"The Moscow Times. Context", March 7, 2008
In the Combat Zone
An exhibition at the Yekaterina Cultural Foundation displays contemporary and Soviet artists' views of life in the army.
By Marina Kamenev
Visitors can hear the "Red Army Studio" exhibition in the Yekaterina Cultural Foundation well before they see it. The rumblings of patriotic music are audible near the entrance and the soundtrack is piped through the two floors of the gallery.
Opening just before the Defender of the Fatherland Day celebrations, the exhibition is an artistic documentary on the Red Army and the Russian army today.
The main focus is on official war artists of the Soviet period, whose morale-boosting works were printed in school textbooks. "All the works here are important," said the foundation's art director, Alexandra Kharitonova. "There are some works by very famous artists, and some more obscure artists whose works are familiar."
The exhibition comes as part of a larger project organized by Interros publishers, which has included a book and a series of radio shows on the Red Army.
On the bottom floor is a work by Vera Mukhina, the sculptor of the Worker and the Collective-Farm Girl. Mukhina's 1942 sculpture is a bronze head of a man staring into the distance. One eye is covered by a patch and there is a dent on his face from a war wound. The textures near his bald scalp allude to more scars. The sculpture is a portrait of Corporal B.A. Yusupov, but Mukhina referred to it as the "face of the war."
The 54 paintings on display come from galleries including the Tretyakov and the Russian Museum. Only two pictures in the exhibition belong to Vladimir and Yekaterina Seminikhin, the founders of the Yekaterina Cultural Foundation.
From the Central Museum of Armed Forces comes a 1927 painting titled "The Defense of Petrograd" by Alexander Deineka, the artist who designed the original mosaics at Mayakovskaya metro station.
The painting shows soldiers walking under a bridge, their bodies and faces flushed red. This hint of colour dominates the otherwise muted tone of the painting. Above them on the bridge, more soldiers are carrying the wounded. The shallow perspective brings out the graphic quality of the image, and the painting looks almost like a poster.
"This is a key work of the 1920s," Kharitonova said. "It is about the Civil War, just before the Red Army was formed."
In a room that contains works about soldiers after battle there is a haunting work by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. The artist is well known for his trademark technique of painting with a palette knife. In the 1923 work "After the Battle" three soldiers sit at a table; two gaze out of the canvas, while one looks solemnly across at the others. The blue background shows troops marching into battle and the commander clutching at his chest seemingly at the moment of death.
There are also contemporary works in the exhibition. Sergei Bratkov's photographs show paratroopers drinking, talking on their mobile phones and swimming in Moscow's Gorky Park on their annual holiday. Appearing more languid than patriotic, the photos are titled "Landing Party."
Vladimir Kupriyanov's violent images of soldiers, taken from 1995 to this year, sit upstairs in a room otherwise containing older paintings. The photographs, titled "Military Education," are encased in textured glass, which emphasizes the movement in the composition. One soldier is firing his Kalashnikov, a cloud of red dust erupting behind him.
"Every room is organized thematically," Kharitonova said. "That way, there is a constant dialogue with the present. We didn't want to say 'that's the way it was,' and close the chapter, because we wanted the exhibition to be seen in the context of the contemporary scene."
"Red Army Studio" (Krasnoarmeiskaya Studiya) runs to March 31 at the Yekaterina Cultural Foundation, located at 21 Ulitsa Kuznetsky Most. Entrance from Ulitsa Bolshaya Lubyanka. Metro Kuznetsky Most. Tel. 621-5522.