.” Dad did not want to part with the latter. He was troubled and thought it over and over, and then said, “One doesn’t always get a chance to exhibit in the heart of Europe.”

If he liked any of his work, he always made ​​variations. He asked Ludwig to wait a half year; six months later he was ready to sell “My daughters.” During this time, he made ​​a copy for himself with a different version of the background, which for some reason became the Republic Square. This work is now our family property, and we have temporarily transferred it to the National Gallery of Armenia.

Contemporary Art of the Caucasus and Central Asia

Sotheby’s held an exhibition last month as part of their sale of art from Central Asia and Caucasus. I missed it completely and am rather miffed. There were some interesting works on display, some of which I append.

The Road's End, by Hakob Hakobyan. (1997).

The Road’s End, by Hakob Hakobyan. (1997).

Maneater of Kumaon, by Merab Abramishvili. (2005).

Maneater of Kumaon, by Merab Abramishvili. (2005).

Mirages of Communism #1, by Alimjan Jorobayev. (1994).

Mirages of Communism #1, by Alimjan Jorobayev. (1994).

Untitled (from Dreams series), by Jamol Usmanov. (2010).

Untitled (from Dreams series), by Jamol Usmanov. (2010).

The Aral Beach 2, by Almagul Menlibayeva. (2011).

The Aral Beach 2, by Almagul Menlibayeva. (2011).

D. D. Shostakovich, by Tair Salakhov. (1987).

D. D. Shostakovich, by Tair Salakhov. (1987).

1812, Part 8

By the evening of September 15, 1812, there were fires beginning sporadically in various parts of Moscow. But the morning of the next day revealed a truly frightening sight. In the direction of the Red Square, rows and rows of shopping arcades were ablaze.

The Fire of Moscow, by Olga Lapina (13 year old participant in the 7th Festival of Children’s Arts ‘Golden Cockerel’)

The Great Fire of Moscow, 1812, by Ivan Aivazovsky.

The Great Fire of Moscow in 1812, by Johann Olendorf.

Blaze, Zamoskvorechye, by V. Vereshchagin.

The Fire of Moscow, by Jean-Charles Langlois.

Napoleon rushed to the windows and, across the Moskva River, saw the flaming Zamoskvorechye. He realized that the fire had spread to all the surrounding streets. The Kremlin was in a ring of fire. Above the burning city raged a firestorm, and strong winds carried the embers. Like flying torches, they fell on the roofs of houses all over Moscow and the Kremlin.

Seeing the conflagration, Napoleon shouted, ‘What barbarians! What a people!’ Everything was ablaze by now. The Kremlin, where the Russian and French gunpowder and armoury was stowed, could any moment take off into the air. All it needed was a spark.

Through the fire, by V. Vereshchagin.

Napoleon didn’t move from his place for a long time. His generals, Murat among them, begged him on bended knee to abandon the burning town. He relented only in the evening, and ordered that he be escorted to the Imperial Petrovsk palace. There was fire everywhere. Philippe Paul, Comte de Ségur recalled, ‘We walked on the burning ground, under a burning sky, between burning walls.’

The French in Moscow, by an unknown German artist

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

Art Roundup – August 2012

First off, the National Museum of Scotland (in Edinburgh) has opened a large exhibition dedicated to Catherine the Great.  ‘It brings to the British public the greatest collection of the unique pieces of art and craft from the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, one of the world’s major museums. It runs from July 13 till October 21 2012.’

Next, as part of the celebrations connected with the London Olympics, the gallery Calvert 22 presents highlights from the all-Russian contemporary visual art competition ‘Innovation’. The exhibits feature video, photography and performance arts as well as paper, sculpture and installation art. This runs till September 16, 2012 in London.

Heading south, the Museo dell’Ara Pacis in Rome is running an exhibition of the Russian avant-garde. It’s a comprehensive affair, involving Cubo-Futurism, Constructivism, Suprematism, and any other ism that might take your avant-garde fancy. The usual suspects are on view: Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, Tatlin, Rodchenko, Goncharova. This exhibition ends September 2, 2012.

All the way across Europe, in Rostov-on-Don is the exhibition ‘The South of Russia’, the 11th instalment of this long-running series displaying the best works of artists from Rostov, Stavropol, Krasnodar, Volgograd, and the Northern Caucasus republics (South Ossetia, Abkhazia). Interestingly, this is the first time in nearly sixty years that the exhibition is in Rostov. Over a thousand pieces are on view – graphic arts, fine arts, sculpture, creative and decorative arts, you name it, they got it. This runs till mid August at the Southern Federal University.

Краснодарцы увидят «Мой теплый Тифлис» Мхитара Асланяна

Mhitar Aslanyan.

Meanwhile, in Krasnodar, is a solo exhibition of Mhitar Aslanyan, titled ‘My Warm Tiflis’. The works are focused on the town that the artist spent his childhood and youth in. There are over fifty works on show, executed in the past five years. This is connected with Aslanyan’s sixtieth birthday. The exhibition runs from August 1-19, 2012 at the Kovalenko Regional Art Museum.

So there you go – much to occupy yourself this summer month.