Exhibition to Honor Yuri Kugach

Viewers admiring the work of Ivan Mikhailovich Kugach, Yuri Kugach's grandson. *
Viewers admiring the work of Ivan Kugach, Yuri Kugach’s grandson.

A new exhibition of the work of Yuri Petrovich Kugach, his descendents and students is on display at the Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow. Kugach, who passed away in April of last year, was an influential teacher and leader among Russia’s Realist painters. He influenced many artists within his own family including nephew Nikita Fedosov, son Mikhail Kugach, grandson Ivan and granddaughter Ekaterina. He also organized and led the Moscow River artists group, which has become an important pillar of community for artists in the years since the disintegration of the USSR.

The exhibition features work by Olga Svetlichnaya, Ilya Yatsenko, Boris Petrenko, Jonathan Wurdeman, Ksenia Lebedevoi, Olga Demidenko, Viktoria Samonosova, Vladimir Filipov, and Dmitri Kholkin. It will run through March 23.

You can watch a short newscast on the exhibition here.

* Image courtesy of Natalya Braterskaya

The Sergeyev Dynasty – Three Generations of Painters

Nikolai Sergeyev - Old Poplar Trees 1970
Nikolai Sergeyev – Old Poplar Trees 1970

A show of work by three generations of the Sergeyev family just closed at the Heritage Museum in Moscow. The exhibition featured work by Nikolai Sergeevich Sergeev (1908-1989), Sergei Nikolaevich Sergeev (1949-), Lyudmila Fedotovna Dubovik (1917-1942), and Nikolai Sergeevich Sergeev II (1979-).

The show is dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Sevastapol. The exhibition includes not only artwork, but also biographical materials including an essay on N.S. Sergeyev  by the late Yuri Petrovich Kugach, written for the exhibition. Kugach’s essay is reproduced in full below.

Nikolai Sergeevich Sergeyev (1908 – 1989)  by Yuri Kugach

It should be acknowledged first of all that the exhibition of works by Nikolia Sergeyevich Sergeyev is very much up to date. It goes to prove once again that we still have artists who are not swayed by fashions of the day or time-serving considerations but have their own independent views on art and depict reality sincerely and in a true-to-life manner. They develop their unique artistic individuality in the process of creation, which comes quite natural, for each person is unrepeatable. Such artists do not think up loud innovations for the sake of market success. They work hard, studying prototypes profoundly and emotionally. It often happens, however, that their art becomes known to the public and duly appreciated only towards the end of their path in life. N. S. Sergeyev belongs to this category of artists.

Coming to Sergeyev’s exhibition (regrettably posthumous) and finding himself amidst Sergeyev’s landscapes, the viewer senses all of the spiritual purity and clarity of the artist’s vision of the natural scene, sharing the feelings the artist must have experienced when painting his works.

His winter landscapes, so radiant and vibrant, gladden the eye with the purity of the snow which seems to sparkle and smell of winter freshness. One enjoys the sky, so different in each picture. Masterfully depicted, it subtlety conveys different states of nature. The artist does not accentuate the color but always brings out with amazing subtlety the coloristic distinctions of each particular landscape, masterfully conveying the idea of its uniqueness. His colors are true-to-life, gentle and unobtrusive. They are found on site rather than borrowed from someone. His landscapes are superb and very interesting compositionally. Some compositional solutions are unexpected and even challenging, for instance, a massive tree in the forefront crossing the scene vertically. Its silhouette is so interesting and so much at one with the silhouettes of other pictorial elements that the picture arouses unfeigned admiration. The entire scene is solidly built. The trees in his pictures are finely outlined and gently painted out, with no trace of that hackneyed and boring conventionalization.

In his forest scenes the artist masterfully catches that peculiar softness of penumbra with lends the forest an aura of poetical mystery. The tree trunks and boughs are painted out with great accuracy and affection. They chime in perfectly well with the rest of the scene without disrupting the feeling of harmony.

Sergeyev was utmostly sincere in his artistic conception. Working on a particular subject for several days he never lost the keenness of the first impression until the completion of the work. He was an active and energetic person in everyday life, while in his art he appears to us as a subtle poet replete with the feeling of blissful adoration of nature.

One would like to note his little sketches done in a war-ravaged Sevastopol, they are eminently truthful and well-colored. The entire exhibition of Sergeyev’s works gives one a sensation of joy of life and spiritual purity.


A Grand Epoch of Painting



In a new essay, art collector and gallery director John Wurdeman makes the case for a re-evaluation of Socialist Realism in the Western record of art history. Wurdeman has had unprecedented access to the homes and studios of Russia’s most prominent Realist painters. For those involved in the contemporary art market, the values of Soviet-trained painters can seem profoundly foreign. In this piece, Wurdeman translates for a Western audience the perspective of an artistic community in which he is deeply enmeshed.

Link to full article. 

Sports in Soviet Art

As the Winter Olympics take place in Sochi, a new exhibition of Soviet paintings dealing with sports is on display in Moscow. The exhibition, which debuted this winter in London, was organized by the Institute of Russian Realist Art in Moscow. Since it was founded in 2011, the Institute of Russian Realist Art has sought to raise the profile of Russia’s Realist tradition worldwide. Alexey Ananyev, the Russian banking and IT billionaire who founded the museum, set out to revise an art historical record which has, “wrongly forgotten,” Russia’s Realist tradition. With this high profile show, the icy cold-war reception of official Soviet art appears to be thawing. 

Whereas the western narrative of official Soviet art has, since the beginning of the Cold War, focused on political coercion and censorship to the exclusion of any serious consideration of individual works or artists, the critical reception of “Soviet Sport” shows a remarkable open-mindedness to the goals and methods of Soviet artists. Jackie Wullschlager, a reviewer with the Financial Times, described the show as, ” a chance to reassess the only serious European alternative to modernism,” claiming that Socialist Realism would, “inevitably be reassessed as 21st-century scholarship recasts modern art.” This emphasis on the art-historical record, and the notion that the terms of modern art are up for reassessment is itself a shift in the dialogue about Socialist Realism. Wullschlager goes further, however, stating that Socialist Realism, ” drew on modern art in more ways than was acknowledged at the time.”

A consequence of this open reexamination of official Soviet art is the division of the monolithic style into genres, styles, periods, and ultimately an examination of individual artists. Whereas the traditional Avant-Garde vs. Kitsch binary cast Socialist Realism as a mere extension of state authority, a post-modern and post-Soviet viewpoint is able to see the trees for the forest. Wullschlager writes about the high ideals and motivations of artists Alexander Deineka and Viktor Popkov, without denouncing their views as an insincere attempt to tow the party line.

In a review for Russian Art and Culture, Jo Morgan begins by restating the established critique of Socialist Realism as a heavily censored tool of the Soviet State. This perspective does not end the discussion, however, but is used as a starting point to deepen and complicate our understanding of Soviet art. Morgan writes that,  “Despite certain ideological criteria placed upon Soviet artists, […] artists could blend aspects of the avant-garde or Impressionism in their works to produce works of genuine political, social, historical and artistic interest.”

This exhibition, at the outset of the 2014 Russian-British year of culture, has sparked an open, contemporary discussion of the place of Socialist Realism in art history. As the dialogue continues between Western and Russian art historians and critics, the “victor’s history” of 20th century art will undoubtedly continue to be challenged.

Soviet Sport will be at the Institute of Russian Realist Art through May 25th.

Link to exhibition review at the Moscow News

Nicolai Fechin Exhibition in Taos, NM

Eya in Peasant Blouse – 1933*

The Taos Art Museum in Nicolai Fechin’s former home is holding a new exhibition of the artists work. Fechin, originally from Kazan, emigrated to New York in 1923. After contracting tuberculosis, he moved to the American southwest seeking a drier climate. He is known for his saturated, decorative depictions of Native Americans and the desert landscape.

Intimate and International: The Art of Nicolai Fechin features 30 drawings and 25 paintings and runs from April 12 to September 21, 2014

Link to exhibition website


Soviet Art Featured in Survey of Portraiture at Rutgers

A new exhibition of 19th and 20th century portraiture at The Zimmerli Art Musuem at Rutgers University is giving ample wall space to Russian and Soviet art. The Zimmerli museum is well known for housing the Dodge collection of Soviet Nonconformist art. The collection, donated in 1991, is the largest collection of Soviet Nonconformist art in the world, and has raised the profile of the museum in Russian art circles. The Zimmerli is less well known for its extensive collection of pre-revolutionary Russian art. In 1990, George Riabov donated his collection of Imperial Russian art with 1,100 works and 5,000 books extending back to the 14th century.* Combined, these two collections have a significant impact on the profile of Russian and Soviet art within the museum.

‘Striking Resemblance’ features work by several prominent Soviet and pre-revolutionary artists including VItaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, Yuri Albert, and Petr Levitsky. Russian and Soviet visual artists are still under-recognized compared to their contemporaries in music, film, drama, dance and literature, but museums like the Zimmerli are working to raise their profile. 

Striking Resemblance will run Jan 25, 2014 – Jul 13, 2014 in the Zimmerli Museum’s Voorhees galleries. For more details, see The Alternative Press’ article on the show.



Theodora Clarke on Russian Art Week

In a recent interview published by Russia Beyond the Headlines, Theodora Clarke discussed the state of Russian Art and her involvement in London’s Russian Art Week.

Russian Art Week, London’s bi-annual event that brings together the major auction houses and Russian art galleries and collectors from around the world, has been growing. Information about the different sales and exhibitions taking place during the week, however, has been hard to come by. Theodora Clarke, editor of the website Russian Art and Culture began complete coverage of the event last year, providing online and printed guides to the event for collectors. Clarke will continue producing the guides for Russian Art Week this November.

“I noticed that many people in the West are well acquainted with Russian music, ballet and literature. However, I found that Russian art is simply not as well known here, apart from the great avant-garde painters, such as Kandinsky, Chagall or Goncharova. One of my aims with Russian Art Week and the Russian Art & Culture website is to bring this unique culture to a wider audience both here in London and to international audiences around the world.”

Link to full interview at Russia Beyond the Headlines

Victor Popkov Show Moved from Royal Academy

The upcoming exhibition of paintings by Socialist Realist painter Victor Popkov has been relocated from London’s Royal Academy to London’s Somerset House. The sudden change of venue seems to indicate a reluctance on the part of London’s art establishment to fully embrace the work of this important Socialist Realist painter. 

“A spokeswoman for the RA says that “despite the merits of Viktor Popkov, it was decided that the exhibition did not fit the requirements of the programme in Burlington Gardens [the building behind the RA’s main galleries] at this particular juncture.”

The exhibition, which is being organised by the State Museum and Exhibition Centre Rosizo in Moscow, will include around 40 paintings by the artist, whose supporters believe is under-recognised in the UK.”

Link to full article at The Art Newspaper

Dissent from Within Official Soviet Ballet

All forms of art in the Soviet Union were subject to government censorship. Collecting Russian Art is focused on Soviet painting, but a recent piece on Soviet Ballet for the Stanford News service caught my attention. The piece explores how choreographer Leonid Yakobson worked within the officially sponsored medium without completely compromising his artistic integrity. A part of the Western Cold War narrative of Soviet art is the idea of complicity with the failures of the Soviet regime. Official Soviet art is “cowardly” and ideologically subservient, and only the work of underground Non-conformists is considered truly courageous.

The work of Stanford University dance scholar Janice Ross begins to complicate these conventional divisions within Soviet art. In a new book Ross explores how, “Yakobson’s productions alternately accommodated and challenged ideas endorsed by the Soviet regime.” This idea of struggle from within is crucial to a more nuanced, post-Cold War understanding of Soviet Art. The relationship between the Soviet government and artists was not just one of repression, censorship and control. The arts also received enormous support from the Soviet state. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In Ross’ analysis, the making of ballet in the Soviet Union had affordances and constraints.  Ballet was valued and privileged as a tool for conveying critical meanings and manufacturing the idealized Russian body. “Ballet gave the artist a certain status. It was worth the struggle because this was such a valued arena. And so they needed Yakobson as well,” Ross said.

While Ross’ work is focused on dance, fundamental concepts from her work can be applied to Soviet painting. The tremendous value placed on the arts by the state in the USSR was both a blessing and a curse. To say that art is important is simply a different way of saying art is dangerous.

Debates about censorship continue in Russia. A nuanced understanding of the Soviet legacy is essential to our understanding of Russia’s contemporary art landscape.

Andrei Filatov Brings Soviet Realism to London

Андрей Филатов

Andrey Filatov, Russian business leader, master chess player, billionaire and art collector is helping Soviet Realist painting to gain greater exposure in the west. Filatov is lending works of 20th century Realism to the Royal Academy in London for an exhibition focusing on work by Viktor Popkov in May 2014.

Filatov’s collection includes work by many of the 20th century’s foremost realists, including  Igor GrabarPyotr KonchalovskyKonstantin KorovinGely KorzhevArkady Plastov, and Yuri Kugach. He directs the Filatov Family Art Fund, which seeks to, ” bring together paintings, drawings and sculptures, which left Russia during the last century […]  to increase international awareness and understanding of this acclaimed, but less well-known, period in Russian art.” The upcoming exhibition of Viktor Popkov is a part of the foundation’s broader effort to disseminate and promote the work of artists obscured by the Iron Curtain.

*Update 10/29: The show has been moved from the Royal Academy to Somerset House

*Update 10/30: The Popkov exhibition coincides with the publication by the Filatov Family Art Fund of the first book on Popkov published outside of Russia. (pictured above) Link to article about the book at Russia Beyond the Headlines