The air is getting a bit crisper. We might be ready to relinquish summer if we stop to consider the perks of fall:
By Margot Clark-Junkins
The air is getting a bit crisper. We might be ready to relinquish summer if we stop to consider the perks of fall: turning foliage, mulled cider, warm fires…and a crackling start to the art world’s busiest season. The museums and galleries in our area are just as busy as those in Manhattan. There are a lot of delightful shows that you can dovetail neatly with a family lunch or an errand.
Some shows are decorative in nature, a visual delight, like the two at Kenise Barnes in Larchmont: “Undulate: Julie Gross & Margaret O’Neill” and “David Konigsberg: Nigh Season.” The works by O’Neill and Gross are all about big shapes and lively colors. Konigsberg’s assured paintings of clouds and expansive fields are equally attractive. Both shows run through October 31.
Some shows go further, delivering high-octane art that explores cultural and political concepts, notably “This Leads To Fire: Russian Art from Nonconformism to Global Capitalism,” which opened earlier this month at the Neuberger Museum at Purchase College.
The exhibit of approximately 100 works, which runs through January 11, comes from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection, founded by Tatiana and Natalia Kolodzei in 1990. Over the course of many years, their focus has been on collecting art from the Soviet and so-called “Glasnost” eras, up to the present day.
Artists and writers were greatly repressed in the Soviet era, unable to express their true political and religious beliefs and cultural influences. Glasnost didn’t yet exist. Dissidents — free thinkers who rejected the party line — were forced to publish “samizdat,” unsanctioned or underground literature and art, behind the “Iron Curtain.”
In spite of Putin’s current chess game with the world, Russia remains dear to my heart. In 1984, I met my future husband in Russian literature class at Bowdoin College. Our teacher Jane Knox, who spoke fluent Russian with my linguist husband, covered the classics — Chekov, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky — and then dragged us through the early propaganda literature promoting Mother Russia and the proletariat. Later, at Mount Holyoke College, in a class called The History of Russia, my eccentric and brilliant poet-teacher, Peter Viereck, wrapped up a lively year with a leaden summary of present-day Communist Russia. No one thought the Iron Curtain would fall. My senior seminar on dissident Russian literature — never published in the Soviet Union — was without a doubt the most interesting course on Russia that I had ever taken. Which says a lot about the role of repression in the arts…some of the most explosively creative periods in history have occurred either during or immediately after a period of repression.
In the late 1980s, Gorbachev ushered in “perestroika” (or, restructuring) and artists could suddenly breathe a little. Art and literature experienced a second renaissance.
And now, just as artists have finally worked out their feelings about what came before, their creative fires are again being deprived of oxygen by Putin’s “apparatchik” approach to New Russia.
During the Neuberger Museum’s members’ opening, the Kolodzei sisters spoke of their strong interest in having an independent curator examine the collection with “fresh eyes.” The exhibit is divided in five parts, which, in the words of curator, Sarah Warren, “show us some of the ways in which Nonconformist Russian artists challenged state-mandated artistic practices.”
The exhibit is lively, with works in oil, pencil and pastel, photographs and video, terra cotta and metal, prints and collages. The vast galleries, normally a bit overwhelming, house this exhibit comfortably, giving you the necessary space to step back and think about the conflicts, tensions, and ideas struggling to make their way out of Russia, across an ocean and into our collective consciousness.