Monthly Archives: October 2011

Koudelka exhibition in Moscow


For the first time Josef Koudelka’s photographs of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia have been shown in Moscow at the Lumiere Brother’s photo gallery near the Krasniy Oktyabr factory. These photographs are accompanied by a number of explanatory comments and some of the slogans that were seen in the Prague in those first post-occupation days.  Koudelka himself stated that he never expected to see the day when these photographs would be shown in Moscow. In many ways viewing these photographs in Moscow is an experience quite different from seeing these photographs elsewhere. This exhibition can not really be compared to their exhibition in any other country. As yet I have read little of the Russian reaction to this exhibition.


For me much of the surprise came not just from the images but also from the slogans that were said to be printed on the walls and some of the accounts that the exhibition gives of those days. In many ways the main emotion that gripped me during this exhibition was a sense that this was a turning point beyond which one couldn’t return. The slogan that most fascinated me was the one that stated ‘Lenin wake up! Brezhnev has gone mad!’ as well as another which spoke of expecting an ‘invasion from the West and instead it comes from the East’. The idea that it was during these days that ‘already exisiting socialism’ fatally lost its legitimacy which previously somehow it had held (the graffiti also included the statement that ‘you came to us as liberators in 1945 and now you come as occupiers’ suggest that there wasn’t a prior complete negation of some form of Soviet hegemony) . Afterwards one can always rationalise things by stating that the Soviet system was doomed from the beginning, but there was nonetheless a different sense of reality then. The graffiti seemed to speak of an alternative way of seeing things. The graffiti speaks of a kind of betrayal and betrayal there surely was.


It is hard to imagine the hopes of the early and mid 1960s in the Soviet bloc but these pictures portray an eerie moment in which these hopes were finally stamped on. August 1968 was the moment when hopes were dashed in the most brutal of manners- the decline of an idea and an ideal (some kind of harmony between the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality) which even more than four decades later seems a contemporary tragedy. The world hasn’t lacked invasions in the following decades – Iraq, Afghanistan and so on- what it has lacked is in some way the hope expressed on the eve of some bearable humanistic ideal in which equality and liberty would be reconciled. A kind of hope expressed by two of the most forgotten leaders of the twentieth century: Alexander Dubchek and Salvador Allende. To my mind, nonetheless, two of the most inspiring figures of the past blood-stained century.

Telemaco Signorini and Russian artists


In a previous post on another blog I noted the similarities between a painting by Telemaco Signorini and one of the great classics of Russian art: Ilya Repin’s ‘Barge Haulers on the Volga’. A visit to the Tretiakovskaya Gallery yesterday on Krymsky Val suggested that the link between Telemaco Signorini and Russian art was more than simply hypothetical. Although the great Russian artist is better known for his works on historical and religious or biblical motifs, the time spent in Italy clearly shows how Ghe was influenced by the macchaioli movement and, in particular, by Telemaco Signorini. He spent a number of summers in the Gulf of Poets near La Spezia which was to influence not only Shelley and Byron but also D.H.Lawrence and Mario Soldati. Many of Ghe’s landscapes of San Terenzo or Carrara bear the unmistakeable stamp of the macchaiolo technqiue of Signorini or Cabianco. One more link in the chain of mutual Italian-Russian influences. And one more indicator that Liguria and Tuscany are the most ‘Russian’ of Italian regions. Another name that can be linked with this part of Italy was the great Mordovian sculptor Stepan Erzia who before his two and a half decade stay in Argentina would also spend time in Italy precisely in this Ligurian-Tuscan borderland so rich in artistic and literary history.  Other names linking Russia to Liguria include those of Marina Tsvetaeva, Tchaikovsky, and Vrubel. The links between late nineteenth century Russian exiles and the Italian writer from the La Spezia region, Ettore Cozzani were also varied.