Tag Archives: art exhibition

Two Masterpieces from Must-see Show in Moscow

The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow has put together a show of art collections of Schukin brothers, kings of the Russian textile industry at the beginning of the last century. Thanks to one of them Russia boasts a great collection of (post)impressionists, fauvists, and cubists. It was split between Moscow and The Hermitage in St.Petersburg in 1948 and is now reunited and exhibited to mimic the way Sergey Schukin hung his paintings.

IMG_20190618_210127 - копия

While critics applaud this decision, I can’t see real value here. Yes, most Russian avant-guarde artists got introduced to Western art when visiting Schukin’s home, and it might be interesting to see their “starting point” through “their eyes”, but something tells me it was not the hanging that inspired them, but the paintings themselves, and most likely, not as a group, but individually. Gauguin was striving to recreate a paradise lost, but I don’t think he would view his objective accomplished only after a buyer builds a wall out of his work.

All this travesty of Gauguin tapestry ended up with one of Van Gogh’s most amazing portraits, that of Dr.Felix Rey, being hung near the ceiling, where it can’t be seen properly. The portrait was rejected originally (being used to mend a chicken coop), and now it is pigeonholed as a painting which quality is somewhat below Gauguin’s works by hanging it to fill an empty spot above them.

This portrait is worth its own wall. Van Gogh painted it as a form of gratitude, immediately upon his release from Saint-Paul asylum. He portrayed the closest and most caring person in his life at the time. It is an icon of compassion and hope.

Look at the blue whites of his eyes! Look at the Monalisian smile created by his mustache! Look at the sensual lips an Instagram diva would kill for today! This young intern would become a world famous tuberculosis doctor…


I wrote a bit about the secret to Van Gogh’s portraiture, and I can write a lot more about Van Gogh’s portraits, but let’s get back to the show, and, specifically Matisse.

We all know, thanks to Picasso, that great artists don’t copy, they steal. What is left unsaid, I believe, is that the theft must me meaningful: the stolen stuff needs to be processed and transformed by the artist into something new (even if Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst believe that out-of-court settlement would alone suffice, it would not). Matisse and Picasso were both thieves. They stole from Gauguin, from Cezanne, and from each other. Today, for the way they integrated African art into their own, they’d be facing cultural appropriation backlash on twitter. That thievery is well documented and appreciated. Yet, there was an artist in Italy from whom Matisse stole in broad daylight, and no one has noticed.


Antonio del Pollaiuolo, 15th c., the Battle of Ten Nude Men. The etching reflects the idea that men can’t but fight each other. Matisse’s Dance is about love and harmony that men can achieve if they stop fighting and include women into their circle. One can see some violent vibes in Matisse’s Satyr, of course, but it was painted a year before the Dance, so let’s not exclude the possibility that the man in this painting leans down to wake up and invite the sleeping nymph to a dance.


Matisse steals figures, alters them, and mirrors them, but his message is new and polar to that of Pollaiuolo.

Fortunately, the Dance is given its own – huge – space at the exhibition, but art appreciation is invariably spoiled by people queuing to have their photo taken in front of it:

IMG_20190618_204748 Matisse was a visionary, but he failed to foresee Facebook or Instagram. Were this painting a photograph or even a more realistic painting, it would be banned on both platforms, by the way.

Surreal art: a recipe for success


This is “A la main du diable” (Devil’s Hand) by Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux, a French artist who farms popular culture with the plough of surrealism. In simple kitchen terms, he is a blender of anything pop and everything surreal.

Given the density of crowds this work was drawing at a recent surrealist exhibition in Paris, it might be seen as the ultimate recipe for a successful show. I spent some time in front of it as well. It is impactful, at least when you see it for the first time. A huge red hand, hanging in the darkened air of a gallery can hardly leave anyone indifferent.

So, get your bowls and knives out on the kitchen table: we’ll be cooking some art now!

Four easy steps to fix a tasty successful show:

Step 1. Choose your foundation: find something (a myth, story, or film) that intellectuals believe is an important part of your country’s cultural heritage (doesn’t matter if it is good or bad heritage) to build your own story on

Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux seems to have taken the eponymous French movie of 1942, that featured the left hand of the devil as the talisman that was bringing luck to the main character (until its owner showed up, of course). The movie’s aesthetics was built around huge shadows, dramatised hand symbols, etc. I don’t know why it is the right hand both in the poster and the exhibit.


Step 2. Choose your main ingredients: three or more images from popular culture in such a way that…

  • one of them is provocatively sexy


  • one of them is about violence (sex-related, preferably)

Vincent Sellaer (c 1500 – 1589) Judith with the Head of Holofernes

  • one of them is about evil that lurks behind a cheerful mask (or good that is hidden behind grisly appearance)


Step 3. Throw to the pot a good measure of surrealism (eggs, tails, animal parts growing on human bodies, enlarged organs, etc.).


It is great to bake together something unashamedly pop, semi-intellectual pop, and a bit of really hardcore intellectualism. And do not forget the titties! 

You may want to know how to recognise if something is “intellectual”. When it comes to people we instinctively know who is an intellectual and who’s not (intellectuals use multi-syllable words at least once per sentence, and know that Ed Ruscha is pronounced as “roo-shay”).  The problem is that besides doing or loving intellectual stuff intellectual people also do a lot of down-to-earth things. How do you tell then if something is intellectual?!

Easy. It is usually something that intellectual people find more interesting doing than having sex. 

Step 4. Once you’ve secured a prominent place for the titties, start moralizing!

Add a spoonful of something religious, pious, or considered 100% moral by the society. Piling up symbols together helps to create baffling complexity (highly valued by Dali admirers) that many spectators take for cleverness. This trick is also used by some Swiss watchmakers, who sell you a transparent watch with a zillion moving parts to make you feel an idiot in mechanics each time you look at your own wrist. The only thing these watches are not good at, is actually telling time. It is more efficient to check it on the phone, rather than searching for the minute and hour hands amidst the chaos of moving parts. Dali was often doing the same, by the way, for identical marketing purposes.


The work of art is almost complete. You might want to leave a few open-ends, like introducing the figure of a cowboy, or referencing de Chirico’s mannequins. This can help create some room for spectators’ individual interpretation. Art-house movie directors are called geniuses for doing it (they call it loose ends of the plot).


The last, but not least. Make it larger than life. The larger, the better.

Center Pompidou believes this is art worthy of being shown together with Picasso, Miro, Max Ernst, Duchamp, and Giacometti.

What do YOU think?
I am seriously interested. If you have no time to write a comment, just VOTE!

*) on the toilet issue: it is a shame for the gallery, and a disaster for its visitors. I wrote about it here

Getting a kick out of abstract art? You must be joking!

Late night TV show. I couldn’t miss the opportunity offered by the Daily Prompt to write up my own script for my own show.  I spend a sizeable amount of time evaluating scripts of others, I can surely sketch my appearance. Or not? We’ll see it now.


Let’s talk about art lovers. When I go to an art exhibition, I usually pick a few fellow visitors, at random, and ask them what they think about the show. I hear a lot of multi-syllable words, adjectives upon adjectives of praise but no one could ever explain to me why they felt the way they felt, and that lack of explanation usually makes the whole story phony.

I can’t get rid of the sensation that my fellow visitors often feel nothing at all, but want to be seen as someone who can resonate with art. People are afraid to admit they don’t get it, because someone would say they are illiterate, ignorant, and not worth drinking with.

So, today, we decided to invite someone who writes about art. We didn’t want an art critic, so we settled on an art blogger. The problem is that most art bloggers just go around posting pics of art they found online.  So, we decided to invite Artmoscow, who is behind one of popular blogs (“Standing Ovation, Seated”) on art appreciation, not just about art.

Artmoscow: Hi

Host: Hi, you say people can learn feeling art, sort of learn how to get a kick out of watching art. I can’t believe it. I think some people are born either with a built-in ability to feel someone else’s artistic expression or totally numb in that department.

Artmoscow: Are you brave enough to take a work of art that doesn’t make you feel anything except, perhaps, confusion, and show it to me?

Host: I didn’t get to hosting a late-nighter, being shy. A work of art that I think shows the artist who created it could benefit from a Valium course? Here it is, Miro. The name is Blue III, because there’s a lot of blue in there, I guess.


Artmoscow: All right, turn it face down now.

Look here. Imagine a world of 2-dimensional creatures. These creatures can’t see us, they can’t even imagine us existing. We are like gods to them. We can tap them on the head but they won’t even know what hit them. Can I borrow a few markers and some paper? [gets them]

This is one of those creatures, a black blot. What’s it doing?


Host: well, looks like it is going to leave its home. The door is swung open, the blot is ready to step out.

Artmoscow: Yes, this is what I wanted to show. The drawing looks very abstract though, but you did well.

Host: I can understand your logic and decipher the drawing, but I don’t really feel much looking at it.

Artmoscow: Just wait a bit. Now, what do think is happening here?


Host: the blot is steadily walking… or flowing from left to right, there’s probably some place it needs to get to, and the other blot seems to be going to the same place, but rather in a hurry. And it is red, or it’s getting red, so it is probably sweating as it tries to overtake the black dot.

Artmoscow: Well, here is another drawing. What is happening in it?


Host: It is an excited red dot that comes up to a black square.

Artmoscow: How does the black square feel about the red dot approaching?

Host: it’s a square, for god’s sake. It is always right, impregnable, solid. Not very welcoming, but not aggressively rejecting the dot.

Artmoscow: very well. What if I alter it a bit?


Host: now the square shows it will take the red dot. Not all the way in, but it will allow the dot to dock.

Artmoscow: now let’s get back to Miro again.


What do you see here?

Host: The red oval first decided to go see what the black oval was doing, but it wasn’t sure how the black oval would react to that (the line is a bit wobbling), and then the red oval decided it didn’t want to go right up to its black sister and went up, sort of watching from above. It is shimmering with red, so I feel like it is agitated about something. Perhaps, it is agitated because the black oval doesn’t move, doesn’t care about all the attention the red brother wanted to give to it?

Artmoscow: you see, you said “I feel” for the first time. Now, look at this blue ocean or whatever it is. Try to remember your own experience of approaching someone who was not that much ready to throw him or herself into your arms.

Host: You know, this is getting too much personal. A couple of times I was captivated by women I didn’t know well, but… There was that intern with auburn hair, who had an air of teenage dreams in the body of a grown-up woman, and she did a nice job on a special report we ran on the Presidential election campaign… I remember… Oh. As they say, I need to zip it. My wife is watching my show and I don’t think I want to go into graphic detail of those experiences. Tell me, do you really think about chance encounters when you look at this painting?!

Artmoscow: no, I think about opportunities that I missed and I ideas I thought were there forever, and that I would have plenty of time to go grab them later. Never did.

Host: do you want to say there’s no meaning behind it and that each viewer makes up his or her own?

Artmoscow: Exactly. A great abstract painting can trigger associations and memories that you thought had been deeply buried in your memory. Showing nothing specific, it can make you relive those moments, relive those feelings. The Miro painting itself can hardly make you feel anything. It is what you remember watching it that makes you filled up with emotions. The blue colour just helps to get immersed into it, into your own mind.

Now you are ready to revisit Kandinsky, who is a bit more 3D.
Blue Painting by Wassily Kandinsky OSA468

Host: Thank you, I need first to sort out the Miro accident at home. Good night, folks, remember to never talk in front of other people about things you see in an abstract painting!

PS To my loyal readers: I remember about the promise to talk more about Isaac Brodsky!

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