This exhibition was overshadowed by another exhibition at the Russian Museum, dedicated to Timur Novikov and his New Academy of Fine Arts, which caused heated discussion in the art community due to the postponement of the opening of the exhibition and its edition. Although these two exhibitions, which opened at the same time, are related: Novikov and the neo-academics of the 1990s also drew inspiration from Greco-Roman antiquity. Actually, Novikov’s textile panel “Apollo Trampling Red Square” meets the public at the beginning of the route. In the center of the golden “curtain” there is a small image of Apollo Belvedere, standing on a red “Malevich” pedestal, ironically marking the triumph of the classics over the avant-garde.
The Marble Palace is not the most popular point of the summer tourist program. It is not a fact that the guests who have wandered here get to the top floor where this exposition is located, because the floor below houses well-known collections in permanent rights: the “classic” of the Rzhevsky brothers and the collection of foreign art of the century XX by the Ludwig spouses. Meanwhile, “Ancient Myth and the Modern World” turns out to be a clever and meaningful exposition. It will be of interest to both professionals and the general public, who tend to mistrust contemporary art due to “loss of foundations” and speculation, but the angle chosen by the museum prevents it. The exhibition is devoted to how Russian artists of the last decades work with myths, which means that it is about the eternal, the archetypal.
The union of the classics and modernity is established from the very beginning of the exhibition. Going up the main staircase to the third floor, we see two goddesses carved from plywood, Athena and Diana. This is part of the installation “The Watcher” by Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, created for a completely different space, but the goddesses fit perfectly into this interior, rhyming with the sculptures that decorate the stairs. This is a gift from the artist, known primarily as a set designer, to the Russian Museum. Also at the “doors” of the exposition, in addition to the aforementioned Novikov panel, there are two very expressive works: “Horse” and “Cretan Bull” by Alexander Kit, a sculptor of the 40-year-old generation. These busts, if I may say that about animal images, amaze with their capacity for meaning. Thus, the head of a horse made from a completely chipped piece of marble on a small pedestal with the inscription “Ekvus”, which draws attention to the divine origin of the horse, refers both to the seahorse (for Greek civilization, the proximity to the sea is essential), and to the Trojan horse.
Photo: Courtesy of the press service of the Russian Museum.
In addition, the design of the exhibition is reminiscent of Nikolai Kun’s textbook of myths: first, more about the ancient deities close to the origin of the world, then the Olympic gods and hybrid creatures follow, then human heroes. Naturally, Apollo, the patron of the arts, became the most popular deity. He is represented by one of the first works in the exhibition, a 1971 bronze sculpture by Levon Lazarev. The Apollo from him, as if corroded by time, is far from the samples of mature ancient classics. It seems to come from the archaic period, but at the same time, this is the search of Lazarev, one of our best sculptors of the 20th century, in line with the western trends in force at that time.
At the same time, Dionysus, who was primarily important to artists of different eras, is not in the exhibition, standing in our minds in opposition to Apollo thanks to Nietzsche, who contrasted the reasonable “Apollonian” beginning with the obscure “Dionysian”. A couple of works depicting satyrs do not count. But it is significant that here Apollo, with the exception of Timur Novikov’s panel, does not appear as a symbol of clarity and harmony. So this god seems to make up for the lack of Dionysus. Denis Prasolov’s object “Marsius” cast from rubber (the sinews, as it were, were brought together in a red oval body) reminds of the cruelty of Apollo, who tore off the skin of this hero.
Another frequently encountered deity is Aphrodite, she is also Venus, who also does not appear as the embodiment of beauty. The bronze “Birth of Venus” by Alexander Pozin, a well-known St. Petersburg sculptor of the 60-year-old generation, looks like a coiled tentacle, all full of holes, which, as it were, foams such a heavy material. like bronze. Wilgeny Melnikov’s Venus, welded from blown steel, a terrifying creature with three breasts and a beak instead of a face, reminiscent of a plague doctor’s mask, makes one think more of venereal diseases, which are named after the goddess.
In general, it’s interesting to think about why some gods and heroes ended up on the periphery of artists’ attention, while others advanced. Such champions can be called Nika – the goddess of victory, Moira – the goddesses of fate, the three graces, and also, of course, Icarus. The image of a boy who dared to escape from captivity and fly to the sun never ceased to interest painters and sculptors, who each found their own intonation in relation to the hero. Dmitry Shagin, one of the “Mitki”, in his painting “Ikarushka” quoted Brueghel’s painting (in which you can barely find the leg of a drowning hero), humorously transferring the action to the Russian world. In Vadim Grigoriev-Bashun’s painting, 21st century Icarus is depicted before his feat: as a guy with feather tattoos on his back and arms, standing on the roof and looking around the sleeping area, the St Where does the hero of these outskirts intend to flee and how will he break his wings?
Photo: Courtesy of the press service of the Russian Museum.
All the exhibits that can be seen here belong to the Russian Museum or to the authors. In addition to other meanings, the exhibition of contemporary art within the walls of a large state museum also turned out to be how its collection forms today, in conditions where the possibilities of purchase are reduced to practically zero. One of the tasks facing the latest trends department is to recognize a great artist at the beginning, because later, when he flies high and becomes expensive and inaccessible, it will be very difficult to get something from him in your collection. And this exhibition shows how museum staff work with young authors. The youngest sculptor in St. Petersburg, Roman Tugai, is not yet thirty years old. Meanwhile, his compositions attract attention, not at all getting lost among the works of the great masters. This, for example, is a small plastic sculpture of Nike, which conveys the weightlessness and lightness of the goddess. And in “Charon”, whose ghostly ship is an iron frame with corroded cardboard, decadence is transmitted.
At the same time, by showing the already deceased authors, who have become classics, the museum seeks a new perspective. For example, the Leningrad painter Yevsey Moiseenko was best known for his canvases on the theme of the Great Patriotic War. In his “Antigone” from the late 1970s, one can see how the very theme of war is refracted in ancient material, enriching the artist’s palette. And here is the scratch, provocative even for the sculpture of the mid-1990s by Konstanin Simun “Marshal Zhukov – the winner”, where Georgy Konstantinovich is depicted as a centaur, leaning on two ax blades instead of the front and hind legs. Hybrid, double meaning of victory. It is hard to believe that the same sculptor is the author of the Broken Ring monument on the shore of Lake Ladoga – one of the most classical monuments of Leningrad.
For some of the artists, resorting to myths becomes a means to enrich language, for some, an escape from harsh reality. But in any case, the myths that have not died for millennia are also about stability, the need for which is so felt today.