Olga Doty, Art Director of the Museum of Russian Art
The Museum of Russian Art probably takes the prize as the biggest local gem that is nearly entirely under the radar.
For the Art Tour, Under-Recognized Russian Women Artists. I love the odd alliteration, and especially the compound modifier Under-Recognized. Aren’t we all. Sounds like this beautiful museum, which like many of paintings contains conflicting forces – the space has a functional feel, yet is also warm, inviting, well-lit and inspires contemplating art.
The collection of contemporary Russian Women artists was like taking an art history class. Every genre or school of visual art – impressionism, realism, cubism, naturalism, surrealism – every dang ism seemed referenced.
When I wandered in sometime on Art Tour Sunday, the place empty except for the Art Director, Olga, who explained why such a plethora of styles were on display. Although all the women were born in Russia, many were living in other countries – America, Israel, European nations – and they all had different memories and experiences with the Soviet era. This shed some light on why there I could not discern a stylistic thread linking the work. Cultures within the artists were colliding; Russia was a state of mind, a mere fact but without meaning in and of itself when it comes to categorizing these images.
But what was I thinking, that something should look Russian? There was a bear with a human face, a folklore piece that seemed replete with Slavic intonations; other pieces had those worker and humanistic touches one associates with Lenin-era propaganda, although one depiction had a woman with stop sign on her head dying in the street surrounded by what seems like a factory and there’s a swirling red cloud – was this red the egalitarian ideals of the worker run society floating over the violence and despair of the post-soviet Russia?
A beautiful woman with almond-shaped eyes and a mouth that looks like it would be very nice to kiss and a fish inexplicably in the background. Your gaze pauses on her lips, her round and ample cleavage – her blouse unbuttoned below her bra – then notices a similar grace in the lips and fins of the fish. The curves reflect each other, are shadowy, creating a moody sensuality, But sadness is not far from the pleasure she and our all too tangible mortality promises.
Two friends hugging on a couch, outlined by shadows. There’s sorrow present in the room, the sorrow is everywhere in the room, in fact everywhere but between the two friends huddled together.
Maybe that’s a common thread – dread, insecurity almost everywhere surrounding the subject, the core, the saving grace, where courage and confidence exist, perhaps will prevail yet but at least survives. That core, that confidence, is an unmistakable humanity, our selves.
My favorite picture, was a porthole of what seems to be a seedy cabin of an aging luxury liner looking out on a snowy, winter city (I think I remember Minsk). Russia is a winter land. That warmth, the courage, the humanity is the frame of the porthole, where we are, the peeling wall paper enhancing our comfort as we look out on dread and anxiety and isolating chill is at the center of the image. It was almost the reverse of some of the other dialogs between confidence and confusion so many of these paintings were having.