Russian Vanguard in the Collection of the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan

The State Art Museum of Uzbekistan was created in 1918. It was based on a private art collection of Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov, Governor-General of Turkestan. The collection included Russian and West European paintings, marble and bronze sculpture, items of decorative and applied art and furniture from Europe, Russia and Oriental countries. This immediately determined the profile of the Tashkent Art Museum (this was its original name) with a wide ranging collection; subsequently it retained its value, featuring a unique collection.

Presently, the collection of the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan counts about 50,000 pieces of painting, graphic art, sculpture and items of decorative and applied art.

Russian Vanguard is one of the subjects that the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan can offer, as the works of Russian and West European art hold an important place in it. Most of them bear the stamp of the museum bureau of NarKomPros (People's Commissariat for Education) and the date of receipt at the Tashkent museum - the year 1920, when vanguard artist collection was completed at the regional centres, from where the plan was to remotely control artistic ideas of the new time. Between 1918 and 1922 the paintings unit of NarKomPros employed A. Rodchenko, who was the Head of the Museum bureau and member of an Art Collegium. The collection was thus transferred 'first hand', and the author artists who were also the compilers of the selection, represented a single block.

Vanguard confirmed the socio-societal platform of new aesthetics, and the distribution of collections to remote locations was supposed to facilitate and expedite the formation of renewed thinking. Tashkent was among the selected cities through which it was intended to replicate innovative programs to cover large areas.

Vanguard proper has strict chronological limits, yet the museum's collection has a wide rage of items of that dating. Artist from the "World of Arts" and "Jack of Diamonds", and realism of late 'peredvizhnik' art on the one hand and the subsequent 1920s groups on the other enable one to better understand the place of Russian vanguard in terms of its ideas and style orientation. The museum collection works of the first three decades of the 20th century present vivid examples of new systemic relations in art. Lyrical cubism in a Crimean landscape "Houses and Mountains" by R. Falk, symbolism of a "Red Cloud" by N. Milioti, impressionist timidity of colour-luscious painting called "Autumn" by K. Korovin, or a bold shamelessness of a "Woman on a Coach" by B. Grigoryev - these are only few examples of the diversity of painting trends on approach to our subject. "The Wife's Portrait" by A. Osmyorkin and the OST still-life by A. Kuprin are the examples from the 1920s - remarkable specimens of a robust and healthy easel painting that pushed the boundaries of the "Jack of Diamonds".

What missed the museum were the items from private Tashkent collections, such as drawings by D. Burlyuk and paintings of M. Shagal. Neither present in the collection are the works of a prominent artist of a colour-form orientation A. Drevin (Drevinsh). But even if the story about Russian vanguard were limited to the names of artists whose work is represented at the SAM of Uzbekistan, the list would be impressive: A. Rodchenko, V. Stepanova, V. Kandinskiy, G. Stenberg, A. Yavlenskiy, K. Malevich, V. Tatlin, G. Yakulov, L. Lisitskiy, A. Vesnin, A. Ekster Yet the museum collection makes it possible to expand the list.

Items received from the Tashkent owners deserve a separate review. These are the paintings by Burlyuk, Yavlenskiy, Malevich and the 1988 gift from A. I. Sazonenko - graphic art by Tatlin, Malevich and Popova that complements the first-rate vanguard collection delivered from Moscow by the Central Museum Bureau. The indication of how responsible the Moscow selection was is the presence of paintings and water-colours by V. Kandinkiy - perhaps of the finest ones, according to the author himself: both paintings were reproduced in an album dedicated to his work that was issued during his lifetime.

A. Yavlenskiy (von Yavlenskiy, 1865-1941) (1) is a rare name in domestic museum collections. "The Portrait of a Woman" (1909; a model, presumably an artist Marianna Verevkina) was acquired in 1946 in Tashkent together with the part of V. N. Gulyaev's collection from his widow (2). The portrait is a "verbatim" illustration of lines from M. Dobuzhinskiy's memories about classes at the Munich school of Anton Ashbe and his requirements embodied in a student from Russia Aleksei Yavlenskiy: hard broad brushes, painting mass taken in bold corporal massive and outlined with the same brush. Painting expression remained the key thesis for both figurative and object-free art.

Yavlenskiy turns to painting in earnest at the age of 25, abandoning the career of a Guards officer. After studies in Moscow and Petersburg, he went to Germany (1896) where he became a student of A. Ashbe (1862-1905), standing out among other Russian students by his loyalty and diligence. The subsequent artistic biography of the artist was associated with Germany. A name that stuck to him was Russian Municher. At exhibitions Yavlenskiy was noticed (in Apollo Journal, for example) by beautifully worked out oil-paints and accurate profiles, which characterize "The Portrait of a Woman" in Tashkent too.

When in Ashbe school Yavlenskiy met Vasiliy Kandinskiy. Their acquaintance that began in 1996 grew stronger through creative interaction. Yavlenskiy joined Kandinskiy in his efforts to organize a New Artist Association of Munich and became member of a "Blue Rider" association founded by F. Mark and Kandinskiy. For the sake of art criticism, two important points in Yavlenskiy's life should be mentioned: meeting with A. Matisse who helped him to discover his own tone and supported him during his stay in Sweden during the First World War. A journey to France also reminds of a historical role of fauvism in the evolution of the main European trends.
In 1921 Yavlenskiy returns to Germany for good and settles in Wiesbaden in the central land of Hessen. Saturated painting of the previous period was gone, deferring to religious mysticism of a refined artist.

Given the place of Russian artists in European art, apart from Kandinskiy who stood by Yavlenskiy during the latter's life in Germany one should also mention German artists with whom he worked. Among them were Franz Mark, Augustus Makke, Gabriel Muenter, Franz von Stuk, and a Swiss artist Paul Klee. Yavlenskiy studied under F. Stuk at the Munich Academy of Arts after the departure of A. Ashbe. The founder of abstract art, along with Kandinskiy (plastic abstractionism) and Malevich (Suprematism - geometrical abstraction), is a Dutch painter Piet Mondriaan.

Kandinskiy created his first abstract work in 1910. Kandinskiy (1866-1944) started with the studies of law and political economy in Moscow. In 1899 the artist-to-be participated in an ethnographic mission to the Russian North. Once he became an artist, he visited Tunisia (1903), Holland (1904), Italy (1905) and Paris (1906). During his studies in Munich, Claude Monet's "Haystacks" (1898) was on display. Kandinskiy's encounter with fresh and captivating gamut of landscape and soft plein air "caressed" by the impressionist eye, remained one of the most powerful impressions of the young artist on his path towards heightened pictorial expressivity and freedom.

When did he see that electromagnetic rainbow glow? When did he hear the music of spheres? A well-known incident when Kandinskiy saw colour transformation of music when he was listening to Wagner's opera merely triggered the awakening.

Among crucial factors in Kandinskiy's evolution as an artist was German Expressionism, which, with its dramatic implication of graphic techniques and colour solutions and high tension of colours, gave the impression of fused colours. Kandinskiy's compositions were called abstract expressionism, and later on, when abstract painting was negated, their author was labelled 'abstract extremist', yet he was consistently referred to as 'colouristic genius'. (The same inference with regard to the expressivity of glowing colours in expressive forms was earned by A. Exter.) Pictorial vision of the world is depicted in the artist's flowing abstractions, the music of colourful waves takes one out into the expanses of cosmos

Two canvases by Kandinskiy from the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan identically titled "Composition" (1920) portray plastic combination of rainbow stretches of paints and solar flares. Moving into the depths of cosmic abyss, Kandinskiy's excitement that marks all spheres of his activity creates an inspired symphony. Watercolours (there are two of them, 1918 and 1921) feature pictorial elements; there are analogies to watercolour painting the author's names of which specify the objective content of the impulse. The works belong to the time when the artist arrived from Germany to Russia in 1918. He remained in his homeland till the end of 1921. His brief sojourn there was extremely saturated: as earlier in Germany, Kandinskiy introduced his own experience into the current activity of Russian artists.

Perception is too personal, especially when it comes to the nature of artist. So when Malevich writes, 'I have overcome the impossible and made the chasms my breath' (From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism, 1915), he is very well aware that this is so far only his seer position. Work is needed to expand the sphere of innovative teaching. Engaged artists firmly believe that the situation is transient and, accelerating the process of renewed thinking, they write and publish manifestos, programmes and books. Owing to their theoretical work, the emergence of every new trend is accurately dated.

"Manifesto of Suprematism" was developed in 1913 by Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). His interpretation of space and colour evolved into a significant phenomenon in terms of its influence upon the transformation of the general state of art.

In Suprematism, painting is based on precise geometrical shapes, and a painting by Ivan Klyun (Klyunkov, 1873-1943) from the SAM collection is an example of geometrical abstraction. It has another valuable property: festivity of cheerful colours determines colour vision of the Russian artist. In 1890s, prior to adopting the teaching of K. Malevich, Klyun studied at a drafting school in Warsaw and in a private studio of F. Rerberg in Moscow. He turned to sculpture and stage design, and his interest towards volume in space is reflected in colouristic peculiarity of the easel painting from the Tashkent museum, where the plane drawing is filled with weight of colour action. Klyun's 'Suprematism' also arrived from the Central Museum Bureau with the vanguard collection and presents an eye-catching exhibit characteristic of Malevich school.

The objectives of releasing the "consciousness of paint" and "increasing the run of flexible life" are devoted to the idea of accelerated movement. In 1915 Malevich urges:

"Hurry!
For tomorrow you will not recognize us."
A kind of a new cognition mechanism is launched, dedicated to which are the formed up lines of Rodchenko, conglomerations of Popova, symphonism of Kandinskiy, and squares and planes of Malevich. Heaping up is the "architecture" of stratification. Sketches by Lisitskiy, Exter and Vesnin that resemble portals and caryatids frame the vanguard "architecture" in which everyone's echoing footsteps can be discerned. Facets of analytical judgment in sculpture were different, and the individuality of authors, big time artists, evolved in different creative devices, but it boiled down to the following definition: "Weight. Motion".

Reform-minded artists work according to new principles. Creation - Epoch - Thinking are mounted in a new plastic argumentation introduced into a creative process of the formation of a dramatically renewed human essence. Next to the artists born in capital cities, a range of names is lined up: Yavlenskiy from Suslov (near Tver), Yakulov from Tiflis, Lisitskiy from Smolensk, Stepanova from Kovno (presently Kaunas, Lithuania) Local teachers and schools are intertwined with sojourn in Moscow and Petrograd and the paths of West European schools, of which the most attractive are those of Paris and Munich. Few artists missed this winding serpentine of spiritual treasures.

It was a short time span extremely saturated with the emergence of new expressive trends, and the dynamic run of Liubov Popova's work is a good reflection of the vanguard pressure. Avid absorption of global artistic wealth and then a return - enriching contemporary trends with one's own unique experience - were characteristic of her as well. Persistent was the progress of consistent change in method. Popova's early demise (1889-1924) did not delete her name from the number of active explorers; on the contrary, the clear outline of her creative work reveal how cubo-futurism, suprematism, and constructivism leaf through the pages of her brief biography. One knows of pictorial-decorative designs of the woman-artist, which are based on the "summation" of planes; her canvases with cylindrical shapes gravitate towards pre-image of an urban settlement. In the State Art Museum of Uzbekistan Liubov Popova is represented by the first type of spatial solutions. These are "Architectonics" (1918, canvas, oil), "Composition" (both arrived from the Central Museum Bureau in 1920s) and watercolour "Composition" from A. Sazonenko. "Architectonics" is distinguished by the soft manner of performance, and for a "harsh" artist such as Popova with steel notes in her pictorial language, the picture sounds poeticized. Acceleration power of planes in purple-blue and pink colours is enhanced diagonally to the structure. Highly poeticized is the sensitive architectonics of space.

Popova regarded graphic works as sketches for compositions she devised in metal. They represent structures with a vertical as base. The author emphasizes axis lines of the structures: pictorial environment is rarefied by an engineering "saw cut", silhouette interpretation of the set rips open the space and, perceived by truss, takes the space on. In this case the suprematist weight in the definition "Weight. Velocity. Motion" concerned not only the physics of colour definitions, but also ponderability of space.

The vanguard collection compiled in Moscow for Tashkent is valuable in terms of specificity of the author implements. Along with large size works, the compilation included smaller watercolour sheets by Nadezhda Udaltsova (1886-1961), which are the combination of basic geometrical shapes that cognitively illustrate the degree of tension of their potential combinations. It was anything but art for the art sake. For them the practical outcome was important. For instance, the VHUTEMAS (Higher Art and Technical Workshops) was their brainchild. The establishment of an institute with departments ranging from painting to architectural was considered as one way to implement vanguard ideas, and industrial bias was an indication of a collective origin issue. Kandinskiy, Udaltsova, Popova and Rodchenko taught at that school.

Malevich, the author of pure projectional forms in canvases, talked about the significance of Suprematism for decorative art - in its applied and monumental purposes. In the museum this stance is illustrated by a porcelain object created by his apprentice Nikolai Suetin (1897-1954).

Vanguard artists did not negate other views or the presence of other artistic streams. They remained, forming left and right flanks of the dashing and accelerating vanguard, daring in its experience and far advanced compared to other contemporary trends.
Asceticism of means may seem to be the renunciation of bodily physical nature, but it should not be considered outside technological progress, bloody wars and ideological confrontations which marked that historical time and on which radical vanguard convictions were honed. The artists' deep feeling of nature is thus ever more moving. They share laconicism and at the same time a full-blooded symphony of colours, lyricism, and lots of poeticized earthly reality seen in planetary connections. Its breath brings spirit into a fine profiling art of constructivism.

The role of constructivism in architecture is universally recognized. Constructivists are distinguished by the proportion and harmony of plastic interpretations. Museum works by Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956), Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and Alexander Vesnin (1883-1959) have this quality present. It is impossible to ignore their unceasing (and perhaps even growing) interest towards lyrically agitated vitality. The author's spiritual elegance fills Tatlin's piece from the "Act" series. Graphic gentleness shrouds the attitude towards a drawing by Tatlin (lead pencil), Rodchenko (watercolour tinting), Stepanova (crayons) and Vesnin in his sketches to "Annunciation" by Paul Claudel (tempera).

From the standpoint of the period in question, Tatlin's "Design of the Tower of the 3rd International" (1920) and his subsequent many-years work on the "Letatlin" aircraft design are only two examples of the works that embody new creative consciousness. Perhaps nowhere else the time factor manifested itself as clearly as in vanguard. Vanguard artists reveal how much poetical emotion is invested in the monumental image of epochal symbols. Yet, remembering their attachment to the earthly, its is obvious that they were the artists standing high above the masses and carrying them away on the delta wing of their dream.

Active fantasy of the vanguard artists brings clarity into utopian sentiment of the society. The mind-awakening plasticity hides the trajectory of a flight bound into the future. That was a revolutionary vanguard. From 1918 through early 1920s vanguard artists enjoyed strong support from the government of young Soviet Russia, and, occupying executive positions in artistic organizations they were able to implement new methods in the area of creative work and education. Their conviction was based on the notion that art can morally transform human consciousness.

A museum collection of theatrical works of the first three decades of the 20th century boasts some great names. They are M. Vrubel, A. Golovin, M. Dobuzhinskiy, A. Benoit, E. Lancerer, and I. Malyutin. L. Lisitskiy, A. Exter and A. Vesnin enhance the significance of this area of creative work. The museum possesses an early sketch by El Lisitskiy (Lazar Lisitskiy, 1890-1941) for the play by G. D'Annuncio "The Ship" (1914). Georgiy Stenberg (1900-1933) and Georgiy Yakulov (1884-1928), well-known theatre artist, are represented in the Tashkent museum by easel paintings: "Colourstructure" (G. Stenberg) and "Circus" (G. Yakulov).

Alexandra Exter (1884-1949) brought into cubism the ornamentality and passionate temper of the author's transformation of the playing environment. Large cartons in the SAM collection picture costumes for Oscar Wilde's tragedy "Salome" (1917) and Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (1920) designed for the Chamber Theatre in Moscow. The reverse side of the two sketches reads: "Set aside for Turkestan". The artist "bursts in", casting details aside; the pressure of expressive forms is enhanced by visual energy of blazing paints. In sharply compressed shapes of "baroque bends" critic A. Efros notices colouristic genius of the woman artist. Red and black, white and golden emphasize the tragic element in drama. It is interesting to look behind the curtain of time: how was her work perceived in the culmination of a pulsing process? In 1922, in a book published in Berlin, Yakov Tugendhold identified the place of A. Exter in the art of the new time. He referred to her as a symbol, a woman who expressed "contemporary art at large - contemporary European art with all its tragic torment, in-depth searching and cherished dreams. The personality of this woman, like in a focus, reflects our culture, a critical culture that balances on the sharp edge between the two epochs".

Notes:
  • 1. Lifespan dates are different in different sources. Information given here is provided by the State Russian Museum.
  • 2. Yeremyan, R. "Relief of Memory"//"San`at", 2002, 4. Reproduced.

Rimma Yeremyan


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