- Cassandra Naji
Russia boasts one of the world’s richest art histories, with gold-leaf icons jostling with avant-garde masterpieces for museum space. London audiences can find out more about Russia’s culture during the bi-annual Russian Art Week, which brings a gamut of auctions, exhibitions and lectures to the UK capital. We round up 10 of the week’s unmissable events for anyone intrigued by Russian art and culture.
Culture | The Avant Garde in Revolutionary Russia – NADFAS
At a secret location in Covent Garden, Russian Art Week founder Theodora Clarke will deliver a lecture on ‘The Avant-Garde in Revolutionary Russia’. Aiming to provide an accessible introduction to a period of fervent artistic and political change in Russia, the talk will look at some of the seminal works and artists of the early 20th century, including Kasimir Malevich, painter of the now infamous ‘Black Square’, and Marc Chagall, critic Robert Hughes’ ‘quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century.’ Clarke will discuss these figures within the context of the avant-garde, and within the wider cultural contexts of social evolution.
Venue to be revealed on purchase of ticket from NADFAS
Auction | Russian Works of Art, Faberge and Icons at Sotheby’s
If there is one name synonymous with Tsarist Russia, it is that of Peter Carl Faberge. A St Petersburg jeweller, Faberge produced around 50 of his trademark jewelled eggs for the Romanovs at the turn of the century. The eggs, made of the most luxurious materials possible (the ‘Peter the Great’ egg, for example, is swathed in red, green and yellow gold, platinum, rose-cut diamonds, rubies, enamel, rock crystal and tiny watercolour portraits on ivory) are not only coveted for their obvious monetary value, but for their place in history as emblems of the House of Romanov and, some might say, its hubris. During Russian Art Week, Sotheby’s will auction not the eggs, of which only 47 survive, but several other Faberge items, including a gold, bejewelled cigarette case.
Sotheby’s, 34 – 35 New Bond Street, London, UK, +44 20 7293 5000
Theatre | Dmitry Krymov Lab – Barbican Theatre
4 – 14 June
Dmitry Krymov, a largely unfamiliar name to UK audiences, is a towering figure in Russian theatre. The director and designer has created over 100 productions in Moscow, most of which mingle art, literature and popular culture to breathe new life into traditional tales. In Opus 7, Krymov brings the oppressive atmosphere of Stalin’s Russia to the Barbican’s stage, exploring the lives of Russian Jews through the censorship of Shostakovich, who composed a series of works based on Jewish folksongs in response to Stalin’s anti-Semitism. Bringing the audience up close to the stage action, Krymov creates a dream-like world of enormous puppets, living walls and sinister, visceral theatre.
Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London, UK, +44 20 7638 4141
Art | Walls: Contemporary Artists on Cultural Identity – Pushkin House
Until 5 June
13 contemporary artists working in both Russia and the UK today explore notions of national identity and culture in this exhibition at Pushkin House. Moscow performance artist Elena Kovylina exhibits a video work that examines post-Cold War Russia and its similarities to a post-colonial state; UK photographer Ellen Nolan asks what we mean by personal ‘identity’ within a social system; and conceptual artist Flavia Muller Medeiros looks at the contemporary phenomenon of cross-cultural migration between Eastern and Western Europe.
Pushkin House, 5A Bloomsbury Square, London, UK, +44 20 7269 9770
Culture | Russian People’s Costumes and Traditions through Western Eyes – Shapero Rare Books
30 May – 6 June
Despite Tsar Peter the Great’s best efforts, Western Europe has historically construed Russia as ‘Other’, as a country where, as Virginia Woolf said, ‘the sunsets are longer, the dawns are less sudden, and sentences are often left unfinished from doubt as how best to end them.’ During Russian Art Week, Shapero Rare Books will put this exoticisation of Russia on display through its exploration of Russian costumes and traditions as imagined by western artists. Focusing on visual records and first-person accounts from the 17th to 19th centuries, the exhibition tracks the development of the idea of ‘Russia’ through unusual sources, including many rare books such as 19th century ethnological works with beautiful coloured plates.
Shapero Rare Books, 32 St George St, London, UK, +44 20 7493 0876
Theatre | Father’s and Sons by Turgenev – Donmar Warehouse
5 June – 26 July
Author, playwright and and poet Ivan Turgenev wrote about Russia at the turn of the 19th century, an era of upheaval and ideological conflict. His novel Fathers and Sons, published in 1862, contains all the Turgenevian traits that made this reluctant landed gentleman into a literary hero: empathy for the poor, a certain Europhilia and a deeply entrenched dislike for the Russian authoritarian state. In Fathers and Sons, which the Donmar Warehouse will show in theatrical form during Russian Art Week, two fresh-faced graduates arrive at a country estate, full of dangerous new ideas. Unsurprisingly, these revolutionary ideologies lead the young men to clash with their elders, creating a dramatic tension that can only be resolved through tragic conflict.
Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London, UK, +44 84 4871 7624
Art | Victor Popkov: Genius of the Russian Soul – Somerset House
Until 18 June
Art of the Soviet Union is often dismissed as a mere cipher for propaganda. But the first UK solo exhibition of Victor Popkov’s art, showing at Somerset House, reveals that the constraints imposed by Socialist Realism could in fact lead to greater artistic creativity. Popkov, one of the most acclaimed Russian artists of the last century, was a proponent of the ‘Severe’, a style ostensibly true to Socialist Realism but imbued with humanity and the promise of future freedom. Painting eternal themes such as loneliness and personal relationships, Popkov provided an alternative perspective on Russia during an era when Soviet propaganda held sway.
Somerset House, the Strand, London, UK, +44 20 7845 4600
Photography | Close and Far: Russian Photography Now – Calvert Gallery
18 June – 17 August
During the 20th century, photography was one of the most contentious art forms in Russia, used both to propagandise and to expose life in the Tsarist state and the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, a new generation of photographers are still using photography to probe Russian identity. London’s Calvert 22 Gallery brings these interconnected strands together in the exhibition Close and Far: Russian Photography Now, which puts the works of five modern photographers – Alexander Gronsky, Dimitry Venkov, Taus Makhacheva, Olya Ivanova and Max Sher – next to the rediscovered photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky. A pioneer of colour photography, Gorsky was hired by Tsar Nicholas II to document the entire Russian empire at a time of cataclysmic change. The works of the five contemporary photographers, seen beside Gorsky’s documentary images, highlight the centrality of place in the search for Russian identity.
Calvert Gallery, 22 Calvert Avenue, London, UK, +44 20 7613 2141
Culture | Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain – Gallery for Russian Art and Design
20 June – 24 August
The evolution and disintegration of Soviet ideology is examined through the prism of over 50 design objects, in this exhibition held at the Gallery for Russian Art and Design (GRAD) in central London. Seemingly unimportant 1950s artefacts such as shopping bags, home appliances and official cars all feature in the exhibition, allowing visitors not only to understand what life was life behind the Iron Curtain, but also how political ideology plays out in people’s lives.
GRAD, 3-4a Little Portland Street, London, UK, +44 20 7637 7274
Art | Alexander Bogomazov: Master of Cubo-Futurism – James Butterwick Gallery
Until 5 July
Alexander Bogomazov, born in Kiev in 1880, was a central member of the Russian avant-garde and one of the masters of Cubo-Futurism, a school of painting that, as its name suggests, combined two of Modernism’s most dynamic movements: Cubism with Italian Futurism. The artist was something of a rebel in his youth, often taking part in political demonstrations and eventually being expelled from art school; in later life this rebelliousness found expression in his works and writing, both of which challenged accepted art historical mores and aimed to redefine the relationship between artist, object and spectator. During Russian Art Week 2014, London collector and Russian art dealer James Butterwick will exhibit works from his Bogomazov collection in his eponymous London gallery, providing an opportunity for people to appreciate this little-discussed facet of early 20th century culture. Viewing appointments must be made in advance.
James Butterwick Gallery, 34 Ravenscourt Road, London, UK, +44 20 8748 7320
MacDougall’s auction house will be holding their sale of Russian Art, Icons and Works of Art on 4 June
The London Culture Guide
The London Culture Guide is a new series brought to you by The Culture Trip’s most seasoned writers. The authoritative series, which spans food, design and art, is the perfect chance to get reacquainted with London’s bustling culture scene and explore new, exciting venues in the UK’s capital.
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