Drugoe Iskusstvo – Another Art? A Different Art?
Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
The political era of Khrushchev was the second perestroika (renewal) in the Russian history of the 20th century. The “thaw” which came after Stalin’s death was second only to the New Economic Policy (NEP) era during the post-1917 revolutionary period and Civil War conflict. When Stalin’s cult and authority were dethroned by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in February of 1956, some freedom of thought managed to elbow its way into Soviet cultural life. The creative intelligentsia seemed to have the opportunity for expressing their ideas in art in a more emancipated way. Some of the repressed artists were rehabilitated; for example, Yuolo Sooster, Boris Sveshnokov, Leonid Kropivnitsky, Arkadiy Schteinberg and Alexander Rumnev. In February-March of 1956 the House of Artists in Kuznetsky Most exhibited 944 works by 479 young artists from the Moscow area. Among them were O.Vasilyev, V. Weisberg, B. Birger, D. Krasnopevtsev and the group of V. Sidur, V. Lemport, N. Silis, Ya. Levinschtein and M. Nikonov. These works of art, which appeared during and after the Khrushchev thaw, and which were so full of hope and optimism, however naïve, did not follow the cannons of socialist realism. This art movement acquired various names, like “Drugoye Iskusstvo” or “Another Art” or “A Different Art” or “Moscow Avantgarde Art.” It appeared as an alternative to totalitarian art; as a realization of the right for freedom and the versatility of creativity.
Some of these artists are still alive (Nikolai Silis), some have museums of their own (Vadim Sidur), and some converted parts of their apartment to Art Museums (Dmitry Krasnopevstev).
When Dmitry Krasnopevtsev died at the age of 70 in 1995, he left behind powerful contemplations on time, the human soul and the gap between man and God. An artist-hermit who could listen to the silence of the Universe and meditate alone in his studio, Krasnopevtsev has been honored with a permanent exhibition at the Museum of Private Collections. The exhibition displays some of his best works as well as part of his studio. Krasnopevtsev painted, primarily, still lifes. The subjects were far from exotic: broken jugs, broken tree branches and stones. His works, however, are highly philosophical. His mind seemed have taken flight, gained altitude and looked at Earth from high above, seeing its general outline. What can it mean - several broken jugs piled one upon another without any respect for the laws of gravity? Nothing, of course. And yet they create a certain visual rhythm, which in the long run is what the Universe is all about – a rhythmic evolution of the spirit.
No matter how many abstruse words have been said about Krasnopevtsev by art critics, his own notes disclose much more about his art and his personality: “When you are working on a painting you may get angry, swear, scrub away what has been painted, but you must not forget or lose the feeling that you’re painting an icon – let it portray a tree, a stone, a bottle or a herring’s tail – all the same it is an icon, an icon glorifying and thanking the Creator.” A deeply religious person, Krasnopevtsev was concerned with man’s relationship to God: “Man cannot be a creator; he is just a discoverer of the already created – outside and inside himself, a discoverer and performer of the Creator’s Will.”
Like his art Krasnopevtsev’s studio is a window into his solemn, spiritual world. Slices of semi-precious stones decorate his bookshelves. “Hen’s gods,” or stones with holes in them worn as necklaces for happiness, hang in bunches in front of icons, and dried starfishes are piled up in front of his paintings. The artist used those objects every day to make endless painted collages, which symbolized so much more than the objects themselves: the disposable symbols of mortality.
Krasnopevtsev preferred to stay away from the established art world, but was respected and admired by those in it all the same. “He was an aristocrat of the spirit,” a gallery owner told me when Krasnopevtsev died in 1995. “He could communicat e with anyone – at the level of his interlocutor, although his own level could be much higher. You could feel it and yet be very comfortable with him.” A rare gift indeed.
Krasnopevtsev’s littleknown early etchings are one of the most impressive components of the display. Masterful and subtle, they offer a complete contrast to the artist’s still lifes. He might have made a superb illustrator, but then he would have never become what he was – a distinguished artist in his own right, always recognizable, and unlike anyone else.