Museums redux

These two art museums are more in the world class mode.

La Colección del Museo Ruso de San Petersburgo, Málaga, not shown above, is only a few years old. It is housed in an old tobacco factory. The picture is taken from the front steps looking away from the building, showing the gate and gate houses. Probably wasn’t as nice a place to work as this view implies.

Museo Ruso has no permanent collections; most of the works displayed are from the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg. Of course, they borrow things that fit with the current year’s theme wherever they can get them.  They generally have two exhibitions going. At the moment, they are “The Radiant Future: socialist realism in art” and “The Traveler’s Gaze: Russian artists around the world.”

We saw an excellent exhibit of Soviet-era state-sponsored art at the Minneapolis Russian Museum a  few years ago and this was very different. Almost everything in the Minneapolis show was technically very skillfully done, but very realistic almost photographic or illustrative. Almost invariably, they showed happy, healthy, young, attractive workers busy at their work. The works here had more diversity in style and content, although happy workers was certainly a prevalent theme. There were also many portraits of real people that were more Renaissance than propaganda poster.

They really liked portraits of their glorious leaders doing glorious leader things with an adoring group of advisors and ministers, which could get tricky when they replaced the National Security Advisor with the former ambassador to the U.N. Then someone had to be painted out and a new face put in. The picture at the top was one of Stalin’s favorites and, because the general with him (I didn’t get the name) was never executed, it continued to be shown and copied.

The picture on display was actually a copy; the original was much larger. Because there was no such thing as private ownership, copying paintings of others was a completely legitimate art form. They also did a lot of communal works, where four or five painters would be assigned to work together simultaneously on a single work. That would eliminate any suggestion of the sin of individuality and avoid ideological errors.

The bottom center picture of Stalin is perhaps a counter example of removing any trace of fallen leaders. The deceased (I didn’t get the name) had been assassinated, probably on Stalin’s orders, but they still allowed him to be represented. Stalin denied the allegation. It is somewhat telling that the deceased is not the focus of the portrait of his own funeral.

The large painting in the lower right shows collectivism at work. It is a group of railroad workers composing a letter to the central committee, probably laying out how they would meet the goals of the Five Year Plan and explaining why they didn’t meet the last ones. When paintings like this were done, the artist typically recorded the names of the actual people shown on the back (I didn’t get the names.) This, I think, did two things: emphasized the importance  of the proletariat and proved that the artist didn’t just make it up.

The differences between the Málaga and Minneapolis shows may say more about who put the shows together than what was actually going on. It was clear from both shows that if you wanted to keep getting paid you didn’t stray too far from the official job description.

The Traveller’s Gaze was what you get if you pay artists to roam around the world in the 1920s and ’30s. There were lots of portraits of people (names recorded on the back) and landscapes. And what artistic world tour would be complete without a few cafés in Paris. Most were quite traditional, documenting the travel rather than sending a message.

The less classical sculpture below is a Mongolian woman. (If you cross your eyes it is 3D.)

I didn’t get to the Centre Pompidou, Málaga, which is connected to the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Well, we’ve gotten there; I just haven’t told you about it. And Semana Santa de Málaga officially starts tomorrow. There will be six or eight processions every day, each lasting several hours. The first one tomorrow, Domingo de Ramos, starts at 9:30 and the last three finish at 1:00 am. About half will be visible from our balconies.

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