The gateway to another realm

The gateway to another realm

The Russian Museum hosts an unusual exhibition centered around gates and doors.

Published: May 18, 2011 (Issue # 1656)

Russian Museum

‘Entrance and Exit’ (2010) is situated outside the Marble Palace.

It took a year of deliberation and discussion before a vague notion crystallized into a major exhibition at the Russian Museum dedicated to the subject of gates and doors that combines installations from the last two years with items from the museum’s permanent collection.

According to Alexander Borovsky, head of the Russian Museum’s Contemporary Russian Artistic Trends department, the idea for the exhibition, which introduces visitors to 90 works by 80 living artists, emerged a year ago.

The exhibition begins in the courtyard of the Marble Palace, where visitors are greeted by “White Rotunda” by the Perm artist Alexander Brodsky. An elegant garden pavilion invites spectators to enter, relax, and have a cup of tea over a quiet conversation. It is as though time here has stopped.

Once inside the Marble Palace, the exhibition continues through a lengthy enfilade of the palace’s former state rooms, and ends leaving visitors face to face with “Masks of Death” by Ivan Plushch and Irina Drozd. There are a total of seven masks, each hidden behind one another, revealing only their mocking and all-seeing eyes.

The authors are to be congratulated on the staging of the exhibition, which makes clever use of the space. Thanks to their efforts, the familiar halls of the palace appear in a totally new light. The temporary installations do not detract from their splendor, but on the contrary, have enriched the palace’s interior with a new sense of history.

Russian Museum

Damir Muratov’s fence made of doors (2010) neatly encapsulates both themes of the exhibition.

The topic “Gates and Doors” generates a lot of meaning, and this has not gone unnoticed by the authors. An entrance to a football stadium serves as a world of modern expectations: An entrance to a religious temple, a school, a soul, to Heaven or Hell, to a house, war, work and death.

The latter theme is the subject of an installation in the first hall titled “Farewell” that produces an unforgettable impression. Several long black wardrobes with white labels bearing the names of deceased miners convey a strong feeling of restrained grief. The authors are Ilya Gaponov and Kirill Koteshov.

Iconic realist paintings done by 19th-century Russian artists blend in well with installations created just last year. The same can be said of the 16th-century Russian icons and church doors in the exhibition, which add relief to a collection of dirty doors and faded photographs.

The contrast between the gates, calling for something spiritual, and doors, returning viewers to the trivial, is obvious. They complement each other and enhance each other’s meaning, making it hard for them to exist separately.

Modern bronze doors based on stories from the Old Testament are of particular interest. They were commissioned and executed for a private church in Malye Izory in the vicinity of St Petersburg. Works such as this one make the exhibition interesting from a historical as well as aesthetic point of view. Next to this gate is Mikhail Roginsky’s “Red Door,” which takes the viewer back to the country’s communist past, when people’s fates were resolved behind such doors.

Russian Museum

‘Heaven’ (Vladimir Kozin, 2009).

The exhibition introduces visitors to new masters who are sure to please the public with their original ideas and with a new approach to traditional values. It is worth noting that three quarters of the new works are being shown for the first time, and some of the installations will be dismantled after the show is over.

“Oil Heart of Russia” is an inventive installation consisting of an old fridge that it is both open and switched on. Upon looking inside, spectators are greeted by endless reflections and the noise of an oil rig.

There is however a large difference between self-expression via innovative installations and creating a painting or sculpture in keeping with all the traditional rules of the trade. In this respect, the exhibition is rich in fantasy, but there is less to celebrate in terms of execution skills.

Ultimately, notwithstanding its wit, the show is saved by the Russian Museum’s collection of traditional art. Despite itself, it confirms the stability and lasting qualities of classic art.

In 1929, Pavel Filonov painted “Narvskiye Gates,” in which a crowd of demonstrators serves as a reminder of the past or a prediction of the future, and the individual figures seem to be naturalized objects of collective memory.

Russian Museum

A work by Bratso Dimitrievich.

Against the background of this variety of works, Alexander Laktionov’s painting “A letter from the Front Line” and Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky’s “At the Entrance to a School” sparkle with mastery and their devotion to their subjects.

It is particularly commendable that the organizers have taken famous masterpieces down from the walls where many have known them from childhood, and put them in different surroundings, where they shine anew. This is especially true of Vasily Vereshchagin’s work “At the Entrance to the Mosque.”

“Gates and Doors” runs through June 20 at the Marble Palace of the Russian Museum.

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