Not quite the same trek as Siberia to Moscow, but guest writer Riva Weinstein still hiked to the 12th floor of IAB. She attended the opening of the exhibit Eduard Gorokhovsky: From Siberia to Moscow, Selected Works on Paper and shares her experience below.
Tucked away on the 12th floor of the International Affairs Building, the reception for the Harriman Institute’s exhibit, Eduard Gorokhovsky: From Siberia to Moscow, Selected Works on Paper, is just getting into swing. The air fills up with the sounds of Russian and English. Guests mingle and pour each other wine.
My attention is grabbed by the first of the 18 pieces: a portrait of a Soviet-era worker, entitled Worker. Desaturated greens and blues spread a milky film over his red eyes, giving the impression of melancholy and weariness. But his pursed lips, with their dangling cigarette, add an impish personality to the face.
The young granddaughter of the Kolodzei Foundation’s founder sits with her legs dangling off the couch, playing with a toy slot machine. There is a quarter inside, but she needs three cherries to get it. We commiserate on how difficult and time-consuming it is to make money these days.
“Do you like the art?” I ask her.
“I like the game,” she informs me.
“You like the game better than the art?”
“She’s the co-owner of the art, of course she likes it,” says Natalia Kolodzei, the girl’s mother and Executive Director of the Kolodzei Foundation. When her mother, Tatiana Kolodzei, began exhibiting art in the 1960s, it was to support those talented young artists who failed—or refused—to conform to the state-advocated style of Socialist Realism. Now, proceeds from the Kolodzei Foundation go to purchasing supplies for underprivileged artists in the former Soviet Union, and arranging residencies for them in the United States.
With the recent wave of anti-Russian sentiment in America, and the USSR fading from the new generation’s memory, it is more important than ever, she tells me, to promote understanding between young Americans and artists like Gorokhovsky.
Born in 1929 in Vinnytsa, Ukraine, Eduard Gorokhovsky’s artistic career is divided into a Novosibirsk and a Moscow period. The Novosibirsk side of the room is mostly paintings. I could see the influence of Impressionism in his dreamlike Northern Lights, of Cubism in his angular and bloody Meats (The Abattoir). Other paintings are brighter, expressing optimism for a world beyond the dreary everyday realities of Soviet life.
The Moscow side is strikingly different. Photographs, lithographs, newspaper clippings and letters mingle in not-quite-collages, sliding unexpectedly from medium to medium. Figures are followed by ghostlike etchings and silhouettes of themselves. In one piece, Composition, a colored pencil rendering of four cheerful bathers is slashed through at their waists. Their legs reappear below, white silhouettes against the distorted black background, as though the artist had simply given up trying to perpetuate the myth of the rosy Soviet family.
Natalia Kolodzei is showing a pair of Russian guests a screenprint entitled “Group A Group B,” which depicts a group of people from the early, and then the late 20th century. She points to each person in the second image, naming them one by one. I strain to understand her explanation, but my limited Russian fails me. Even as a student of Soviet culture, there are many things which I fail to easily understand about this recent, yet rapidly disappearing world.
Still, I share a bit of knowledge with everyone in the room: that for every terrifying Russian autocrat that shows up on the news, there are many more people like Gorokhovsky, working with all their talents to show that humanity prevails.
You can see the Eduard Gorokhovsky exhibit until Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Harriman Institute Atrium, 12th Floor International Affairs Building (420 W 118th St).
some good art via The Harriman Institute at Columbia