December saw the opening of a new show in the NGA’s Masterpieces in Focus Series, Andréi Nakov‘s fascinating exhibition The Advent of Abstraction Russia 1914-1923, at the National Gallery of Canada.
The National Gallery of Canada exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see a number of key works together, and focuses on the emergence of abstraction in Russia and the various struggles to preserve this legacy.
I worked on the show as a research consultant, and it was indeed one of the more interesting projects as of late. Combing through official Soviet and American exchanges as well as correspondence between abstract artists and American and British curators proved to be at times, fascinatingly revealing, occasionally labyrinthine, and often tragic.
Indeed, an element of intrigue characterizes the entirety of this history, much of the artwork was not sanctioned if not reviled by the Soviet state, and various Russian and foreign figures such as George Costakis were crucial to its survival during the soviet era.
Nakov also writes on how, in the late 1950s, Canadian diplomats posted to Moscow were instrumental in helping form the collection of George Costakis, who worked at the Canadian Embassy and whose collection of Constructivist and other Russian avant-garde works grew to become the largest and most representative collection anywhere.
El Lissitzky, Proun 8 Stellungen (Proun 8 Positions), c. 1923, oil and gouache with metal foil on canvas, 139.3 x 139.3 cm diagonal. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC
A most gracious thank you to Dr. Nakov for introducing me to this fascinating history.
The publication shall be available shortly and the show is on view through 12 Mar 2017 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.