Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I have Fridays off (woohoo) so I went to the Old Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which houses Russian art from the dawn of time (well, icons from the 13th [?] century) to the very early 20th century. It started pretty randomly with room after room of 18th century society portraits and the odd genre painting, which were pretty boring. Then came some 19th C stuff, and then downstairs lots of icons, which were pretty cool, including some with the beautiful silver be-jewelled cases. The Rublyev icons are pretty cool http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rublev. Also liked seeing some paintings I remembered from university classes, such as works by Repin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repin etc.

The best thing about the Old Tretyakov (well, one of the best) is that they make you wear these ridiculous plastic-bag things over your shoes. It was a treat to see Russian girls dressed in a miniskirt, off-the-shoulder-top and fishnets with stiletto knee-high boots and these blue plastic bags capping off the outfit. I mean, come on, who dresses up like a hooker to go to an art gallery of all places?

Saturday I went to the New Tretyakov, just to cap off my cultural/artistic experience. Early 20th century Russian art (1910s - 1920s esp) is just my favouritist stuff, so this was a treat. A few of my beloved Kandinskys, a few of El Lissitzky's works (who rocks - library folk, think my posters hanging above my desk) and other Suprematist works which were really cool. And there was Tiana's nemesis in art form - Malevich's Black Square. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Malevich.black-square.jpg
Now, Yansie hates this because it is (as you can see if you follow the link), just a black square on a white background. I must say, however, that it is quite compelling in person. In the New Tretyakov, you can sit in a room with the most colourful, busy paintings (which I like, don't get me wrong), and if you look through into the next room there's Black Square, which really impresses by contrast. But this is a work which is completely different in the flesh than it is in a print or on the net. Get up close and the strong simplicity of the painting dissolves. The white background looks like it's had people's grubby fingers on it for the past ninety years, and the black square itself is covered with a fine network of cracks, which somehow show through rainbow colours, like when you were a kid and you put black crayon on top of coloured crayon and scratched out a pattern. This is the very antithesis of the utter simplicity of form Malevich was striving for, and really makes a mockery of the intentions of the piece. Intriguing, but very much in need of restoration, I would suggest.

Some of the post-Soviet art was also quite interesting. I'm usually not a fan of ultra-modern stuff, but it was quite cool to see how artists are responding to political change. Apparently, under the Soviets abstract art was verboten and the Hermitage's Picassos etc were locked away, so you can really see the artists responding to what's gone on in the world in the last 80 years or whatever. And they're evaluating the Soviety legacy - posters with pictures of Lenin and 'Coca Cola, it's the real thing', and paintings of Stalin and a bear pissing on the USSR, etc.

One word to the curators - why have multi-media installations and not a single chair in the room? Does that make sense to anybody?

Oh, and one more thing - there's different prices for foreigners and Russians. I was told that if you flash your work visa they might let you in as a Russian, but no such luck. Still not very expensive, but it's unjust! I need to learn the Russian for, "I'm a taxpayer, you old crone!"


  1. Nice try gwan but the suckiness of Malevich's black square is surpassed only by his 'white square on white'. Makes me all mad and a little bit vomity just thinking about it. I still think art shouldn't cross the line where the theory behind the work outshines the actual talent and execution of the art itself. Hey but for some top notch art check out the paintings in the Central Park Cafe on Central Park Drive. Mmm Hmm. When you're back home, of course.

    And props for the personal mention. Long time reader, first time commenter... nice work.

  2. Heh heh 'long time reader, first time butter-inner' nice that you hopped aboard.
    Yeah I think my parents appreciate the Central Park Cafe? It got a good review in Canvas I think, which is a sure sign my parents will check it out. Maybe you'll run into each other some time.
    Malevich isn't a particular favourite, but some of the other suprematist works that don't go so far are pretty coo.

  3. The one reviewed in the 'Canvas' which got 4.5 stars is called 'Savour'. Unfortunately, it has changed ownership and wouldn't get that good review now, I'm sure. That one doesn't have any art, in any case. Must have a look for the 'Central Park Cafe'.
    M x

  4. Nah I don't go to the cafe, it might be fairly average, but all the paintings are mine, and not nearly as top notch as I said before. Crappy flower paintings are order of the day (seems to be sole demand of the cafe owners who paid me) but look out for some abstract expressionist portraits coming soon, when I have the gall to put what I like on the walls and sell them. That, and they are cluttering up our conservatory and mumma is getting mad. Mumma says: Get rid of all these paintings, they are weird. (Mumma is of the 'paint me a nice flower' school of art appreciation. Grrr)

  5. Solution: crappy flower paintings moved to conservatory, weird paintings moved to cafe! Hey - maybe I'd like the flower paintings, seeing I'm a mumma too! (Nice to hear from you - I thought you were a journalist in Wellington now...) xxx

  6. karen gressman is in the house

  7. Yeah she sent me an email. Or does that comment mean that karen gressman is commenting on me blog?

  8. Who's karen gressman?


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