IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: UKRAINIAN MODERNISM AT THE THYSSEN MUSEUM
Long awaited – because there has never been a survey of Ukrainian modern art ever outside the Ukraine - and in the current climate highly politicised, the first ever international exhibition of Ukrainian modernism has opened at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid. It feels like a huge breakthrough for the national art scene. During the thirty years which the exhibition covers, the Ukraine was independent for only four of them, 1918-1922, formerly being a part of the Russian Empire and later the new Soviet state. This sustained condition of natural political submission, and its legacy today, means that the real art historical and cultural achievments of Ukraine have been at best misunderstood, and at worst appropriated by its more powerful neighbour. Artists such as Olexandra Exter, who was born in Kyiv, have all too often been automatically categorised as Russian even though she only spent a few years in Moscow during her long career and her work is full of Ukrainian cultural and folk references.
I first became acquainted with Ukrainian art when working for Sotheby’s where my colleagues and I brought Ukrainian contemporary artists to the international market in London for the first time in 2009. Visiting artist studios in Kyiv, it was quickly clear to me that Ukrainian and Russian art in general are much differentiated, and have quite different characteristics. Ukrainian art is more painterly, influenced in part by the Odessan school which bathed in the southern sun like the impressionists and post impressionists in the South of France. It is less political in general, and more free. In the modern era the Ukrainians were exceptionally active in the futurist movement, and any history of this artistic and literary phenomenon today would be woefully lacking without mentioning artists such as the Burliuk brothers, Oleksandr Bohomazov or the Cubo-Futurist Oleksandra Exter.
EL TIEMPO ES UN SONIDO QUE NO ESCUCHAMOS
Cuban artist Glenda León’s exhibition ‘El Tiempo es un sonido que no escuchamos’ has just opened at the Juana de Aizpuru gallery in Madrid. On Saturday we were treated to a musical performance at the gallery by Neopercusión musical group who played on some of the works creating an atmosphere in which sounds and energies vibrated together around the room. Parts of a sculptural work made out of hand drums (one whole, the others shaped into crescents of differing sizes arranged along the wall to suggest phases of a moon cycle) were lifted off the wall and played by three musicians as they danced around the room.
A raft of plagues has come to our global world: pandemic, war, the gradual breakdown of old political systems which are no longer working; environmental crises. Perhaps we did not listen before to the old stories of bad and good crops laying waste to our plans and the inevitability that things would turn sour one day. It is as if we did not believe the new realities of the past few years were even possible, and now as a consequence we think we could believe just about anything. So here is something. Cuban artist Glenda León has created a body of artwork over the past few decades, using sound, and elements drawn from nature which teaches us how to look and think about life in a far deeper way and to connect with nature both outside and within ourselves. During times of stability her work is an invitation to reflect and meditate on a higher reality; during times of crisis it can still be a space of peace and comfort but it can also be an urgent warning and call to action. ‘Humanity is innovative but destructible. Nature is stronger. We need to coexist with nature and alter our behaviour if we are to reverse climate change’ (GL).
WE ARE A LONG ECHO OF ONE ANOTHER
There is the cliché that history repeats itself, as captured in Spanish-American writer George Santayana’s famous aphorism, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. It is a phrase which is useful not only in our political lives - it has been borrowed and rephrased by many great leaders, including Winston Churchill - but also our personal lives. I recall a time in my own life when I was haunted by an image, a bit like a daydream. I saw myself in an airplane flying in circles in what is called ‘the hold’ above the airport. There was a claustrophobic feeling of not going anywhere and I had the deep and uncomfortable realisation that this was my life. I was held by this, until I faced what was holding me back and that image helped me to process my feelings and move forwards.
In their didactic show currently on view at Emalin Gallery in London ‘We are a long echo of each other’ Russian artists Antufiev and Nalogina are looking into the past to find answers about the present. They want to better understand why the Russian army is in Ukraine. Their exhibition does not give answers, we must do the work and draw our conclusions, but they build a notion that what is happening now is a repeat (echo) of what happened in the past. In the space they assemble things fit for an Empire: gold pots, decorative mosaics, an oversized child’s toy tank, vintage hunting photos, some pieces are made by the artists, others are artefacts they found and bought at auction from the archive of Marshal Grechko, Soviet Defence Minister in the late 60s and early 70s. Grechko presided over the editorial commission which wrote the official Soviet History of the Second World War. When we tell stories about the past or present, we commit those who read them into the same binds that ‘hold us in the hold’, because we cannot move forwards with authenticity.
ON THE ROAD TO SOMEWHERE
I recently caught up with artist Alejandro Campins in Madrid where he currently has an exhibition at the Elba Benitez gallery. There are many roads into an understanding and appreciation of Campins’ paintings. First there is where he came from: the Eastern part of Cuba, at the opposite end of the island to Havana, an area of beaches and rugged mountains, the Sierra Maestra. It was this part of Cuba that Columbus called the ‘most beautiful land eyes have ever seen’. For someone like Campins with an artistic sensibility, would he not carry this landscape within, or see it in the background of every landscape he paints, comparing everything to it, as though it were his first love?
Campins studied at ‘El Alba’, a provincial art school in Holugin in the East of Cuba. It was a place to learn how to paint, and today surveying his work in the middle of his career, Campins’ technique is so perfect, that when I congratulated him at his recent exhibition in Madrid because every single painting in the show struck me as exceptional, he immediately wondered whether that was a good thing. In our contemporary art world, have we collectively become so blasé about painterly technique that when we are faced with a great painter, we think there is something wrong?
Campins is a name with medieval European connotations, I do think there is something of the ‘champion’ in his battle to create something more than perfect. As a person – and artist – he is a travelling hermit, most at home on the road, in the outdoors. However, his landscapes certainly do not link back to the impressionists and their ‘en plein air’ practices: his hero is Casper David Friedrich, an artist he professes to have in his mind’s eye. He freely references Friedrich’s basic approach to painting: ‘close your eyes and paint what you see…’.
Campins, born in 1981, inherited the legacy of ‘Volumen Uno’, the name of an exhibition which took place in 1981 in Havana, in which art was cut free from political constraints. Among the artists who were a part of this group, Tomas Sanchez (b.1948) became the posterchild for Cuban landscape painting, a figurehead to admire and react against. Where Sanchez’ idealised landscapes are pieced artificially together from elements of nature, Campins investigates his subjects and locations, using photography and sketching on site, before painstakingly creating the finished canvasses in his studio, often some years later.
Campins is naturally drawn to isolated places which have captivated humans for centuries if not millennia: the city of the dead in Cairo; the Arizona desert; the Himalaya mountains in Tibet scattered with ancient stupas; derelict, empty war bunkers throughout the world. He is fascinated most by ancient or abandoned architectural traces of human civilisation in the landscape. The fusion of the two in his paintings sites humankind – us – firmly back in nature, something which he feels we ourselves have left, long ago. Perhaps he is searching for a way back, and in sharing with us his vision, we might reflect on this ourselves.
VERRE, TABAC ET PIPE
Vickery Art is delighted to announce the sale of George Braque’s 1917 ‘Verre, Tabac et Pipe’. Marking a transition between his early and mature works, it is one of only a small handful of still lives to have come up for sale on the modern art market, dating to this period. Braque served in the French army during the First World War and was badly wounded, returning to painting after his convalescence in 1917-1918 which although among his least prolific years as a painter, they crucially spell out the evolution between his early cubist works and the more decorative, high cubist style of his late work. Most of the recorded works from these few years are in museum collections, such as the Musee Kroller-Muller which has two still lifes from 1917 with which the offered painting shares many similarities, and perhaps the greatest from these two years: ‘La Musicienne’ in the Kunstmusuem Basel or ‘Still life with a Table’ in the Philidelphia Museum of Art painted in 1918. ‘Verre, Tabac et Pipe’ was sold by the eminent Swiss art dealer Marie-Suzanne Feigel (1916-2006) through her Galerie d’Art Moderne in Basel in 1967. Prior to that it had been sold by Leonce Rosenburg (his elder brother Paul Rosenburg also represented Braque) at L’Effort Moderne in Paris in a 1919 come-back exhibition presenting the new work Braque had produced since he came back to his easel after the war.
FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN ARTISTS
There are not many Russian paintings on the auction market in London at the moment but a portrait by Prince Pavel Troubetskoy not much larger than the outstretched palm of my hand caught my eye recently. It is coming up for sale at auction online, in the Isabel Goldsmith collection at Christie’s. It depicts the famous Spainsh 19th century painter Joaquin Sorolla y Batista. Although the friendship and mutual respect between the Russian sculptor Troubtetskoy and the Spanish painter Sorolla is well documented, Troubetskoy is not known for his paintings. Around 1909 the two men had sat for one another: there is a striking, large scale portrait by Sorolla of Pavel Troubetskoy dated 1910 in the Fundacion Cristina Masaveu collection in Spain. And Troubetskoy did an equally dashing and moody potrait of Sorolla holding a cigarette, this time in bronze, which can be seen today in the Sorolla Museum in Madrid. Both of these works are undeniably far more powerful than this little portrait; yet how nice it is to see such an unselfconscious document of the times, a breezy rendition, perhaps not so resolved, however, reasonably well-priced and it ought to appeal to fans of Sorolla and Troubetskoy, or collectors who love potraits by artists of artists. The Sorolla Museum in Madrid also has on permanent display one of Troubetskoy’s best loved sculptures, the sensual model of dancer Madame Svirsky in which she is depicted dancing barefoot, very liberal for the times. Sorolla liked it so much he included the sculpture in the background of a portrait he painted of his wife called ‘Clotide on the Sofa’ in 1910.
OF WARRIORS, PEACEMAKERS AND REFUGEES
For decades I have travelled within both Russia and the Ukraine, and other parts of what was the Soviet Union, and like others before me who have walked the road of going deeper into understanding other cultures, these experiences have inevitably over time left their mark. So I find myself not really as an observer sitting in London or a sunny terrace in Madrid, but drawn myself into the stark new realities surrounding this armed conflict, which have evolved since February this year. As I speak with and write to my friends and acquaintances in the art community from these parts of the world, I find myself thinking about artists and their predicament. Conflicts feed propaganda machines.
Yet art has to be free and at its extreme: let it rattle at the cage of our collective limits and find ways of expressing things for which many of us cannot find words! Words when there are none, lines drawn in a void, a claim of the void itself, and more than once if you like. If that means you want to paint or photograph the beauty of a flower, so be it, just do it well. If that means you must tie yourself to the mast of a ship in a storm, so be it, tell us about it, show it in your art how it got into your veins, it is fascinating. And if you want to talk about injustice or conflict and remind us all about things we try not to see while we go about our daily lives, do it, and do it well.
Increasingly stuck in a multi-faceted kafkaesque prism many Russian artists have left their homeland and gone abroad. In the West they are finding a less than cool reception, a cold shoulder. When applied as a blunt political weapon, cancel culture can be cruel. Are we not often silencing those who are speaking from the heart? Who can help to build bridges of understanding? We must be just and fair. We must give space and voice to those both caught up in this conflict, and those afraid to speak out, or those afraid to speak out but who do so regardless; those who are warriers for peace and humanity; those who are refugees, who have been forced to leave their homes, families, and gone abroad.
TIGER, COLLECTOR, BEHOLDER
We showed an ‘eye at the eye’… at London’s newest boutique art fair. It was our first art fair (and hopefully first of many more to come) and Alisa Yoffe’s first showing in London. Double first!
Yoffe’s work ‘Fortuna’ was selected by a combination of tastemakers, including the artist, us and the curatorial board of the fair. The oak panelled room in which it was hung turned out to be an ideal backdrop showing how edgy contemporary art can work perfectly in a traditional interior.
‘Fortuna’ started out as a picture of an eye and a mouth, and only through a process of adding and erasing the image did Fortuna appear, formed into a gigantic play of white and black shapes and motion (or rhythm as the artist insists) creating a puzzle. Your reading of the image changes as you move around the room and observe it from different perspectives.
The only other artist famous for a face with one horizontal eye and the other vertical is Picasso but that is as far as the comparison goes; Yoffe’s art historical sources are many: pop and surrealism to name a few, and process art is closer to what shapes her image, although she remains a painter at heart.
One must make a big distinction between Yoffe’s drawings and murals and this kind of finished painted composition in which she explores the processes behind image making and plays with poetic, literary and art historical sources using a contemporary aesthetic rooted in the digital world.
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
It was the first day of the Eye of the Collector art fair in London today and a good steady stream of collectors came through the doors in spite of the rain outside which persisted most of the day. We hung Alisa Yoffe’s painting ‘Fortuna’ in a small room with a floor to ceiling safe, which looked to be as old as the house itself. ‘Fortuna’ stood out against the dark wood panelling of 2 Temple Place; I thought about how contemporary art often works so well in a traditional interior, and the whole concept of this fair is about as far away from the white cube as you could imagine. Mostly there is contemporary art and design on view. As we were introducing Yoffe’s work to collectors in London for the first time, I was curious to gauge people’s reactions. With many of Yoffe’s semi-abstract paintings, the ones where she plays with adding and subtracting elements, they create entirely different sensations depending on where you are standing. The further away you are, the clearer the image; yet at close hand there is a wonderful tension between the black and the white fields; I remind myself to look at the white, and not see it as absence yet a kind of active drawing itself, much the same as the black lines, this is not instinctive but when you do this, the painting positively moves with energy. Rhythm, pace and dynamic movement - these are all things which interest the artist.
I first encountered the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov back in the late 1990s when they exhibited the Palace of Projects installation at the Roundhouse in Camden in London close to the neighbourhood where I was living at the time. I knew nothing of their work, however, was curious as I was already working with Russian art as a young expert at Sotheby´s and I had never come across anything like it before. This was a time when contemporary art was still overshadowed by the art of the past, and the market even for what we call blue-chip artists today was relatively small, the exponential growth of the contemporary art market happened later. It was not until several years later that I started to get interested in Russian non-conformist artists and by the mid 2000s there were even collectors looking for such works. They came from within Russia, it was a new generation although then most Russians were looking for realist or modernist paintings. In 2006 when putting together the Autumn Russian art auction at Sotheby´s I decided to shake things up, and not only took an important work by Ilya Kabakov for sale but put it on the front cover of the catalogue. It turned out to be extremely controversial; I remember the eyes of a friend of mine from Moscow who had a contemporary art gallery there welling up with emotion to see such a work on the front of a catalogue where often there were most often rather traditional images drawn from Russian Imperial visual culture. Others were extremely critical, they did not like change, and it proved to be too early, the work did not find one bid. Ilya Kabakov is not in fact Russian although he is closely associated with the Moscow conceptual school. He was born in the Ukraine in Dniepropetrovsk in 1933 and has been living in Long Island, New Jersey since the early 1990s where he keeps a studio practice until this day, working with his wife Emilia. Vickery Art has two important paintings by Ilya Kabakov for sale on our digital wall this Spring, if you click on the link to our ´Wall´ you will find out about them.
VICKERY ART AT THE EYE OF THE COLLECTOR
Vickery Art is delighted to announce its participation in the second edition of Eye of the Collector which will be held at Two Temple Place, London, from 11th -14th May 2022 and on eyeofthecollector.com. This edition of the fair will have a special focus on female artists and designers and is a fitting context to showcase artist and painter Alisa Yoffe whose work will be on view. This is the first time Alisa Yoffe will be presented in London. The Eye of the Collector gives visitors the chance to encounter a highly curated selection of art and design displayed throughout the beautiful neo-gothic interiors of Two Temple place, once the home of William Waldorf Astor, founder of New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
FIRST VENETIAN IMPRESSIONS
This was the Venice that was one year late, it seemed it would never come. And then it arrived so early we were ill prepared for the April cool winds. The Venice where you had to warm your hands on a teapot, sitting in lofty unheated spaces. This was the Venice by women - for everyone. I felt proud to be here, walking around room after room assuming that such and such a work on display was by a female artist and was surprised on the odd occasion it happened to be by a man. How it is always the other way around. This will never happen again like this, it was extreme, but it was a huge statement. And it has changed something fundamental for me. It was about the periphery moving into the mainstream space, a lot of African influence and many new names from Latin America connecting with Leonora Carrington’s biography and how she herself crossed different cultures and continents. Touches of art from the past together with strong new voices such as Simone Leigh representing the USA, the first Afro-American woman to do so in the history of the Biennale. This was the Biennale also for the Ukraine, there was a time and space to think and reflect on what is happening not so far away in Europe. The Pinchuk Foundation assembled a poignant exhibition at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia supported by the Office of the President of Ukraine called ‘This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom’. Victor Pinchuk spoke passionately at the opening. Marina Abramovic’s 2003 piece ‘Count on Us’ made in response to the Balkan Wars stood out, as did Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Lost Lighthouse’ created just two years ago. A strangely moving beacon of alarm telling of the unsettled times we live in.
Artist David Breuer-Weil has just completed his latest work, Invasion, painted over the past three months, as a direct response to the current conflict in the Ukraine. It is a large scale panoramic frieze in the tradition of ancient wall carvings on hunts and conflicts and comes after the ‘Coviad’, in a similar style and form, which he created last year about the global pandemic. ‘Invasion’ references El Lissitzky’s Chad Gadya in the final images, a Jewish allegory of opression and persecution in which initially a little goat is eaten by a cat. Despite this reference to a work created by El Lissitzky in 1917 and seen by many as relating directly to the Russian Revolution, Breuer-Weil’s work is never about a specific time or place, he is more philosopher or psychologist than historian. In the way that Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ has become an iconic symbol of war, any war and all wars, ‘Invasion’ is about how any of us can be invaded: ‘I have also explored the concept of invasion in a psychological sense. What does it mean when an aggressor encroaches on your territory or invades you? In that sense it is not a political work but about the human condition’.
VIGIL FOR PEACE IN TBILISI
‘Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy’, Pablo Picasso With the invasion of the Ukraine many of my friends in the art world, whether collectors or artists, have left Russia. Abroad, in Georgia, Israel, Turkey or UAE, they are finding a hostile reception, tensions are high everywhere. Alisa Yoffe left Moscow for Tbilisi a few weeks ago and has been busy at work there. She wants to show, among other things, that there are Russians who do not support the war. To show solidarity with the fallen, to remind us about the senseless horror of man’s inhumanity to man. In Tbilisi she has just finished a huge canvas like a fresco, which was carried outside during a vigil for the victims of the war, covered with images of the fallen, of broken crosses, of a destroyed church, graves with corpses. It is a stark image of what is happening today, in the Ukraine. It is brave, it may be shocking, even without graphic images it is hard to look at, but it is art which tells the truth, it is honest and free. As the slaughter and destruction carrys on we continue to pray and hope for peace, and reconciliation.
THE HANGING GARDENS OF MEURON
During a recent visit to the Perez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM) I found myself staring at the building as much as the art within. Not unusul these days with starchitect designed repurposed museums or new builds with massive egos on the urban skyline, but this is a different experience. More warm and homely; the building sits almost hidden in the urban jungle, and it really does feel like it has been there for decades, such is its close rapport with its surroundings. But it opened only in 2013, less than ten years ago. An art building for our times: the democratisation of art (and architecture), this is the period of consolidation and reflection which has followed on from the rampant globalisation of the 2000s. The concrete building does not reference obviously the deco past of Miami: there is a more brutalist aesthetic. Plants and vegetation seem to be as much a part of the space as the concrete, glass and wood. There are wooden deckchairs outside filled with people looking at nothing other than cars streaming across the bridge to Miami beach, yet it is not unpleasant; it is far enough away to escape from the worst of the noise, and the dynamic flow feels somewhat energising. Once we have used up all that hideous petrol, there will thankfully be silence, one day. The collection is as forward-thinking as the building itself. Miami a geographical crossroads between North America and Latin America, the acqusitions policy seems to be focussed on LAX art, Cuban diaspora and certainly when we visited the number of works by female artists on show seemed at times to outnumber male artists. The highlight was a visually stunning and emotionally powerful hanging sculpture, Trophallaxis, by American artist Simone Leigh, who will represent the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, the first black woman to do so. If anything can truly represent the ethos of this new cultural establisment, it is Glenn Lion’s neon sculpture, ‘Notes for a Poem on the Third World (Chapter One)’, showings the artist’s own hands as gigantic neon lights, raised as if in either protest or submission, two sides of the coin of repression or prejudice. Symbolic of the struggles of non-Western peoples and people on the margins of the West, a status quo that PAMM is addressing with a sense of inspired authenticity and passion.
The twice yearly London June Russian art auctions have been put on hold in the face of the tragedy which has been unfolding in the Ukraine and shows no sign of stopping. There is the devastating human cost, the unspeakable suffering; the displacement of people, mainly women and children, on a scale not seen since the 2nd World War. The crass destruction of historical buildings across the Ukraine. Artists such as Vassily Kandinsky, Chaim Soutine and Marc Chagall, have always attracted international buyers, and continue to be highly sought-after around the world. Natalia Goncharova has always had her foot in both camps, sold both in Impressionist and Modern evening sales, as well as Russian auctions; the ballets Russes have had an aesthetic always sympathetic to European and American collectors; marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky had a deep international following across America and Europe until Russian collectors later outbid them. And there are other fields within the niche ‘Russian’ market which have always attracted global interest, especially icons, and Faberge. As we saw international collectors gradually get priced out of the runaway Russian art market during the early 2000s, a market which despite dips and troughs has remained buyonant in recent years, I wonder if now there will be new opportunities for international buyers who otherwise were outbid. This in turn might bring Russian art into other more international collections, something which we saw little of over the past decade. When working at Sotheby’s many years ago I was once visited by the Georgian Ambassador in London. While we had tea at Sotheby’s café, she rightly questioned me on why auctions which included paintings by artists from Georgia, Armenia, the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Poland, were called Russian auctions. Perhaps this is indeed the time to revisit what essentially started out in the late 1980s as ‘themed’ sales, a marketing strategy to define marketplaces within the art world as a whole, and thus give a kind of bespoke service and focus to remain competitive. It was a commercial approach rather than political one, however, this naming of sales as ‘Russian’ which nevertheless covered several different nations, continued to reinforce the scope of influence Moscow had during the Soviet Union, the ghost of the past had not completely gone.
VIVIAN SUTER: WILD CHILD
I’ve always liked art which is playful, and speaks to our inner child; it is a quality which is easy to underestimate. That hidden part of us which remains childlike, and never grows old, is a source of immeasurable strength. The sheer scale of Suter’s exhibition currently on at the Palacio de Velázquez in Madrid’s Retiro Park feels slightly shocking. As you enter the door and wander around the space, it brings on a state of childlike wonder. The interior of the cavernous 1880s building modelled on Paxton’s Crystal Palace is entirely whitewashed. It is a massive architectural belly of light bathed in Madrid’s winter sun. Into this massive space Suter has stuffed decades of her work; there’s a lifelong odyssey shoved in here, it is the mother of all retrospectives. Huge brightly painted canvasses hanging on simple, specially crafted frames, the paintings unceremoniously unstretched, their ragged, fraying edges in some cases more on view than the actual paint surface. It is as if she does not care that we do not see her paintings. They are just hanging there, semi-hidden. I imagine for a moment the contents of the Prado, taken off their stretchers and hanging here. These wondrous paintings I am staring at here now are far from brown and far from rigid under layers of varnish scrutinised for centuries by overzealous restorers. There is air, light, colour, stuff, bits from plants, debris, real dirt; each one tells the story of its origins, painted mostly in her Guatemalan studio open to the elements in the rainforest, one of the most dramatic ecosystems in the world. Is this land art, only, on canvas? The hanging canvasses move in the draught and I find myself noticing the gentle circulation of air inside the building. As the artist herself interacts with the elements during the creative process, the lives of these paintings continue. They breathe. They have a life, with us.
IFEMA’s vast industrial scale building which was turned into a makeshift field hospital during the first wave of the pandemic, was thankfully once more buzzing with art life last week during Arco Madrid. It was good to see a few galleries from London: the Richard Saltoun gallery had an interesting showing of vintage textile works by two female artists, Columbian Olga de Amaral and Catalan artist Aurelia Munoz. There were plenty of decent contemporary Spanish works on view especially by Tapies – early ones – and a few beautiful sculptures and works on paper by Jaume Plensa, a stone head at Galerie Lelong and a somewhat larger scale Silent Music V, 2020 at Senda Gallery. A stand-out attraction was Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Your Accountability of Presence’: simple, beautiful, interactive, and fun. Among my favourites in the fair were two works on paper by Eduardo Chillida. An untitled black collage he made in 1984; and at Mayoral a delightful small gem of a work from 1970, with forms reminiscent of his huge metal claws on the north Spanish coast. You can almost hear the wind blowing in it; and smell the sea. Arco would benefit from a masterpiece dimension, Arco Masters. I find there is something missing when viewing contemporary art without 20thcentury modernist works, especially on such a large scale as an art fair. To my own art sensibility which embraces eclecticism, it seems too arbitrary a cut-off.
YANKILEVSKY’S ‘CONCEPTUAL CONSTRUCTIONS’
Vickery Art is offering for sale this Spring an important early triptych by Russian post-modern painter Vladimir Yankilevsky: Triptych No. 10, Anatomy of the Soul II (1970). The past decade has seen a reappraisal of Vladimir Yankilevsky’s triptychs, which form arguably the most important body of work in his oeuvre. There was Tate Modern’s acquisition of his 1964 triptych No. 4, ‘A Being in the Universe’, (dedicated to Dmitry Shostakovich), gifted by the artist’s family in 2018. This was a year after the current auction record was achieved for Triptych No 5, ‘Adam and Eve’ at auction in Moscow for just over $300,000 (the price including premium has not been advertised). Five years have passed since then, and no other early triptych painted before the artist moved to the West in 1991 has appeared on the auction market. The work to be sold, Triptych No 10 was painted in 1970 and comes from an important private collection. It was last seen on the market over a decade ago at Phillips in London, in one of a series of auctions which brought together contemporary art from what at the time were seen as ‘emerging markets’: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Previous to that, it was included in the artist’s statement show in New York in 1988 where Yankilevsky first exhibited his works to an international public. In the same year he sold Triptych No.13 at Sotheby’s legendary auction in Moscow (now in the KorbanArt Collection). Writing for the New York Times in 1988 in which she rounded up the Moscow auction and concurrent exhibitions of works by Yankikevsky and Kabakov in New York, Rita Reif described these triptychs as ‘oil on board conceptual constructions’. Photo kindly provided by Rimma Solod. Depicts Vladimir Yankilevsky in his studio, 1970.
THE THREE KINGS ABAKUA-STYLE
In Madrid’s Reina Sofia is a must-see small yet powerful show of work by the extraordinary Cuban artist and printmaker Belkis Ayon (1967-1999), her first ever European exhibition. Ayon’s decade-long cycle of works about the Abakua, a closed, male-only African society who came to Cuba from Nigeria in the 19th century is like an extended magnum opus. These works span her entire career, from her student years until her untimely and tragic death by suicide in 1999. With the perspective of a female outsider, looking in on this mysterious, hermetic male fraternity over a century later, Ayon’s striking images of their traditions and ways of life, are revelatory and pack an emotional punch. The Abakua are best known in Cuba for wearing a chequerboard dress and tasseled cone-like headpiece dancing in the streets of Havana during a carnival to celebrate the Day of the Kings – Epiphany which we have just celebrated here in Spain.In her work Ayon melds Christian imagery and symbolism with the distinctive mythology of the Abakua both elevating its culture as well as revealing its social hierarchies and the role of power. She exploits printing as a medium, favouring the textural qualities of collagraphy over other techniques, in which she joined together large sheets to make monumental works, which later evolve into architectural constructions.Artists and writers paint and write about what they know best, in this case how can she find her inspiration and material in a closed male society, one which managed to preserve its own mythologies and beliefs despite the strict, radical transformation of Cuban society in the late 20th century? Through her own long, drawn out observations and research, she found in this subject an authentic voice most of all, I think, in bringing to light prejudices, injustices, judgement, cruelty, the dark sides of all our human societies, large and small. Perhaps this voice came from her own experiences of complex social relationships, and not only the most obvious one being that of gender politics in art and life. It seems she did not find her own place in the world. In the last room in this exhibition hang works, tondos, which are dark pointers to her deep psychological distress, feelings of entrapment and the need to escape.
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