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Posts Tagged ‘modern art’

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Photo: Daryl Mersom
A piece of a sgraffito by the Kazakhstan graphic artist Eugeny Sidorkin (1930-1982) was discovered behind a wall at a cinema in the former Kazakhstan capital. 

Modern art was considered degenerate in the former Soviet Union. It was dangerous to make it, dangerous to own it. Much was destroyed.

But as I wrote in this 2011 post about the wily collector of the “Desert of Forbidden Art” documentary, it could be hidden away in Central Asia without Moscow noticing.

More recently, approved Soviet art, no longer popular, was revealed behind a cinema wall in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. Nothing is ever completely lost.

Daryl Mersom wrote at the Guardian, “When Jama Nurkalieva and a small group of colleagues conducted a site survey of a disused Soviet-era panoramic cinema in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, they had no idea what lay behind the internal plasterboard wall that faces out towards the street – until someone spotted a narrow gap.

“As the caretaker shined a light into the darkness behind, the group caught a glimpse of a man’s head. Out came the toolbox and the rest of the artwork was slowly revealed: a Soviet-era sgraffito by the graphic artist Eugeny Sidorkin that had been lost and forgotten for decades.

“From the Italian graffiare, to scratch, sgraffito is a technique that involves placing one layer of plaster or cement over another, and then scratching through the superficial layer to reveal contours or patterns beneath.

“Built to a standardised design in 1964, the cinema was one of the largest in the USSR. It was fronted entirely by large panels of glass that offered an unobstructed view of the sgraffito to passersby. …

“While there is little incentive now to cover or remove Soviet-era artworks depicting folklore and natural landscapes, they were sometimes controversial in their day due to supposed hidden meanings.

“Ekaterina Golovatyuk, curator of an exhibition on Soviet modernist architecture at the Tselinny, recounts an anecdote in which an architect and an artist worked together to create a mosaic for a cafe. It was a straightforward depiction of a lake with a tiger on one side and goats on the other. ‘The [local communist] party was asking them, “What’s the meaning of this?” They were saying, “Nothing, it’s just a natural landscape” – but they couldn’t convince them that there was no hidden political message.’

“Golovatyuk believes Almaty has as many surviving mosaics as it does because Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, changed the country’s capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997.

“With much of the country’s subsequent investment and development directed at this new ‘city of the steppes,’ Almaty escaped relatively unchanged.”

More at the Guardian, here. It’s interesting that although “degenerate” art is now accepted, actual Soviet art is forbidden in former Soviet republics relieved to be free of the yoke of communism. If you want to see the Lenin mosaic in Almaty, hidden behind a curtain, you have to make an appointment.

As the 16th century poet says, “Times Go By Turns.”

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Today it’s a bit hard to imagine Cezanne, Matisse, Duchamp, and Van Gogh shocking anyone, but at the Armory art show in New York City 100 years ago, they did. Tom Vitale at National Public Radio has the story.

“On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

“The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase ‘avant-garde’ was used to describe painting and sculpture. …

“It was the Europeans — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp — that caused a sensation.

“American audiences were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries — ‘a very realistic type of art,’ says Marilyn Kushner, the co-curator of an exhibition called ‘The Armory Show at 100’ that opens in October at the New York Historical Society. …

“The most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory.’

“In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

“When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create ‘such a “furor,” ‘ the artist responded: “Not the slightest.” …

“Duchamp went on in the 1963 interview to say that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

” ‘There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?’ Duchamp said. ‘Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.’ ” More.

Photograph: Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013)

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