The snow went last night (put your hands in the air if you love a good literal translation) and the last lingering bits of “stage2”– where you hate everything and are grouchy and just want to go home – were tucked in for bed under that wincingly-cliché snowblanket. In the morning, I wandered around the city, taking pictures of everything I had already taken pictures of, except now with the wintery white stuff caked on.
Next, I finally took a trip to the state art museum, something I had been meaning to do for a while but never got asquare to it. (Ooh, slip of the tongue, I meant to say I never got around to it). First, this unsuspecting, underestimated underdog of a museum was not to be underscored; it proved undeniably uncommon! Although most of the works themselves were not well known, the museum featured some heavyweight artists, especially from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many names were recognizable, but a few really stood out: there was a piece by K.S. Petro-Vodkin, an artist who helped the avant-garde movement in the early 1900s gain its iconic status. His painting, Bathing of a Red Horse, with its bright, contrasting, elementary colors, is an emblem of the movement and all its nonstandard features. The painting shown in the museum was a self-portrait, with his wife and daughter, from 1936. The colors are drab, but it features other classic elements of earlier avant-garde paintings: rayism, where a subject is depicted by a mess of straight, angular lines. The artist relies on the mind’s natural ability to find and recognize faces, despite the incoherence of the image, to communicate his subject to the audience.
Then there was a piece by M. V. Nesterov, who, in the beginning of the 20th century, painted very traditional, Russian Orthodox Christian motifs that contrasted wildly with the anti-religious fervor that occurred during the revolution and under theSoviet Union.
Then, much to my utter delight, there were three pieces by one of my favorite Russian painters: B. M. Kustodiev. He paints jolly themes of holidays and lively townsfolk (usuallyMoscow, cheerfully nostalgic) with bright, uplifting pastels. The colors are often a little off; the sky in one of my favorite works, Maslenitsa (below) (Marti Gras –esque Russian holiday), is a lovely mint green and gentle pink.
I was impressed. I spoke with one of the museum caretakers and she told me most of the paintings were bought at various auctions, and they’re all originals. (I’m choosing not to be skeptical of this. I suppose I could be, but given the fact that I have no way of knowing, I will just believe her).
WARNING: A paragraph of solid rambling ahead!!
An interesting detail, though, caught me off guard, and has been a thorn in my side ever since. A number paintings were donated by major gas companies – “Gift of the oil company ‘LUKOIL’ President;” “Gift of open society ‘Tyumen Oil Company;’” “Gift of open society ‘Surgutneftegaz.’” etc. Does this have any significance? Sure, it could mean gas/oil company representatives are cultured and appreciate fine art. Certainly, donating art is common for wealthy and urbane philanthropists. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this picture. But somehow, I can’t shake off the idea that there are alternative motives at hand. Is it some backhanded method of ensuring the sanctity of the companies? I don’t really know what their reputation is here (but I shall find out!), but I think in general, in the US, especially liberal Vermont, there is a certain degree of skepticism and dislike of those involved in the industry. Perhaps associating themselves with classic, beloved Russian works of art is a way of subconsciously legitimizing their cause? Perhaps it is a way of building positive connections, blinding the uncurious majority to whatever corrupt business practices and disregard for the environment they involve themselves in? Leaving a sweet aftertaste, like at cheap restaurants, where they give you a tasty mint upon leaving to make you forget that you didn’t enjoy your meal? Or perhaps this is the inherent American suspicion that all large Russian corporations must be corrupt and environmentally unsound infiltrating my appreciation of a painting hanging in a museum. Eah, I find myself again without the necessary knowledge to make any decisions one way or another. I’ll do some digging around (…drilling around?) for information.
After the museum, I continued to wander on. I found a nice wooden stairway leading up into the hilly forest and indulged in the idyllic Russian forest that suddenly surrounded me. Saw some animal footprints and automatically presumed they were from bears. I would rather not be informed otherwise. While I was off losing myself in an enchanted forest, I actually got lost a little bit, had a minor freak-out, and then timidly backtracked and went back to town. I wasn’t dressed to get lost in the woods (and my comrades eagerly point to this as the reason I am now sick, although I equally enthusiastically blame them for the wild changes in temperature between the tropics of my dorm and the arctic outside. Oh, how strongly we argue for what we cannot actually prove…)
Eventually, I went home, really feeling the cold and eager to buy a candle and read by candlelight 🙂