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Showing posts from July, 2014

Kazimir Malevich: prisoner, revolutionary, suspected spy … artist

At the heart of Kazimir Malevich's art is a statement so final that everything else orbits it. Emphatic, plain and declarative, his Black Square has a modest, expressionless presence. It seems like a last word. But what was it? An abstract icon? A tombstone for pictorial art? The portrait of an idea? Or a thing in itself? Perhaps not even Malevich knew. What do you say when you have said the last word? One solution is to keep on saying it. Existing in several versions – the first was painted in 1914 or 15, the last in 1929 – Malevich's Black Square is both beginning and end. There's depth in the black. It seems to be as much volume as surface. It is simple, it is complicated, and Malevich said that it had been painted in a sort of "ecstatic fury", though each version seems calm and emphatic. The painting looks back at you, blankly, saying nothing, giving nothing away. Or almost nothing. The Black Square was hung across the spot where walls and ceiling meet, like a …

A Moment of Faith - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is a monumental figure not only in Russia, a country that reveres writers, but in global literature as well. Born in Moscow in 1821 he arrived in St. Petersburg in 1837, after the death of his mother, and two years before the death of his father. While the life of Dostoevsky could fill up volumes, much of the writer’s influence can be traced to the moment he thought he was going to die.
Dostoevsky was a rising figure in Russian literature in the 1840s. He had already published his first novel, “Poor Folk,” in 1846 and “The Double” that same year. It was around this time Dostoevsky started attending meetings of the Petrashevsky circle, a discussion group founded by Mikhail Petrashevsky that gathered to discuss the problems in Russian society through the lens of the expanding impact of civil liberties being granted in European countries.
While Dostoevsky was an infrequent visitor to the group, he was fervently against the institution of serfdom. Over time however, Dostoev…

Lev Rubinstein: A Little Night Serenade

Lev Rubinstein is among Russia's most well-known contemporary writers and one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism. He has been called a "Postmodern Chekhov." 

1.
Nightingale, O my nightingale,
You perch beneath the branches' veil!

2.
Like a ghost beneath branches' veil
He appears, the nightingale!

3.
Nightingale, O my nightingale,
Where are you, in the branches' veil?

4.
Amid the spreading leafy veil
Starts a song, my nightingale!

5.
Behold again, the nightingale!
He hops amid the branches' veil!

6.
Can you see him, amid branches' veil—
The herald of joy, O nightingale!

7.
Tell us, O my nightingale
What you see in branches' veil!

8.
Hark! Here next to branches' veil
The heart skips for nightingale!

9.
Mischief-maker nightingale
Sings away in the shady veil!

10.
From the secret shade of leaf-veils
He watches us, the nightingale!

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The final days of Osip Mandelstam

In October 1938 Osip Mandelstam sent his final letter to his brother, Alexander. The poet was being held in a transit camp near Vtoraya Rechka railroad station – in present-day Vladivostok – and seemed to sense that the end was near: “My health is very bad, I'm extremely exhausted and thin, almost unrecognizable, but I don't know whether there's any sense in sending clothes, food and money. You can try all the same, though. I'm very cold without proper clothes.” From the very start of Bolshevik rule, Mandelstam lived with the firm belief that he would be locked up sooner or later – at a minimum. He was strongly opposed to the official literature of the time, writing poetry that was extraordinary in its freedom. He detested imitation and censorship and made no effort whatsoever to pretend that he was loyal, even though this could have drastically improved life for him and his wife. For Mandelstam, compromising his beliefs in such a way was simply out of the question.

In …

The final days of Russian writers: Sergey Esenin and Vladimir Mayakovsky

On Dec. 25, 1925, Sergei Esenin checked in to the Angleterre Hotel in St. Petersburg. He wouldn’t leave it alive. The writer was 30 and a disillusioned man, tired of life, women, poetry and his friends. He had become the enfant terrible of Bolshevik society: disorderly and rebellious but also talented, loved by the public, and loyal to the new authorities. Yet he had also become increasingly provocative in recent years; his 1921 work “Confessions of a Hooligan” had revealed another side to his personality: anguished and vulgar. His drinking was getting out of control, and the authorities were beginning to notice.

With his blonde, curly hair and light-colored eyes, Esenin looked like a typical big screen heartthrob – although his rude manners were at odds with his homely, boy next door looks. Despite this, the writer was an undoubted ladies man who had three failed marriages under his belt by the time he died. His most famous was with the contemporary American dancer Isadora Duncan – 17…