Friday, October 31, 2014

Underground Art

Russian Soldiers Plaque
at Red Square
Art is everywhere in Moscow, from the churches to the squares to museums to the subways. And examples of foreign and domestic dance, paintings, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass, architecture, and you name it are easily accessed. Before I actually went to Moscow I thought that there would be very little in the way of modern art available in museums because for many years art had to be ‘State approved’. I also thought that the only music and dance would be traditional varieties, including the Bolshoi Ballet. Both of these misconceptions were quickly dispelled once the Near-Normal Travelers started wandering about. Our only real disappointment was that none of us got to go to
the ballet; the ticket prices were a bit more than we could afford. The Imperial Bolshoi
Bolshoi Theater
Theatre of Moscow (a.k.a. Bolshoi Theater) is a pretty neoclassical building and its image is used on the 100-Rubal banknote. We found it greatly entertaining that the Russian word ‘bolshoi’ means ‘large’ or ‘grand’; we delighted in saying that we saw the building that housed the ‘large ballet’.

Architecture is artistic in Moscow. The castles built for the Tsars and Tsarinas are splendid, even the ones that were never used. The beautiful wooden palace, Kolomenskoye, has been referred to as 'an Eighth Wonder of the World', although it’s really only a lowly summer palace. Built in the late 17th Century, it was the favored residence of
Kolomenskoye Palace
Tsar Alexis I. Unfortunately, Catherine the Great found it unacceptable and would not use it as her Moscow residence, so it was destroyed. However, detailed plans survived and a full-scale replica was completed in 2010. The grounds around the palace have become a park with other old wooden buildings and various artifacts from different parts of Russia preserved here, providing an interesting group of architecture and objects.

Petrovsky Palace, dating from the 18th Century, was to be the last overnight station of royal journeys from Saint Petersburg to Moscow. This Baroque castle, built for Catherine the Great, originally had two
Petrovsky Palace
royal apartments on the first floor. It was only visited once by Catherine; as with Kolomenskoye, she didn’t like it or the smaller facility built some miles away to rest horses. Eventually Petrovsky became a royal hotel, then a museum area. There is now talk of transforming the actual palace into a luxury hotel or another of the President’s lodges.

Probably the two most famous art museums within Moscow are the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art  and the State Treyakov Gallery. We visited both. The Pushkin, located across from Cathedral of Christ the Savior, has the largest collection of European art in Moscow. The museum's name is rather misleading, because there is no direct association with Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. The museum was founded by Professor Ivan Tsvetaev who persuaded a famous philanthropist and a famous
Pushkin Museum frieze and small sculptures
architect to give Moscow money for a fine arts museum. With every political upheaval, the museum had a new name; however, in 1937 it was renamed one final (maybe) time to honor the memory of Pushkin on the 100th anniversary
  of his death. The art within the museum is the result of transfer thousands of works from the Hermitage Museum, from the Museum Roumjantsev and from the State Museum of New Western Art. Religious art is a large part of the holdings with paintings by Botticelli, Bordone, and Cranach the Elder. The collection also includes Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork (in a separate building across a side street) by Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh (‘La Vigne Rouge’, perhaps the only painting sold during the artist's lifetime), Cezanne, Gauguin, Picasso, Dufrénoy, Toulouse-Lautrec, Derain, Renoir, and Matisse. There is also an Archaeological Collection with papyri, Fayum mummy portraits, sculptures, and so forth and a Numismatic Collection including Kushano-Sasanian coins.

Treyakov Gallery
The most impressive part of the Treyakov was the number, size and beauty of 12th Century through 16th Century Russian icons. This gallery is the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world and it is impressive both outside and in. The façade was designed by Viktor Vasnetsov in a Russian fairy-tale style but the building was then expanded into several other buildings, including the church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi. In the 1850s Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov began his collection by buying works by contemporary Russian artists with the idea of creating a museum of national art. By the 1890s, Tretyakov donated his collection of approximately 1,300 paintings, 500 drawings, and 9 sculptures to the Russian people. One of the more surprising parts of this
Icons and Dancing Ladies
museum is the gallery of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by Russian painters; these rival more well-known Western artists in beauty, execution and quantity. I am particularly enamored of Mikhail Vrubel’s Demon Seated in a Garden (1890).

In Moscow my all-time favorite place to view art is, of course, in the subways! To get to this art you have to purchase a ticket on the Metro and ride an escalator down to the trains. The longest Metro escalator takes you 243 feet (74 meters) underground to the Park Pobedy station of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line; it only takes about three minutes, but it seems substantially longer. One of the oddities of this and other descents is
Metro Station
the number of people, particularly women in high-heeled shoes, running down the escalators to catch the next train. Metro trains arrive about every two to three minutes at the outside no matter what time of day, so why the big rush? During the week, between 5:30AM and 1:00AM, the Moscow Metro transports about seven million people and most of them at rush hour; on weekends that number rises to nine million. Needless to say, you won’t see much art during rush hours or after about noon on the weekends. Currently there are 11 lines running into the city, with one circle line; however, in 2018 a second ring line will be opened to more efficiently connect the suburbs. The idea for the Moscow Metro actually started prior to World War I but the first plans weren’t in place until 1933. Soviet workers actually built the tunnels and did the art work, but all of the technical plans were completed by London Underground engineers. Once these specialists were finished, Stalin had them
Sparrow Hills Metro Station
deported for espionage. Stalin’s vision of the Metro was to glorify Russia, the military, the worker, and Russian activities; thus he ordered the artists and architects to design the structures to show ‘radiance or brilliance’ and ‘a radiant future’. The artists and architects excelled in production of these ideas, providing riders with exceptional art at almost every station. In general the platforms have most of the art work, while the transfer corridors hold huge sculptures or friezes that lionize the workers, military, or historical figures. There are five lines with artwork: Zamoskvoretskaya, Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya, Sokolnicheskaya, Filyovskaya, and Koltsevaya.

L to R: Military Group, Ploshchad Revolyutsii;
Partisan, Partizanskaya; Military Group,
Partizanskaya; Flyer, Partizanskaya;
Cynthia with border guard, Ploshchad Revolyutsii 
Statues in the Metro are at least life sized; most of them are much larger. Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) opened in 1938. It was to house a cinema and open out to the Bolshoi Theater, Red Square and the GUM. Within this station are 80 bronze sculptures. One of the statues at Ploshchad Revolyutsii is of a Russian border guard with his Doberman Pincher that is particularly popular. Its nose is bright gold because many folks walk by and give it a rub for good luck. Other statues pictured are from Partizanskaya. Partizanskaya opened in 1944 and was to be part of a gigantic stadium; however, with the advent of the World War II these plans were abandoned and a simpler design was adopted.

Large murals adorn the walls and ceilings of many of the stations. The ones pictured are from Novoslobodskaya, Belorusskaya, and Borovitskaya. Opening in 1952 and restored in
L to R: Peace in the Whole World, Novoslobodskaya;
Belorusskaya ceiling tile; Tree mural in Borovitskaya
2003, Novoslobodskaya was the last station designed by Alexander Dushkin, one of the Metro’s most amazing architects. The mosaic panel, Peace in the Whole World, was designed by Pavel Korin. Inspired by art in Ancient Rome, Belorusskaya is one of the few stations with an ornate floor. The tiles are laid in the pattern of national Belorussian ornament; the original ceramic tiles were replaced with granite in 1994. The ceiling murals illustrate the culture and economy of Soviet Belorussia. Borovitskaya opened in 1986 and is adorned by a mural of what appears to be a tree with saints for branches. The tree stretches over a set of buildings that may or may not be churches. I’m still looking for information about this mural!

Top to Bottom: Belorusskaya ceiling tile; Prospekt Mira
column decoration; Semyonovskaya silver bas relief;
 Komsomsolskaya Soviet column decoration;
Komsomsolskaya gold medallion; Kievskaya panel
Along with the walls and ceilings, the pillars and linings of the tunnels are also decorated. The silver bas relief shield on green granite is on the wall behind trains arriving in Semyonovskaya; decorations in the octagons are in the ceiling of Belorusskaya; oversized mosaics grace the walls of Kievskaya; column decorations are in Komsomsolskaya and Prospekt Mira. Semyonovskaya (called Stalinskaya until 1961) actually opened in association with Partizanskaya and is also militaristic; it exits to one of my favorite places, Izmailovsky Market. Kievskaya was opened in 1954, completing the Ring Line. The 18 mosaic panels show life in Ukraine; there is also a statement under Linen’s portrait in which he states, ‘The indestructible friendship of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples…is a guarantee of national independence and freedom…’; rather ironic in the current political situation. Opened in 1935 on the Sokolnicheskaya Line and in 1952 on the Koltsevaya (Ring) Line, Komsomsolskaya was named for the Komsomsol workers who built it. The art is dedicated to workers in science and the arts on the Sokolnicheskaya Line and to Russian military leaders on the Ring Line. Opened in 1952 and called Botanical Garden until 1966, Prospekt Mira decorations reflect the gardens that once surrounded this station.

T to B: Parachutist, Mayakovskaya;
Flame light, Ploshchad Revolyutsii;
Chandelier, Smolenskaya
Stalin wanted the Metro stations to appear sunlit, so many have ornate chandeliers, wall sconces, and side lighting. Those shown are from the Smolanskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii, and Mayakovskaya. Located near the Garden Ring and opened in 1935, Smolenskaya was actually used from 1953 – 1958 as an exhibition hall because service was discontinued in this area. Mayakovskaya has been called the most beautiful of all of the stations. It was opened in 1938 with murals showing 24 hours in the Land of the Soviets. The art deco mosaics show planes, signalmen, a parachutist, grain harvest, high jumper, and peaches among other things.

Stained Glass Windows,
I think that the most unusual of the Metro stations is Novoslobodskaya. Stained glass windows are not a tradition in Russia, thus these 32 were made by Latvian artists using glass that was stored in the Riga Cathedral and meant to decorate other churches. The medallions in the upper section of some windows show ‘intellectual professionals’ such as artists, engineers, and artists, while others have geometric designs.

Stained Glass Windows, Novoslobodskaya
Stained Glass Windows, Novoslobodskaya

Unfortunately, the newer stations (opened well after Stalin) have none of the art nor brilliance of these earlier works. The best one can say is that they look rather like an industrial space ship. If you’re looking for a good book about the art in the Moscow Metro, check out Moscow Metro Travel Guide (ISBN 9785984010030).
Metro station at the Mall

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