Paris, Pompidou Center
To “Kollektsia!”
Oskar Rabin, Bottle and Lamp, 1964

Art Patrons Iveta and Tamaz Manasherov participate in a Pompidou Center’s Project.

The collection of Russian art in the Pompidou Center is well-known internationally and includes works by Kandinsky and Malevich, Chagall and Pevzner, Puni and Exter, Bulatov and Kabakov – great names and seminal works all throughout … However, the exhibition entitled “Kollektsia! Contemporary art of the USSR and RUSSIA 1950-2000”, which recently opened in the museum, has become a new revelation, eliciting sensational coverage in Russian as well as worldwide media.

The Pompidou Center, home of the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris

In fact, it is far from common that a European museum (even one of such a scale as the Centre Pompidou) receives a donation of about 250 works by major Russian contemporary artists, including Oskar Rabin, Vladimir Nemukhin, Erik Bulatov, Ilya Kabakov, Boris Orlov, Francisco Infante, Vladimir Yankilevsky, Leonid Sokov, Viktor Pivovarov, and many more, with each name being equally important.

Olga Sviblova, the main inspiring and moving force of the whole initiative, believes that what happens now should have happened long before: finally, it will be obvious for everyone that Russian art of the second half of the 20th century can and should be exhibited along with its European counterparts. Soviet underground artists belonged to the same trends and conveyed the same ideas as their Western colleagues. However, being separated from the latter by the ‘Iron Curtain,’ they preserved their unique character.

Apparently, these considerations have long been evident to a number of Russian and French collectors fond of the so-called ‘second Russian avant-garde.’ The current project was made possible with the immense help of Ekaterina and Vladimir Semenikhin, Igor Tsukanov, Inna Bazhenova, and other art lovers who donated works from their private collections, as well as Vladimir Potanin Foundation that purchased works from artists and their families.

Iveta and Tamaz Manasherov, founders of U-ART: You and Art Cultural Charitable Foundation, took part in this project, donating works by Oskar Rabin and Eduard Steinberg, two of their most cherished and valued artists from the 60s’ generation.

Artist Oskar Rabin and Iveta and Tamaz Manasherov

‘It has always surprised me that the Centre Pompidou didn’t have a single work by Oskar Rabin, our great contemporary, whose Paris studio faces the Beaubourg,’ says Tamaz Manasherov. ‘Centre Pompidou has a great collection of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, which is exemplary for us, as we collect works from the same period and by the same artists. However, apart from collecting the avant-garde from the 1910s and 1920s, it also seemed natural for us to buy works by our contemporaries such as Vladimir Nemukhin, Eduard Steinberg, Oskar Rabin, and other figures from the 60s. They always stressed their strong connections to the avant-garde of the beginning of the century. This is why I suppose that it is a big step for the administration of the Centre Pompidou, a brave yet well thought-out decision to broaden the collection of Russian art and extend it up to the 2000s.’

‘As for works that we donated, as far as I know, Rabin will be the first one in their collection, just as a work from the ‘village series’ by Steinberg,’ remarks Iveta Manasherova. She notes that the ‘village series’ belongs to the latest period in Steinberg’s work, the period that he considered his greatest creative achievement. Titov Family no. 57, the painting that will now be on view at the Centre Pompidou, is a meditation on life and death, and homage to The Black Square and Russian icons. This is a work that not only concludes Steinberg’s creative quest, but also reflects philosophical, artistic, and literary pursuits of Russian intellectuals in the 20th century.

Oskar Rabin is one of my husband’s favourite artists. We were regular visitors to his studio when his wife Valentina Kropivnitskaya was still alive, and continued our meetings after she passed away. In our private collection, we have Rabin’s works from different periods, and many of them are especially difficult to part with, Bottle and Lamp among them. When Mr. Bernard Blistène, Director of the Centre Pompidou, payed us a visit, he singled this work out. It really embodies the life in Soviet barracks, and demonstrates the artist’s mature approach. We appreciate the judgement of Mr. Blistène, so now this work will represent Rabin’s oeuvre at the Centre Pompidou,’ says Iveta Manasherova.

 Eduard Steinberg, Titov Family no. 57, 1986 Eduard Steinberg created his ‘village series’ paintings during and after summer months spent in his house in a village near the Vetluga river. As the artist commented on this series, ‘in the church, there are obituaries, which I tried to reproduce in art.

For the next six months, the display will be presented at the Paris headquarters of the Centre Pompidou. It is important that Russian art will be talked about, within the framework of an extensive educational program. Afterwards, some works will remain in the permanent display of the museum, while others will move to the branches of the Centre Pompidou.

All the participants of the project present at the inauguration ceremony, were unanimous in their view of this project not as a finished event, but rather as a first step on a long path of promoting Russian art of the later 20th century, and including it in the international context. Perhaps, we are soon to see new exciting projects that will prove that art is a language commonly understood, and a great cementing force.

Oskar Rabin, Bottle and Lamp, 1964 ‘Bottle and Lamp’ is an early work by Oskar Rabin, coming from the 1960s when the artist’s style and his concepts of object and space were in formation. Two main ‘characters’ in this piece are an ‘Ilyich light bulb’ and a bottle of ‘Moscow Special Vodka,’ symbols of Soviet everyday life that were familiar and likable to foreign art buyers who frequented the barrack in Lianozovo. The uncompromised yet estheticized representation of the scarcity of life in the barracks became Rabin’s trademark that helped him find his own path and a very personal artistic universe.

Text: Olga Muromtseva