The international arts project on display in the halls of the Tretyakov Gallery in Krymsky Val showcases a rare art collection featuring items not only from the holdings of the State Tretyakov Gallery, but also the Russian Museum (St. Petersburg), National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute (Washington), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), National Gallery of Art (Washington), Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), Jewish Museum (New York), Brooklyn Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and a number of other museums, galleries and private collections in the United States. A total of over 80 paintings, sculptures and graphics created between 1910 and 1980 by Russian emigrates is topped off with selected archive photos and two documentaries about the artists of the Great Depression and the American art icon, Mark Rothko.
The works featured by the exhibition provide a clear sign of what forced some masters to move to the United States: either political changes in Russia and the failure to find their muse in a new environment, or a family decision that led to the prospective artist being brought up and raised on the values and morals of American society.
Max Weber (1881 — 1961)
With this in mind, two esthetic schools — one formed by artists of Russian descent who assimilated into US culture, and the other formed by acknowledged masters representing Russian and European cultures — emerged concurrently in the United States, New York in particular, which evolved into a prominent global arts center.
Arshile Gorky (1904 — 1961)
To illustrate, Ben Shan (1898—1969) and Max Weber (1881—1961) were both brought to the United States by their parents, and all the social peculiarities of American life underlie their works. Yet the Jewish theme imprinted on their minds since early childhood forever remained of the highest importance to them. The Russian or national tradition is visible in the works of Mark Rothko (1903—1970), whose abstract paintings palette was clearly influenced by the Russian avant-garde, Arshile Gorky (1904—1948), whose works were always dominated by memories of his life, his family and the land in Armenia, Louise Nevelson (1899—1988), whose sculptures show parallels with constructivists, and brothers Moses (1899—1974) and Raphael (1899—1987) Soyer.
Mark Rothko (1903 — 1970)
However, many of those who spent their childhood and adolescence in the United States grew to become not only a part of it, but also to a certain extent brands of American culture. Their works, regarded as classic examples of American art, are on display in the leading US museums, and they are honoured primarily as American artists in encyclopedias and guides, with only a mere reference to their birthplaces, while one of New York`s squares even bears the name of Louise Nevelson.
Nicolai Fechin (1881 — 1955)
Yet, a different future lay in store for those artists who arrived in America after 1917 as already accomplished and renowned painters. Most of them immediately became a part and parcel of American artistic life. Among others, Boris Anisfeld (1878—1973), Boris Grigoriev (1886—1939), Sergei Sudeikin (1882—1946), Nicolai Fechin (1881—1955), and Nikolai Vasiliev (1892—1970) never lacked personal exhibitions, orders or attention from art critics or the public in the 1920s. Undoubtedly, the immeasurable interest at that time in everything Russian or Soviet, along with their status of refugees fleeing a country seized by revolutionary changes, drew and inspired journalists, art gallery owners and managers. Soon, however, the craze for everything Russian passed away, and the Great Depression took hold of the United States in the early 1930s. Then, US problems came to the fore.
Most Russian painters summoned the will to readjust. They abandoned the customary, exotic Russian theme and turned to American or international subjects. Along with his nostalgic paintings of the Russian or Ukrainian hinterland, David Burliuk (1882—1967), dubbed the "Russian futurist"in Russia, was also concerned with American reality ("Shame to all but the dead,"1933). Boris Grigoriev, Boris Chaliapin (1904—1979), Sergei Sudeikin, Pavel Chelishchev (1898—1957) and others drew portraits of Russian and American figures of the arts, politicians and common people.
Osip Tsadkin (1890 — 1967)
Another group of artists who also became a milestone for American culture came to the United States via Europe. Alexander Archipenko (1887—1964), Jacques Lipchits (1891—1973), Osip Tsadkin (1890—1967), all established as consummate artists while in Russia and Paris, got an opportunity to create profusely in the United States. Their sculptural masterpieces decorate not only museum collections, but also the streets and squares of American cities, fitting in perfectly with their architectural landscape.
John Graham (1886—1961), or Ivan Dombrovsky by his real name, occupies a special place among American artists of Russian ancestry. He is believed to be the founder and mastermind of the New York school of abstract expressionism. It is assumed that neither Jackson Pollock nor Willem de Kooning could have become the artists that they did without him.
A series of works dedicated to soldiers is a prominent part of Graham`s legacy. In his paintings dating back to the early 1940s, not only does Graham address his distant past, but he also expresses his sympathy with his former fellow citizens.
Pavel Chelishchev (1898 — 1957) photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1934
The Russian arts community in the United States was widely diverse. Not everyone followed the mainstream and the main trends in contemporary art. Pavel Chelishchev can be cited as one who did not. The theme of the inferno that mankind is plunging into, incarnated in his work Fenómenos, is striking with its unusual metaphors. The paintings of Boris Margo (1902—1995), a Ukrainian-American surrealist, were heavily influenced by Pavel Filonov. In his abstract paintings, Margo explores all the hidden processes in the depths of the earth and the cosmos.
Immigrants from Russia achieved their high potential not only in painting, but also in designing settings for theatre performances, scenography, and graphic design. Their works are a common Russian-American contribution to global culture.