Russian art specialist Vitaly Patsyukov criticized a recent exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum, titled “Russia! Nine Hundred Years of Master Pieces and Master Collections,” at an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea Thursday afternoon.
Patsyukov, the head curator of the Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow, presented to an audience of about 15 students and faculty the images of several key works he said should have been included in the exhibit. With the help of Senior Slavic Language Lector Rita Lipson, who served as a translator, Patsyukov explained why the chosen artwork would better express Russian history and culture than the pieces at the Guggenheim exhibit in New York.
“Art is supposed to reflect the state,” Patsyukov said in Russian. “[The curators of the museum] feared any dramatic events. They were scared to show context.”
“Russia!”, which closed Wednesday, opened this past September with a ceremony that Patsyukov attended alongside Russian President Vladmir Putin. The exhibit has since gained international attention — many experts consider it to be one of the most extensive collections of Russian art in the world, with themes including early Christian iconography, nobility, and Soviet and Post-Soviet motifs.
Patsyukov said walking through the Guggenheim’s spiral during the “Russia!” exhibit should have felt like walking through Russian history, but the exhibit did not use aesthetics to its advantage.
“Russian culture is a paradox,” he said. “It is not like the smooth spiral of the exhibit.”
During the discussion, Patsyukov presented a DVD of what he called “the missing key works” of the exhibit. The art critic began by displaying photos of icons — small traditional paintings that he said were the first level of Russian art. He emphasized the distinctions between Russian icons and European art.
“The interaction with space is so drastically different,” he said. “You must look at an icon from within. You are a participant, not a viewer.”
The DVD included other Russian paintings and film clips illustrating themes of religion, violence and social upheaval that Patsyukov said better portrayed Russian history and culture than the selections of the Russia! exhibit.
Most of the audience was composed of students, some of whom had not seen the exhibit and were unfamiliar with the subject matter.
“Never before had I been exposed to Russian art,” Esteban Tapetillo ’09 said. “Coming to this Master’s Tea not only introduced me to the art but also the historical context of art.”
Tapetillo said he wishes American society were not so fixated on Western art.
Sarah Hirsch ’09 said she enjoyed Patsyukov’s presentation, but found it sometimes difficult to understand his arguments because of the interruptions required for translation.
“I had a little trouble piecing it together.” Hirsch said. “But I think it worked pretty well.”
Despite Patsyukov’s frustrations that the content of “Russia!” did not adequately reflect the problems in Russian society, he said he is glad the collection was put on display. He said he hoped people who saw the exhibit had a chance to fall in love with Russia before learning about the darker aspects of Russian society.
“It’s like falling in love with a person,” Lipson said of Patsyukov’s remarks. “You see people for the first time, and then you get to know them.”