Russian Underground Rock, Naket Wimin, and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art

After being trapped in small rooms on a muggy May evening at the Bulgakov Museums with a lot of sweaty people as part of the Moscow Museum Night, where museums and galleries stay open until midnight and entrance is free, Mama and Papa were quite up for a walk. Which is how they, and my Treacherous Big Brother (who had abandoned me at home to go gadding about the city with our parents) came to be passing one of the locations of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art on their way to the museum of the poet Alexander Pushkin’s life and times. And so they decided to nip in and see what that was all about.

Half full of things which 8-year-old boys shouldn’t see, according to the woman who doled out the tickets.

Naturally, that meant that my family headed straight to those parts of the gallery.

In her youth Mama used to listen to scruffy guitar bands she is now banned from singing along to in the car. When we are teenagers, she is doubtless going to be smug about the fact that, back then, very few of them had much play on the radio beyond a few late night John Peel sessions. So she has jumped around at lot at gigs in a fair number of small, grimy, hot concert halls, and outdoor festivals where the toilets were terrible. She is particularly insistent that it wasn’t just the headliners she was interested in, but the support act of the support act. Nothing more unbearable than a 19-year-old who thinks they have found counterculture, even twenty *cough splutter* years on.

Personally, I prefer listening to [insert name of the latest poppy girl music sensation on BBC radio 1]. Mama despairs of me [and also is old so has no idea].

When she came to Russia, however, she discovered that she and all her cohort back home were comprehensively out-cooled by everyone listening to Russian rock in the 80s, which is to say Papa and his friends.

Zeitgeist Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

This is because rock music in the Soviet Union was, if not actively banned, officially controlled and improvisation discouraged, and most of the bands performing it were therefore part of a truly underground music scene.

What this meant is that these musicians couldn’t get their music recorded in professional studios, certainly had no airtime anywhere at all, and were extremely limited in the places where they could perform. Gigs in people’s flats were A Thing. Arrests were not unheard of. And the rockers were poor, taking jobs such as caretakers, street sweepers and factory workers to satisfy the need for everyone in the Soviet Union to have an officially recognised job.

Word and homemade cassettes got about though, in much the same way that samizdat manuscripts were shared of suppressed writings.

So when Perestroika came along, and the Russian underground rock scene was allowed more exposure, actual performance space and bands finally got recording contracts, some of the musicians became extremely well-known, extremely quickly. And some didn’t and were still subject to low-level hassle and obstruction.

Now you might be expecting that, given how repressed they were, and that they are sometimes credited with an actual role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, these people spent a lot of their time singing rousing political protest songs.

In this you would be wrong. No need for any of that when your very existence is sticking two fingers up at Lenin. Neither did they come up with a radical new musical style. But lyrics were considered very important. No meaningless drivel wrapped around a banging hook for your Soviet underground rock bands. Just profoundly poetical explorations of the human condition. With, if you were a punk band, some careful swearing.

Which, to be honest, means that the full glory of the music is often lost on Westerners. See what you think.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with my Treacherous Big Brother being warned away from some of the exhibitions in the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

Well, the thing is that one of the exhibitions was entitled (in Mama’s head) ‘Mild naughtiness with Soviet icons in the early 90s’ (but actually Zeitgeist by Sergei Borisov). Lots photos of people doing handstands under the giant statue of the Worker and the Communal Farm Worker, sort of thing.

Handstands on Soviet statues Borisov MMOMA

And lumped in with this, lots of photos of Russian underground rock bands and their followers.

Victor Tsoi Russian underground rock Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Shocking, huh? Might do all sorts of terrible things to an unformed mind. My Treacherous Big Brother’s fashion sense alone could be ruined forever.

Zeitgeist Borisov MMOMA

Actually, Mama thinks it was probably the photos of young women who were without clothes that was probably the problem. Rather than, you understand, the fact that they were wearing a fur hat and covered in hammer and sickle stickers in a blatantly subversive act.

It was definitely the fact that the next exhibition was a collection of photos of a nudist colony that had the docents frowning when Mama wandered in behind my Treacherous (and quite thrilled) Big Brother. Mama felt obliged to cover his eyes and march him straight our again, although in reality, she thinks that pictures of people of all shapes and sizes going about barbecuing and playing volleyball and so on in a perfectly matter of fact manner is considerably more innocent and suitable for small children than any number of classical paintings of young women wearing diaphanous scarf clothing, baring her breasts while staring provocatively at the painter (he hopes).

Luckily the top floor was an entirely uncontroversial exhibition of static film making. You might think that the point of using film over mere photography is so you can capture actual movement, but Mama is here to tell you that there is something quite mesmerizing about watching people fish.

Anyway, a bit of a poke round the website reveals that the Moscow Museum of Modern Art has not one but five locations in Moscow, so we shall have to go and keep trying to figure out quite how the MMOMA is different from the Multimedia Art Museum, which also features exhibitions of mostly photography and film. Unless it is indeed that they put all of the exhibitions that you might not necessarily want an under ten to go and see in the space without the Lego in the foyer. But I can’t say that the family made a thorough investigation of the gallery on this occasion, being anxious to get on with the museum going marathon that they had embarked on.

But that is a story for another day.

Grebenshikov Russian underground rock Borisov Moscow Museum of Modern Art

More information

The art gallery’s website (for Ermolaevsky 17).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about how to make lettered rock.

Address: 17 Ermolaevsky Pereulok, Moscow, 123001

Opening: Monday – Sunday 12 noon – 8pm (9pm on Thursdays). Closed every third Monday in the month.

Admission: 350 roubles per adult, 150 roubles kids over seven, kids under seven free.

Getting there: Mama has no idea. She was just following Papa. Somewhere between Mayakovskaya metro (green line), the Bulgakov Museum(s) and the Arbat? Just look at a map, will ya? We gave you the address.

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Mini Travellers
Wander Mum

Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art or Not.

It is Mama’s firm belief that modern art is the medium to go for if you want childish appreciation of visual virtuosity. Classical paintings are very flat. Contemporary… whatjmacallits tend to be a lot more pace roundable, climb upable, crawl alongable, duck underable and even, occasionally, touchable.

The current exhibition at the Garage art gallery in Moscow, the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, has items on display which allow you to do all of these things, and put on headphones to listen to the soundtrack that accompanies them as well.

The Way of an Object Makhacheva Garage Triennial

Of course, so far we have only been to one exhibition where you were invited to handle everything, and the Garage Triennial wasn’t it.

Figuring out which items you are supposed to manipulate and which to contemplate from a safe distance by carefully observing the appropriate behaviour of more clued up others is both a profoundly moving representation of an essential aspect of the human condition and also a very good opportunity for children to practice this vital social skill.

Faces Garage Triennial of Russian Cintemporary Art

To limit the potential damage this might cause, the very practical Garage gallery had stationed a large number of young docents at every possible corner on the lookout for people doing it wrong, so generally the art was safe from everyone except Mama, who absent-mindedly walked into the dangling skier model. We simply can’t take her anywhere.

Female Male Red Khasanov Garage Triennial

Adding to the child-friendliness, in the Garage Triennial, when the art is flat, it tends to be on TV. Can we recognise the difference qualitative difference between Spongebob Squarepants and a woman being sloooooowly covered with large smooth stones on a beach? Mama has no idea, but she does know that my Predictable Big Brother will be entranced as long as there are moving images.

Mama wouldn’t say that the Garage Triennial is simply uncomplicated fun for the more youthful element of society though. So she experienced trepidation every time I put on the headphones, and even insisted on sampling the soundtracks first if she could get there ahead of me. But since I retained my sunny delight in trying on every single one of them for the whole of the exhibition, Mama concludes that it was fairly innocuous after all. And the set that also included virtual reality goggles was simply FABULOUS. Floor to ceiling dancing babushkas. ‘Nuff said.

The Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art is organised into a number of themed sections. Its overall aim is, for the first time ever, to showcase the current state of the modern art scene for the whole of the Russian Federation, and to this end curators spread out all over the very very big country in order to discover what is going on out there. Way way out there in some cases.

They seem to have decided that artists are working on being famous (‘Master Figure’), describing themselves (‘Personal Mythologies’), describing their location (‘Fidelity to Place’), describing what’s wrong with that (‘Art in Action’), describing art (‘Common Language’) and scribbling on walls (‘Street Morphology’).

Prussian Winter Matveev Garage Triennial

And actually Mama, who can sometimes find herself in a modern art gallery staring a large, random, piece of burnt wood and wondering if it would make sense the other way up, felt that either the Russian artists had been unusually successful in getting a point across or that the groupings were particularly well thought out. In pondering the connections between pieces or between the piece and the topic, she made a lot more sense of what was going on than that time when she was interviewed by a psychic guru in the catacombs of the Tate Modern.

Reticence Novikov Garage Triennial

Went a bit over our heads, mind you. My Predictable Big Brother stared particularly blankly at the large golden model of a priest and inquired with some disapproval as to why he was making a mildly rude gesture. Being moved to read the caption and finding out it is a self-portrait didn’t seem to help much.

Basically, both of us much preferred the shiny metal spiny sculptures, the giant pile of rubbish that changes into something much more attractive when the lights go down, the sand tray where you could use tweezers to move a few buttons, twigs, grains of sand, plastic baubles and fabric flowers around, and the giant multi leveled wendyhouse, with the extremely steep twisty stairs.

Metropolis Seleznyov Garage Triennial.

Most of all I liked the dolphin buried in a concrete brick. Look, I just like dolphins, alright? No need to overthink things.

Dolphin Tail Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

I liked it so much, in fact, I drew it in the visitors book, full of sketches by other gallery goers too, after double checking to make sure it wasn’t just another piece of art.

Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

Mama thinks that very much in evidence was the Russian surrealist sense of humour, impressive commitment to fixing anything as long as there is a bent paperclip or a large hammer to hand, and habit of flinging themselves wholeheartedly into their latest project.

But the Russian reputation for startling directness is also not unjustified and this was definitely on display at the Garage Triennial too.

Take this one, which Mama found one of the most powerful examples, given that it marries the very delicately pretty feminine art of watercolour painting with the ugly subject of domestic violence.

Bruise Potemkina Garage Triennial

Or this one, in which items from the personal and political history of the country have been embedded in amber, itself an iconic item from this part of the world. Can’t get more crushing that the implication that the symbols you held so dear are now fosilised remnants of a disconnected past.

Nasubullova Garage Triennial

Or this one. These are house numbers. Note the missing ones, intended to represent the losses suffered to wars and instability in the artist’s hometown.

Numbers Gaisumov Garage

Which is Grozny in Chechnya.

Let’s just take a moment to add a new layer of painful interpretation to that, shall we?

But the problem with message-driven art is that at some point that you do start to wonder if perhaps standing in a swish custom-built chrome-plated art gallery, thinking about the coffee you can have in the large, tastefully-appointed cafe downstairs, next to the extensive souvenir cum glossy art books shop is all a bit… too… comfortable.

Is there, in fact, a point to looking at this kind of thing if all you are going to do afterwards is play on the table football, and then wander downstairs to the elegant toilets, where there are sprays so you can detoxify the seats before parking your rump, as well as a mirrored area with a built in clever-clever hashtag for teenagers to primp in front of before their edgy Instagram session upstairs? And all this while listening to the deliberately amplified sound of flushing loos?

A question already addressed in the Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art, by the Monstration happening.

This is an event which takes place annually, and which at first glance seems to show a large street demonstration in action.

Monstration Loskutov Garage Triennial

But if you look a little closer (and you can read Russian), you will see that the placards are covered with pseudo slogans.

Because this is a pseudo protest.

Yes, the artist organizer may occassionally get arrested for planning it, and the onlookers heckling the participants may also be taking it seriously, but no, these people have turned out en mass and with considerable enthusiasm, having taken the time to paint up their own signs with absurd sayings to participate in an entirely content-free demonstration.

Mama simply cannot decide whether this is the most genius bit of biting sociological satire she has ever seen, the angriest political commentary or an egregious example of shocking frivolity given that it is 2017, the year after 2016. It’s been bothering her considerably.

Which, I suppose is the point of art, contemporary or otherwise. To get under your skin, to stay with you, to make you examine the world in a different way.

So go, if you can. It’s interesting, fun and worthwhile. And your kids will love it.

More information

The exhibition’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about bluffing your way round an art gallery.

Address: 9/32 Krymsky Val, 119049, Moscow

Opening: The Garage Triennial of Contemporary Russian Art is on until 14th May 2017. 11 am to 10pm daily.

Admission: 400 roubles for adults. Children under 11 are free. Children over 11 cost 100 roubles.

Public transport: The Garage gallery is in Gorky Park. The two nearest metro stations are Oktyabrskaya (orange line) and Park Kultury (red line).

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The Garage Triennial of Russian Contemporary Art

MummyTravels
the Pigeon Pair and Me

Multimedia Art Museum Moscow: Lego, owls, Eisenstein, quilts and dolphins.

It’s always reassuring when you rock up to an art gallery as an under ten, just as we did at the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, and the first thing you see is a generous number of Lego play stations and a couple of cars you can sit on and drive round a carpet. A welcome bold statement of child friendliness.

But possibly, Mama thought about half an hour later, when we still hadn’t made it out of the foyer to any of the exhibitions on offer, rather too successful in making us feel at home. Of course, that might be the point. Corral the sticky fingered elements well away from anywhere they might damage the displays or be loud.

No matter. Finding places children will willingly amuse themselves for multiple minutes on end is a goal Mama is sure most parents share with her, so regardless of the reason why, this should be a win.

Mama would nevertheless like to complain about the lack of any adult-friendly distraction other than a decent connection to the internet in the same area. In particular, Mama feels that atrium of the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow is distinctly lacking in cafes, given how much time parents might be spending there.

Which is why, a mere forty-five minutes after we arrived, Mama insisted we go and have a look round the place.

The Multimedia Art Museum Moscow turns out to be a thin sort of building, which seems to specialise in a number of smallish ever-changing exhibitions of some variety. Although most of them seemed to involve photography while we were there.

Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Our two favourites were at the top and the bottom of the museum. The top was interesting because it was a show of the everyday lives of everyday people who live in the town of Slavutych, built for the employees of the Chernobyl power plant, after the disaster. Nothing dramatic, but the photographer had an eye for small quirkily amusing moments, and some very brave subjects, who allowed him into their homes for the duration. Inevitably, though, the picture we liked best of all was the one with the dolphin mural.

White Angel Ackermann MAMM

The other child-pleasing photographs were the ones where the artist had embellished some real shots of kids playing to make them more like comic book pictures. We were particularly pleased that the thought bubbles were in English (GASP!) because we could make Mama read them all out. That said, Mama was a bit disturbed at how many of them involved the heroes shooting at each other (PEW PEW), which just goes to show you can overcome your seventies upbringing. I would have liked to see more Catwoman (MEOW) too.

Women, however, were very much in evidence in the photographs of the Pirelli calendar through the ages. It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that some of them were NAKED MAMA, Pirelli being a company better known to Mama for making tyres for Formula One races, an organisation not known for its inclusion of females as much more than glamorous props. But it was a disappointment that there wasn’t more fast car porn. And it would also be improved in Mama’s opinion, if there were a lot more racing drivers with their kit off.

Pirelli Calendar MAMM

There were more men in the rooms of photographs of artists in their studios, an exhibition that will probably appeal to those who have a better grasp of art than Mama, who really only recognised Picasso and Matisse. Given that most of the painters featured were on the less figurative end of art it was interesting to see how the end result compared to the actual objects they were depicting, and Picasso instantly became our favourite artist as he had a pet owl, apparently.

Genius in the Studio Picasso Sima

Mama’s favourite room at the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow was the one with the large rectangles of patterned fabric with the carefully placed hole in the middle which made them look a lot like the duvet covers that are popular here in Russia.

Empire of Dreams Bratkov MAMM

Mama hardly ever gets to read the explanatory placards when we are with her, but she was significantly intrigued by this to seek one out. Thus she discovered that these objects d’art are, in fact, quilts.

The Empire of Dreams represents fragments from the collective memory of the final years of the USSR and its immediate aftermath. Which Mama thinks is quite clever, although 50% of her is also wanting to mutter about how here is a man appropriating what should be woman’s art. The other 50% is saying that men’s unwillingness to engage in women’s work is a great deal of what is wrong with the world, and that showcasing this male enthusiasm for sewing in a proper art gallery is great.

We just gamboled around the colourful giant hanging hide and seek opportunities and then demanded to go back to the foyer.

Where they had set up two tables for, oh joy oh rapture, crafting!

We immediately got stuck in to making a collage out of stills from Eisenstein’s movies, an exercise which lasted a good thirty minutes or so. Mama noodled about on her phone, helped with the cutting out and wondered if anyone would mind if she nipped off to have another look round.

Crafting Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

So all in all, the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow turns out to be an excellent place to take children at the weekend as apparently they have this kind of free and easily accessible workshop every Saturday or Sunday. Plus, y’know, the Lego. Oh, and the small, easy to zoom round, differing exhibitions, at least one of which will almost certainly have the odd piece of art which will appeal to a kid.

If they add a coffee shop, then it will become one of our favourite places.

More information

The museum’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about making a T-shirt quilt.

Address: 16 Ostozhenka Street, Moscow, 119034

Opening: 12 noon to 9pm every day excpt Monday, when it is closed.

Admission: The website says that it’s 500 roubles per adult, but it was less than that when we went – Mama paid 350 roubles. Schoolkids over 7 are 50 roubles and the under 7s are free.

Public transport: The nearest Metro station is Kropotkinskaya (red line), which is a short walk away.

By other means: Probably.

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Quilts, owls, Eisenstein, dolphins, tyres and PEW PEW PEW at the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Tin Box traveller
Wander Mum
the Pigeon Pair and Me

Street Art at Belokamennaya Station, Moscow

When Mama and Papa tried to take us round the newly opened Central Circle overland railway line round Moscow, it did not go well. So this weekend they snuck off and did it without us. This post is not about that, though, but the impromptu side trip they made when the train stopped seemingly in the desolated middle of a forest at Belokamennaya (Whitestone). A brand new station in the middle of nowhere? Clearly they had to get off to check what, in fact, was the point.

Belokamennaya

Well, at first glance, this newly renovated train halt seems to be servicing someone’s well protected dacha (country retreat) and sauna complex. Although Papa did note that if you follow the reasonably well trodden footpath through the woods in that direction, you get to somewhere a bit more populated fairly quickly.

Woodpile

You can also admire one of the old turn of the century stations built for the original iteration of this passenger service.

Old Station Belokamennaya

But it seems the real attraction lies on the other side of the tracks.

First, this is a sort of back entrance into the large forested nature reserve, ‘Elk Island’ (yes, with actual elks. Also, wild boar, beavers and some kind of egret). As you may or may not have noticed if you follow Mama on social media, the snow has made a seemingly permanent arrival in Moscow already. Clearly one of the things you can do in Elk Island woods at this time of year is go cross country ski-ing, and the parents did indeed encounter a number of people setting out to do just that. Although they also saw a very determined young couple who had taken their stroller out for a breath of fresh air and were manhandling it back across the completely non-existent pathway towards the station entrance too. So general hiking in the area is also a thing, winter, summer, whatever.

Skiing at Belokamennaya

What caught Mama’s eye, however, were the abandoned buildings.

Now Mama is not sure that she entirely approves of the schadenfreude photography fetish for ruined Soviet structures, but on the other hand there is something a bit more interestingly voyeuristic about poking around someone else’s stuff from the recent past rather than two thousand years ago.

Mama has never been one for standing in the middle of a field and feeling the vibrations.

Plus, it turns out that at Belokamennaya, there is also graffiti.

street art steam punk belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art cat Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art tag Belokamennaya

Street art face Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art flowers Belokamennaya

Street art skull Belokamennaya

So given the authentically dystopian atmosphere of the distressed concrete, the large amounts of rubbish, the godforsaken location and the epic street art, it’s not surprising that Mama and Papa tripped over Russian citizens secretly preparing for what she understands is the imminent invasion of Latvia.

Laserquest

Or indulging in a bit of free range laser questing. Your choice.

Laser quest Belokamennaya

Mama is afraid that she and Papa spoiled it a bit, by wandering around, clearly unafraid of being shot and taking photographs. Especially as she had on her heeled city boots, a natty flower strewn hat and a Cath Kitson-esque shoulder bag. Not very suitable for the urban warfare look, Mama.

But also not very suitable for yomping around offroad either, so once they had got their fill of the clean crisp cold air, they got back on the train and continued their journey. Which is a story for another day.

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Reasons why you should get off the train at Belokamennaya station on the Central Circle Line, Moscow, Russia

More Information

The Moscow Metro’s Central Circle Line website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Kyselak, a graffiti tagger who left his mark.

Address: 55.8298°N 37.7018°E

Opening: Trains on the Central Circle run from 6am to 1am, and the interval between trains on this line is between 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.

Admission: One shot Metro tickets are 60 roubles (more expensive per pound than a year ago, less expensive than five years ago. I dunno. Google it). You can travel anywhere on the network making as many connections as you like within 90 minutes for that. It’s cheaper if you have a Troika card (like London’s Oyster).

By public transport: Well, it’s Belokamennaya, innit. On the Central Circle line.

By car: Mama couldn’t possibly comment.

Undisturbed Russia Photography Festival 2016

Last weekend Mama outsourced finding us somewhere to hang out to Papa, who came up with the photography exhibition translatable as Undisturbed Russia, Pristine Russia, Natural Russia, or (the official tag) Primordial Russia.

Ice at Undisturbed Russia
Ice!

Mama was a bit dubious about the last phrasing and even more dubious that we might find such an outing worth the trek into town. However, since she didn’t have the personal fortitude necessary for something as child-pleasing as an indoor play area, and since we have already written about such indisputably fabulous venues such as the Moscow Zoo on the blog, she thought we would give it a whirl.

Volcanoes at Undisturbed Russia
Volcanoes!

Partly because the exhibition is in the Central House of Artists. Mama has fond memories of the Central House of Artists. It used to be a place where you could not only nosy round the workspaces of any number of hard at work craftsmen but also turn a corner and unexpectedly trip over an installation of millions of tiny paper gingerbread men. These days it serves as an exhibition space along the lines of Earl’s Court or Olympia in London and has been hosting first a conference of estate agents and then the Russian equivalent of a Crufts for cats the last couple of times Mama has been wandering past. Somehow we didn’t quite make it inside. It was clearly time to remedy this.

Plus, the Central House of Artists is also opposite Gorky Park, in the same building as the New Treatyakov Gallery and in the middle of the sculpture park Muzeon. If we really didn’t like Undisturbed Russia, Mama reasoned, there were numerous options for escape.

As it turned out, she needn’t have worried about my Easily Pleased Big Brother’s happiness with the entertainment. ‘This is much more interesting than I thought it would be,’ was his verdict as soon as it was evident that those parts of Russia that are Undisturbed are covered with photogenic animals, which was very quickly indeed.

Timur the goat and Amur the tiger at Undisturbed Russia
Who hasn’t heard of Timur the goat and Amur the tiger by now?

What followed was a thousand hours of me and Mama trying to keep up as he bounded from one picture to the next with the clear intention of photographing every single one of the bears, the seals, the bears, the walruses, the ladybirds, the bears, the tigers, the foxes, the squirrels, the bears, the whales, the lizards, the bears, the frogs, the butterflies, the bears, the bears and the bears (there were a lot of bears).

Bears at Undisturbed Russia
Bears!

My camera, on the other hand, turned out to be too full of pictures of Papa’s ear to allow me to follow my whimsy in this way and thus I was initially considerably more disgruntled about the whole experience, which, it turns out, was large.

Do not be fooled by the fact that the first few taster pictures are in the foyer next to the cloakroom (Mama was, for a moment), or taken in by that the first display space proper is skirtable in about five minutes if you tow Mama about really determinedly (I was at first). You will pass from there to a massive room, with even more spaces leading off it, and there will be many many lots of photos and quite a few people.

The Central House of Artists, unlike the Tardis, is just as big on the inside as it looks from the outside and the giant exhibition didn’t even begin to fill all its available area. If you get bored (you won’t get bored) you can always have a look round some of the other galleries.

Central House of Artists Moscow
It is just as large as it looks on the inside.

Back in Undisturbed Russia, there’s room for a stage and everything.

We sat down quite hopefully in front of it, but it mostly seemed to be for showing films about how you can remove rubbish from Lake Baikal by doing yoga. So I went back to grumping my way past the glories of nature and my Easily Pleased Big Brother went back to standing earnestly behind his camera in front of a photo of bears.

Undisturbed Russia
Undisturbed Russia!

But then we found the children’s crafting area which, in the best Russian tradition, was full of opportunities to get covered with goop! We bounded happily over and from a choice of clay modelling, sand collage creation and spooning gobbets of paint into frames and smearing it around to make animals, we chose the messiest.

Crafting at Undisturbed Russia
Paint!!!

To be fair, the aprons this time were particularly well designed and only Mama ended up with paint in her hair. Despite this, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

After this lengthy interlude, my good mood was quite restored and I was actually able to take an interest in posing cutely in front of all sorts of backdrops, which was how Mama snuck in her quota of landscape appreciation amidst the distractions offered by mammals, reptiles and fish.

Dramatic mountains at Undisturbed Russia
Dramatic mountains!

Russia, it turns out, is not only very very very very very very very big but also wildly varied in terrain (and fauna), and you can admire some utterly stunning pictures of everything from active volcanoes through trackless forests in all sorts of weathers and seasons over bodies of water both large, small and colourful to the northern lights.

Northern Lights at Undisturbed Russia
Northern Lights!

It’s bloody impressive (says Mama) even when you aren’t dealing with shots taken by people who definitely know which way of a camera is up.

Daisys at Undisturbed Russia
It’s pretty but it’s also coooooooool.

Running through it all is the Volga river, which gets a whole room where you can lie and float virtually along it as a film plays on the walls and ceiling around you.

Except we were too busy scoffing croissants and eclairs while Mama revived herself with coffee in one of the pop up cafes, and watching urbanite Muscovites being entranced in the nearby cinema room by how the most exciting thing to happen in your average Russian village is a tragic swan love story ( <spoiler> the male swan gets electrocuted at the end </spoiler> ). There was folk singing, moody fishing shots and farmers leaning on gardening implements sucking cigarettes contemplatively and everything. Mama was delighted.

Basically it’s a great exhibition for anyone who likes large professionally breathtaking nature photography, friendly environmental films and small scale amateur crafting, which is surely everybody. The exhibition runs until 25th February, so still time to get in there and enjoy.

More Information

The festival’s website.

The Central House of Artist’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about sunsets and why we see the colours- a photographer’s view.

Address: Krimsky Val, 10/14, Moscow, 119049

Opening: Until 25th February 2016, 10 or 11 am to 8 or 9pm.

Admission: Adults: 350 roubles (£3.50), children under 10: free, concessions: 150 roubles (£1.50).

By Metro: Oktabrskaya (orange and brown lines) – turn left, cross over the massive seven million lane highway and head left down the other massive seven million lane highway at right angles. Park Kultury (red line) – turn right, cross over the Moscow river, cross the seven million lane highway. The Central House of Artists is opposite Gorky Park.

By other means: Actually, the trollybus route ‘Б’ stops right outside. This is a circular route, which takes you round the edges of the centre of Moscow and hits a fair number of metro stations on the way. It’s quite a fun way of getting to or from the Central House of Artists.

MummyTravels
Travel Notes & Beyond

GRAD: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, London

Back in the summer sometime, Mama discovered that there was a newish art gallery in town, GRAD, and that it was devoted to the art, design and culture of Russia. So clearly she had to go, and this, inevitably, meant that we had to too.

The exhibition that was on at the time was called ‘work and play behind the Iron Curtain’, and she sold this to us as a display of toys that Papa would have played with as a boy, and a series of dioramas from his young life. I can’t say we were overly enthused about this, but we went along with it because Mama with the gallery goer’s bit between her teeth is hard to get away from. Plus, she said we could take our cameras along and photograph whatever we liked.

Caviar tins at GRAD
Fish eggs!

The gallery is tucked up behind Oxford Street and as such a bit of a faff to get to from the part of London that is forever work and play in the former Soviet Union. So Mama was a little taken aback to realise that she has been spoiled by the vast national galleries and museums of the capital into overestimating how big GRAD’s exhibition space is and how extensive the displays actually are.

It’s a one room area, people. Quite a largeish room, but nevertheless not somewhere you will be spending the lengthy morning Mama had envisaged. Plus, no full sized mock ups of Soviet communal apartments. Mama was disappointed. Mama blames the very seductive photography on the website. To be fair, they also have an extensive programme of talks and tech support from informative apps and other publications.

Cars at GRAD
Not quite so seductive photography!

Also, the prediction that we would be looking at items from Papa’s past proved only too true. In fact, Mama has a sneaking suspicion that many of the objects had been sourced from Papa and his extended family. Top marks for authenticity, then. Perhaps a little odd to see them lauded as museum pieces though but then Mama has much the same feeling about the cheap plastic footspa in Stevenage Museum.

GRAD work and play behind the Iron Curtain
We have those dolls!

Nevertheless, we had a good time taking pictures of every. Single. Thing from every. Conceivable. Angle. Until that got really old and we demanded to leave, which took about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, Mama had discovered the reason she was glad we made the trip.

Ribs at GRAD
Coolest. Exhibit. Evah!

Called ‘ribs’, they are bootleg recordings made out of old X rays of records which were almost (but obviously not quite) impossible to get hold of in the Soviet Union. The story of underground music in the USSR is something that fascinates Mama even more than the rather better known stories of banned writers and their works, so to see these was genuinely moment which thrilled Mama right down to her little black socks.

Bless.

Anyway. After this we went for a walk. Away from Oxford Street. Mama was happy wandering around the back streets but it wasn’t long before we tired of taking pictures of random doorways, people, dresses, shoes and so on and demanded actual entertainment. We all got a kick out of this pyrexed over wall painting though, which Mama says is by somebody called Banksy. Well, it’s a rat, innit? Animal interest, especially animal interest which Papa is scared of is always worth seeing.

Banksy near Regents Park
Banksy!

Luckily, before rebellion really set in we stumbled upon an excellent little playground in the bottom right hand corner of Regents’ Park, and thus the day was saved.

Currently GRAD has an exhibition on Bolt, a 1931 ballet by Dmitri Shostakovitch. Mama is wise to GRAD now and we popped in there when we were in the area and had a bit of time to kill.

Bolt is a fascinating sort of ballet. It tells the story of a young Soviet man who gets sacked from his job at a local factory for skiving off, goes to a bar, gets what Mama describes as ‘rat arsed’ and decides to stick a bolt into the machinery in the factory where he works, thus sabotaging it. As you do.

He actually gets caught at the very beginning of the second act and the dastardly plan is foiled. The rest of the ballet is, in fact, the surreal dream of the young Soviet boy who grassed up our anitihero. It’s all about becoming a lifeguard (what else?) and military parades (of course it is).

Mind you, that sort of plot twist is perfectly normal for ballets, Mama says, she who went to see Giselle last year.* This is not what makes the ballet so interesting.

What makes it interesting is that at first glance it is a straight bit of Soviet propaganda, yes, that’s right folks, a propaganda BALLET, but either because they actually meant to poke fun at the genre or because Shostakovitch, the choreographer, Fedor Lopukhov, and the costume designer, Tatiana Bruni, got a bit carried away with the enjoyment of plotting the scenes of debauched revelry, including wildly entertaining drunken ballet dancing, and putting wiry ballerinas into unflattering gym slips for the morning exercises at the workplaces set pieces, it comes across as more of a bit of a piss take (says Mama).

Gym slips for Bolt at GRAD
Ballet dancers should not wear shorts.

Which was not well received. The perils of glorifying industrial processes through the medium of interpretive dance.

The ballet was closed after the first performance, Lupukhov was sacked and Shostakovitch plundered his score to use in other ballets. Bolt itself was not put on again until 74 years later, when the Bolshoi re-imagined it for Shostakovitch’s 100th birthday, a performance Mama tells me she actually saw. You haven’t lived until you have seen the Red Army in scarlet PVC uniforms riding around on scooters, she says, especially when one of the dancers falls off.

They were definitely going all out for the ‘satire’ interpretation.

GRAD’s exhibition focuses mainly on the costumes, although they do have Shostakovitch’s music playing quietly in the background. The walls are full of design sketches and they even have some of the original and remade costumes on display.

Soviet women for Bolt at GRAD
Hero women of the Soviet Union.

The drawings are very familiar in style if you are used to seeing images of Soviet posters. Bright, styalised and slightly geometric. And they do come across as very over the top caricatures of a series of Soviet baddies. You can, perhaps, see why sensitive censors at the beginning of the Stalin era’s headlong plunge into Soviet realism were suspicious.

Enemies of the people for Bolt at GRAD
These people, I *think* might possibly be baddies, maybe? Except the woman with the slide rule. She rocks.

The centrepiece is the original costume for the US navy. Yes, those are Mickey Mouse hands on a grotesque representation of Uncle Sam.

US Navy costume for Bolt at GRAD
Hahahahahahahahaha! Ahaha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Etc.

You can see the Bolt exhibition until, wait for it, February 28th. Better make it quick! Yes, Mama does seem to turn up to shows as they are about to close. It’s because she likes to play chicken with deadlines. Usually she wins, but it isn’t good for blogging reviews.

But then this is no one off review. GRAD clearly has a knack for picking out not particularly obvious, quirky slices of Russia and the Soviet Union’s artistic heritage. Mama, of course, would always be interested in this, but it now also serve as a reminder that Russia may be big, but it has never been monolithic even at its darkest moments. She will certainly be finding excuses to drop in to whatever exhibition they have on next… and the one after that, and she suggests that if you share her tastes and are in the area, you do the same.

 

*Giselle, the lead character, dies at the end of the first act and the rest of the ballet is about dancing lady ghosts. Mama, Granny and Babushka were taken aback. They had not seen that coming at all.

More Information

GRAD’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about from ballets Russes to ballet noir: the Specter of the Rose on stage and screen.

Address: 3-4a Little Portland Street London W1W 7JB.

Opening: Tuesday – Friday 11am – 7pm. Saturday 11am – 5pm.

Admission: exhibitions are free.

By tube:Oxford Circus (Victoria, Central and Bakerloo lines): 3-4 mins walk or Great Portland Street (Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines): 10 mins walk.

By bus: These buses all stop on Oxford Street – 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 23, 25, 53, 73, 88, 94, 98, 113, 137, 139 & 159.

By car: Oh, give over.

New Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsky Val, Moscow

Buoyed by her success in taking us round the Old one, Mama decided to try out the New Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val.

Good choice. We much prefer modern art, it being similar to the sort of craftings we produce. It does not occur to us to scoff at the fact that the painter has labelled a series of inexplicable squiggles ‘Love’ because we have only that morning presented Mama with seventeen splodges of green we are calling ‘Cats’.

Sticks at the Tretyakov Gallery
This is Art we thoroughly approve of.

Plus, the permanent galleries of the New Tretyakov Gallery are almost completely empty whenever she goes there. If you are going to take small children round an art gallery, doing it when there are not likely to be art lover patrons who want to study the works in meditative contemplation is always a bonus.

The New Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsy Val
Look! No people!

The lack of visitors is odd, in Mama’s opinion. She thinks that foreign tourists from outside of the Former Soviet Union are actually more likely to be excited by the paintings in the New Tretyakov Gallery than the Old, unless they have a special interest in finding out about more Russia than the activities of Tsars, how awful Communism was and lots and lots of ballet. Or circuses. The art, history and culture in the Old Tretyakov Gallery is largely unknown to abroad and Mama is not sure that is what people come to Moscow for.

The art in the New Tretyakov Gallery, on the other hand, contains pieces by internationally famous artists (Kandinsky, Chagall, Malevich, Goncharova to start you off), internationally famous avant-garde movements (Neo-primitivism, suprematism, constructivism and futurism, otherwise known and geometric shapes r us), internationally famous images of glorious workers (Mama’s favourite is the woman posing dramatically with the slide rule) and pictures of internationally famous mass murderers (Stalin and Lenin and so on).

Slide rule and woman at the Tretyakov Gallery
There is nothing more fabulous than a slide rule.

Part of the problem, Mama ruminates, is that really, the paintings all belong to the Old Tretyakov Gallery, which inherited them almost by accident. The core of the New Tretyakov Gallery comes from a private collection of a Greek expat, who, at a time when the authorities just weren’t having the more interesting expressions of artistic temperament, quietly went around snapping up what ought to have been national treasures for an absolute song.

Eventually, Soviet society twigged to the possibilities and the collector started suffering a number of burglaries. It seems that the state then got most of his acquisitions in some kind of deal that allowed him to leave the country with his favourites at a time when leaving the country was, Mama says, tricky. Can’t think why. Mama only needs our birth certificates, her marriage certificate and a letter from Papa in addition to our many passports to break us out.

So Mama always wonders if the lack of popularity has something to to with the Old Tretyakov Gallery being at a bit of a loss as to know what to do with its modern art, suppressed for so long that, by the time they took over, even if it wasn’t outright banned, it was seriously unfashionable.

And, perhaps, a bit unfathomable. The problem with the glorification of forms, migraine inducing swirls of colour and childishly drawn representations of what might (or might not) be a person, well, Mama thinks that to a certain extent, you had to be there. Doubtless it was a gloriuous shock at the time, but now, now it is just a big black square on a white canvas. It’s not even in the icon corner for maximum symbolic impact.

Malevich at the Tretyakov Gallery
The original Black Square.

The world has moved on to unmade beds, big unadorned lumps of burnt wood and giant green plastic butt plugs.

Says Mama.

Nowadays it is probably also true that for Russians and those from the Former Soviet Union, a good half if it are those sorts of idealised Communist images, or reactions to Communist images, which they must all be heartily sick of, in all senses of the word.

Constructivism at the Tretyakov Gallery
I could do that.

Although someone has certainly given a lot of thought to how to hang it so that philistines like Mama will actually get it.

Kandinsky and Malevitch’s contempories surround their paintings and give you a really good impression of how artists riff off each other in creating something new and exciting.

The room of the joyful and (Mama finds) truly inspirational Soviet images from the earlier days gives onto the contrasting rooms of the official and unofficial artists from later, somewhat less joyful, periods.

Heros of the Soviet Union at the Tretyakov Gallery
Hero footballers of the Soviet Union.
Soviet Realism at the Tretyakov Gallery
Soviet Realism is real.
Unapproved Soviet art at the Tretyakov Gallery
This is not Soviet Realism. This is a kitchen!

The nature of repression and its effect on art is topped with the room dedicated to massive paintings of an avuncular Stalin twinkling his way though various scenes and from there you are plunged straight into the section showcasing what the expat Soviet artists were doing at the same time, with considerably more freedom.

Expat Soviet artists at the Tretyakov Gallery
I can see bottoms, Mama!

To finish off, there are examples of the sorts of things which artists produced during and after the Fall. Mama thinks that this section is definitely a bit patchy, but then she suspects that is because the New Tretyakov Gallery has only a fraction of the works of that time and, in any case, coherent movements were definitely not really what that era was about.

They do also have exhibitions, and these are actually very well attended and included in the price of your general entrance ticket. But they focus on retrospectives rather than new works, and often of artists who feature more in the Old Gallery.

The New Tretyakov Gallery is, in fact, a museum of 20th Century art not an art gallery as such. You should go and see it though and don’t let them fob you off with the Old Gallery. It’s a very interesting museum of art for anyone who hasn’t had  to deal with the reality of living under or in the aftermath of the Soviet years. And most of it has extensive English text to explain things, as well as an audio guide option.

But don’t be expecting to buy anything too exciting afterwards. The shop is absolutely minimal, consisting of one small kiosk, rarely, in Mama’s experience, actually open.

And the cafe never has been. Not once in the actually quite large number of time Mama has been there. Luckily, the sculpture park surrounding the New Tretyakov Gallery, Museon, has a number of small coffee and snack vendors dotted around, and the time we were there there were also at least two places selling more substantial meals further along the building. You could also hop over the road to Gorky Park, or head back towards the metro too, all of which have more places to eat.

We enjoyed our time in the gallery, wildly creepy black and white final exhibition notwithstanding.

Prigov at the Tretyakov Gallery
This artist scared the living daylights out of us.

We expressed our opinion that Kandinsky mainly painted dinosaurs; tried out some of the poses, particularly of the more anatomically challenged figures; found all the naked people in the radical Where’s Wally painting (see above), especially the three breasted ones; descended with glee on the multimedia visual sound poems like the children of the push button Internet age we are; and kept a look out for the docents to distract so Mama could snap a few pictures. The trick is to smile and show them your toy lizard. They loved that.

Kandinsky at the Tretyakov Gallery
Kandinsky’s dinosaur painting.

And Mama had a grand old time using her imagination to explain conceptual art to us. So that’s alright.

More Information

The New Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsy Val’s website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about constructions with a ruler and a compass.

Address: 10 Krymsky Val, Moscow 117049

Opening: Tuesday to Sunday – 10am to 7.30pm. Monday – CLOSED.

Admission: 450 rubles (about £6.50) for adults, 250 rubles (£3.50) for students, children under 7 are free.

NB: It’s slightly cheaper for Russians. The New Tretyakov Galley is the only place where Mama has ever been offered the cheaper price, unless she is hiding behind Papa and scowling. Doesn’t work when we are with her though. We refuse to speak Russian to Mama.

By Metro: Oktabrskaya (orange and brown lines) – turn right, cross over the massive seven million lane highway and head left down the other massive seven million lane highway. Park Kultury (red line) – turn right, cross over the Moscow river, cross the seven million lane highway. The Gallery is opposite Gorky Park.

By other means: Actually, the trollybus route ‘Б’ stops right outside. This is a circular route, which takes you round the edges of the centre of Moscow and hits a fair number of metro stations on the way. It’s quite a fun way of getting to or from the Gallery.

The Old Tretyakov Gallery, Lavrushinsky Lane, Moscow

Mama has been going to the Old Tretyakov Gallery about once a year so for about 15 years now. Last time we let her go on her own she took the (English. Other languages are available) audio guide tour. Five hours later she staggered back out of the building, and that was despite suffering a total failure of will when it came to the icon section. The tour is organised around you deciding which of the paintings to find out more about, and Mama, who really likes the gallery and everything in it, wanted to find out more about nearly all of them.

Old Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow

What you have in the Old Tretyakov Gallery, begun by a wealthy businessman (Tretyakov himself) and added to by the state when they acquired it on his death, is half of nearly all the famous paintings done by painters working in the Former Russian Empire (the other half are in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg).

This makes it a very interesting place to someone who likes a hefty dose of cultural history alongside her aesthetic appreciation (Mama).

Sometimes there are advantages to artists not being particularly famous outside their own country. Or, y’know, enforced nationalisation of aristocratic possessions.

Mind you, regarding the tour, Mama wonders if it might not be a good idea to give more casual visitors an indication of the absolute must sees for a shorter version, or provide an alternative more overview focused guide. But the descriptions are excellent, and you learn a lot about the individual pictures, the artist, and the cultural, political and sociological context surrounding them.

Mama was amused to note that not all of the paintings are described in glowing terms. The experts are not afraid to say when they consider that the painter has made a fist of depicting the lightnshadows, for example, and their critiques take in even some of the images which are, for the people of the Former Soviet Union, as familiar as the Sunflowers, The Hay Wain or the Mona Lisa are to someone like Mama.

My Excellent Big Brother and I are now resigned to viewing art with Mama, but to be fair, Mama has got better at showing us around. She is quite prepared to cover the whole building in less than an hour, makes sure we are well fed and have had a run around before we go in, takes pencils and paper in case we want to do some copying and shamelessly bribes us with a promised trip to MacDonald’s after we have finished.

As it turns out, you are not supposed to sit on the floor and sketch in the Old Tretyakov Gallery.

We discovered this when we tried to draw our favourite painting, the Three Bogatyrs. My Excellent Big Brother likes it because it is of three famous characters from Russian fairy tales, one of which Mama pretends he is named after. I like it because they are sitting on three magnificent horses. Plus, it’s huge, brightly-coloured and not at all depressing, which Mama discovered is not at all true about many of the other paintings she usually likes to linger over.

Vasnetsov's Three Bogatyrs at the Tretyakov Gallery

One in particular made my Excellent Big Brother cry. It’s the one where the soldiers of the Strelki Guard are waiting with their distraught families on Red Square to be executed, overlooked by a vengeful Peter the Great (on a horse!). The Strelki, as a unit, being the ones who brutally murdered his family when Peter was a boy.

Surikov's Streltsi and Peter the Great at the Tretyakov Gallery

Perhaps Mama should not have explained the background to that one.

She managed to restrain herself when it came to Ivan the Aptly-Named Terrible desperately cradling his son, after he had bludgeoned him to death in a rage and rushed us past it before we could ask, even though it is a painting she finds particularly powerful.

Repin's Ivan and Son at the Tretyakov Gallery

Mama also decided that some of her other favourite paintings, the bitingly satirical commentaries on contemporary society, might also require a rather sophisticated explanation, although she did point out the somewhat heartbreaking troika of three poor children employed in the freezing cold as water barrel movers. Mama feels we should occasionally appreciate our comfortable lifestyles more than we do, specially when we are pestering her for new toys.

Perov's Troika at the Tretyakov Gallery

Luckily the painter, Perov, seems to have sold out later and done a cheerful hunting scene. Be sure to press the button for the commentary on this one. It is magnificently scathing.

She also declined to comment on the fate of this young lady. I think she must be Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and we all know that turns out ok in the end. In the Disney version, mutters Mama, darkly. And it’s true that this girl does not have red hair (or much pink about her).

Flavitsky's Tarakanova at the Tretyakov Gallery

The Russians also seem to have gone to war a lot. Mama resigned herself to the inevitable and we spent time contemplating what the artists’ views about war were, whether they wanted to glorify the victory or highlight something else.

Mama herself seems to be broadly against war. She thinks that these paintings, by a man who was there for one, tell you everything you should know about it, then and now.

Vereshchagin Apotheosis of War at the Tretyakov Gallery

My Excellent Big Brother was more struck by the personal tragedy of this one. Or it might have been the vultures that caught his eye.

Vasnetsov's Erruption at the Tretyakov Gallery

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

There are a number of famous Russians in the gallery. The first set of rooms is full of paintings of people with very big grey hair and very big fancy clothes. Mama pointed out that at the time, there were no cameras and if you wanted a picture of yourself or your loved ones, you had to pay someone to spend hours bringing you to life on paper. She asked us who we thought got painted.

My Excellent Big Brother decided on kings and queens and so we looked for some of them in each room. And found them! Mama’s favourite painting is the one of Peter III where you can see the considerable difference between the sketch and the finished picture, which goes to show airbrushing is certainly not a new idea. Here is the cleaned up version. I shall leave the probably-more-accurate quick fire one to your imagination.

Antropov's Peter III at the Tretyakov Gallery

My Excellent Big Brother prefers the one of the benign elderly lady walking her dog in her dressing gown, which Mama says is almost certainly a through misreading of the piece given that this is an Empress called Catherine the Great, although also an interesting departure from the pomp and circumstance of previous portraits. My Excellent Big Brother doesn’t care. He just likes the dog.

Borovikovsky's Catherine the Great at the Tretyakov Gallery

I like the pretty woman with the froth of wispy hair. Mama says she’s not a princess, but I knew that already. Not enough pink.

Levitsky's Mniszek at the Tretyakov Gallery

After this we passed into a room with lots of paintings of ruins, none of which we were very interested in, although it did have a portrait of Pushkin, who is a poet. You can tell he is an important poet because they have a little rope barrier in front of the painting in case you try to throw yourself at it in an excess of artistic sensibility or something. Mama says I will doubtless be finding out more about just how important he is shortly, when I start learning large swathes of his rhymes off by heart, just like my Excellent Big Brother has already. I am looking forward to that, I can tell you!

Kiprensky's Pushkin

Mama has recently managed to find a way to shoehorn Pushkin into my Excellent Big Brother’s English school homework. She is so proud.

Mama was a little disappointed to find that the section towards the end with the peasant girls swirling in bright red dresses was closed for refurbishment, but some of the pre-revolution impressionistic stuff was bright and jolly. Mama tried to get us to notice how the portraits here were so very very different in what they chose to highlight about their subjects from the ones that we’d seen at the beginning of the gallery, but my Excellent Big Brother was transfixed by the large pink naked woman lolling around on a sofa and wasn’t paying attention. Mama also wisely decided to give up on attempting to explain how the artists were painting light not things.

Kustodiyev's Beauty

People are not the only thing to see at the Old Tretyakov Gallery, however. There are also a lot of religous themes, and surprisingly many of them are without trauma. Mama enjoys this very bright and busy one, which apparently took the artist 20 years to complete. It’s called Christ’s First Appearance to the People. We played hunt the Christ. My Excellent Big Brother, he of the two churches education, had no trouble picking Him out. But Mama thinks the fun of this painting is looking at the some of the many many preliminary drawings the artist did on the surrounding walls.

See how John the Baptist starts life as a woman! Watch as the artist experiments with getting just the right amount of skepticism into Thomas the Doubter’s expression! Thrill at the way the amazing curls of John the Beloved take shape!

Ivanov's Appearance of Christ at the Tretyakov Gallery

Mama, who clearly can’t resist poking a sleeping bear where religion is concerned, also had us look at two less flattering paintings. This one is, as my Excellent Big Brother twigged, is of a controversy within the church. Must have been a hell of an issue. Mama says, yes, something to do with the number of fingers it is appropriate to cross yourselves with. She also says, make sure you listen to the description of this one. Apparently, the artist (Perov again) got the composition ALL WRONG (it’s possible the commentators have something against Perov).

Perov's Dispute on Faith at Tretyakov Gallery

They don’t have anything against Repin. Repin is one of the truly great painters represented in the gallery. Mama and Papa once watched an episode of a programme called the Antiques Roadshow where a Repin painting turned up, fresh from somebody’s attic. Mama and Papa a) spat their tea right across the room when the expert revealed the name and b) marvelled at the coolness of the owner, until they realised he had know idea who Repin was. A mistake. The painting was worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Quite why he is great is easy to see from the Ivan painting above and the one of the religious procession. Not only is every last person in the crowd exquisitely rendered and completely individual, but nobody will be saying the composition is a bit shaky or the satire a bit overdone. At first glance, it looks like an uncomplicated drawing of a cheerfully colourful parade, a happy occasion in the life of the small town. When you start looking more carefully, it’s the beautiful devout cripple you notice first. Only later do you realise that he has been marginalised by the rest of society, and that the mass of faces behind him are marred by expressions of pride, boredom, irritation or other unbecoming emotions.

Repin's Easter Procession at the Tretyakov Gallery

If that’s a bit much, admire the painting of his daughter, the dragonfly. Looks a bit like me, huh?

Repin's Dragonfly at the Tretyakov Gallery

We didn’t do the icons though. Mama likes icons, as they are all significance and very little artistic flourish, but they are right at the end of the show, and by that time we were showing signs of restiveness. You could probably come just for the icons if that is your bag, Mama thinks. There are a lot of them, they are very old, and some of them work miracles. Mama, unfortunately, has never yet had the energy to appreciate them properly after hauling herself round the rest of the gallery.

We did appreciate the animal interest available at the Old Tretyakov Gallery though! This is Shishkin, who is famous for painting trees, bears and bears hugging trees, although if Mama’s audio guide is correct, he contracted out the bears in his most famous picture.

Shishkin's Bears at the Tretyakov Gallery

Mama knew she’d spent too long hanging with the Russians when she started to feel fondly for the tourist tat knock offs on the Arbat rather than wondering who the hell the vendors think would by such insipid twaddle.

Shishkin knock offs on the Arbat

Of course, there’s a whole shop devoted to Thomas Kincaid in London.

Mama also realised she has developed alarmingly sentimental feelings for some of the great landscape paintings.

Levitan's Vladimirka at the Tretyakov Gallery

We, however, were not in the slightest bit interested, even in the ones with what Mama insists is a virtuoso performance in how to capture light without resorting to reducing everything to pixels. She says you should google Kuindzhi, or, better, visit Russia and the Old Tretyakov Gallery, because computer screens really don’t do him justice.

Kuindzhi's Night on the Dneiper at the Tretyakov Gallery

We preferred the Rooks Returning. Mama says it is a deeply meaningful meditation on the impact of their climate on the Russians and their though processes. We just admired the birds. My Excellent Big Brother even managed to copy it because we found this room empty of attendants before we got told off for sitting on the floor in front of our knights.

Savrasov's Rooks Returning at the Tretyakov Gallery

And then there was the picture of the fly (with some fruit). Mama wanted to discuss whey the artist has painted the fly, although I suspect my Excellent Big Brother thought the real question was why bother with the vegetation? We decided the fly might lend realism, or be a joke, or show how beautiful things can have their dark side, or just represent a moment when a fly landed on a pear an artist was painting. What do you think?

Khrutskaya's Flowers, Fruit and Fly at the Tretyakov Gallery

But of course the highlight was the big black horse prancing towards the viewer with a young lady elegantly sidesaddle on its back. I like her little sister too. Cute! Like me!

Bryullov's Rider at the Tretyakov Gallery

And in the shop in jigsaw form! Mama feels that the shop, like others at the tourist attractions of Moscow, misses too many opportunities to fleece the tourists. She thinks it focuses a little too much on large glossy art books. But she has found the odd one or two things she she likes here in the past, notably the mugs covered in signatures by famous artists and collections of postcards, and she certainly appreciated the puzzle on the plane back to London.

The gallery also sports a cafe, which we had a brief look into. It is neither wildly cheap nor ruinously expensive, and serves a decent selection of hot Russian classics and cake in comfortable attractive surroundings. She wished she could have been sure it was open before we went, because in the end we held Mama to our promised trip to the golden arches back near the Metro. Mama was unsuccessful once again to place her order for two happy meals and a fillet of fish without incident. It’s a basic tourist fail is not managing to order successfully in MacDonald’s and we are all thoroughly ashamed. I predict Mama is going to insist on us eating local next time.

If you do not have a date with fast food planned, Mama recommends turning left as you exit and walking down the pedestrianised street to the canal, where you will find many iron trees covered with heart shaped padlocks. This is one of the places where wedding parties come to celebrate their day, and you can kick back and watch a stream of beautifully dressed people take photos of each other, should you so wish.

Anyway. We found a lot to look at in the Old Tretyakov Gallery, and despite the ban on crayoning, the staff were welcoming and friendly to us small people. It’s a great place to go if you want to find out more about the Russia that existed before the revolution, and to delve a bit deeper into its history and culture.

Just don’t save the icon room until the end, if that’s what you are interested in. You’ll never make it.

And finally, here is another random painting Mama really likes, because there aren’t enough of them in this post already:

Polenov's Moscow Courtyard at the Tretyakov Gallery

It is Mama’s understanding that all of these images are in the public domain by virtue of the originals being old. If she is wrong, she is very willing to amend this post.

More Information

The Tretyakov Gallery website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about being an artist’s model.

Address: 10 Lavrushinsky Lane, Moscow, Russia 119017

Opening: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday: 10am to 6pm. Thursday and Friday: 10am to 9pm. Monday: CLOSED.

Admission: Adults – 450 rubles, children – 250 rubles, children under 7 – free. It is slightly cheaper if you can pass yourselves off as Russian. Good luck with that.

By Metro: Tretyakovskaya metro station (orange and yellow lines). Once you are out, you’ll be turning left and following the signs (in English and Russian). The very distinctive Old Tretyakov Gallery building is across a road and right round a corner. Try not to end up leaving by the connected green line station exit of Novuskusnetskaya as it’ll be a bit of a trek back. But on the upside, you’ll get to enjoy the newly nearly pedestrianised Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa.

By other means: Oh now really, no.

Summer Exhibition 2014, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Mama has always rather fancied going to the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. Preferably at the beginning of the 19th century sometime. But in the face of not knowing where to find a time machine, having to stump up actual cash for it and the absence of any real reason to go, she hasn’t, hitherto, gotten around to it.

people dressed in Regency clothes looking at paintings in the Summer Exhibition at Somerset House
The Summer Exhibition, formerly at Somerset House

Then Babushka’s birthday loomed. Babushka quite likes going to art galleries; there’s not much of a language barrier in art. But we’ve exhausted all the free ones. So Mama stifled her misgivings regarding Babushka’s reaction to the Tate Modern, seized the day and bought us all tickets to the RA’s 2014 Summer Blow Out.

The tickets are sold in half hour slots. We got there early for ours. Not a problem. The Royal Academy has a courtyard which at any time is a great place to let off a bit of steam safe from cars, wall to wall tourists and inconvenient flowerbeds. Now they have a little pop up cafe out there too, so I got to gambol about the cobblestones and Mama and Babushka got to sip coffee and admire the statue of a man waving a paintbrush in the air, decked out in a flower garland for the occasion. Mama says it’s Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is nice.

Once inside, I remembered the Royal Academy. It’s the place where you are allowed to touch, jump on, roll around in and add to all the things. Fabulous. As a result I was straight in there, rushing towards the brightly patterned man carrying cakes on his back, ready to have a go at trying to twist his head off. But Mama extracted herself from the business of getting the tickets checked, dodged smartly around a gaggle of slow moving, less encumbered patrons and scooped me up under her arm. You aren’t allowed to play with the pieces in this exhibition, which was a bit of a let down at first. I sulked my way through the first gallery.

Brightly patterned sculpture of a man carrying a pile of cakes on his back
Photo by Benedict Johnson, courtesy Royal Academy of Arts

The Twitter tag for the RA Summer Exhibition is #RANewAndNow, which we all agreed was an excellent title for it. It’s very obvious that this is contemporary art, and Mama assumes if you know what you are looking at you can probably sweep through the rooms and come out with a decent overview of what themes and techniques are current or up and coming in the art world. But anyone can enjoy it. It’s eclectic, vibrantly colourful and ever so slightly bonkers in places.

Summer Exhibition 2014 at the Royal Academy of Arts
Photo by Benedict Johnson, courtesy Royal Academy of Arts

Of course, Babushka does not really appreciate bonkers in art the way Mama does. Mama gets a kick out of microphone stands set up with a hairbrush in place of actual amplification equipment. Babushka, by and large, does not. She also wonders why anyone would want to make a portrait of a grubby bathroom, let alone give it a prize. But there is a decent sprinkling of perfectly well-drawn representations of actual things of inherent beauty about the exhibition and also flowers, so she was perfectly well catered for overall.

Summer Exhibition 2014 at Royal Academy of Arts
Photo by Benedict Johnson, courtesy Royal Academy of Arts

One of my favourite rooms was the one with all the small paintings. Mama gathers that this is a traditional way to hang this space, but the artist in charge had also clearly gone out of their way to refute any charges of conventionality. My Super Big Brother would have approved of all the animal portraits, especially the collage-like owls. I really enjoyed the large red robot rampaging through Margate. The washed out Mini Mouse worried me though. I don’t really approve of messing with the Mouse cannon. Big fan here. Not enough bows there.

The room with all the dolls houses was pretty cool too, especially the building with all the smiley, frowny, crying stick people. And the lights. I was looking for some buttons to turn them on and off. There didn’t seem to be any though. Next year, perhaps. I was also pleased to see that there were quite a few horses dotted about the galleries. The video near the end was probably the best for fans of all things equine. Like me! Can’t beat a bit of hooves thundering through the surf action. But I was delighted by the 3D effect picture of the unicorns in the woods. Mama thinks I have not realised the significance of their being surrounded by ravening dogs. Nonsense! I am confident they will reach a peaceful solution in the end.

At some point we found out that you can buy most of what is on display. Mama is not sure how she feels about this. For her, it means that she immediately starts to see every painting through the eye of an interior designer rather than as a piece to be savoured as, y’know, Art. Will that, she worries, go with the cushions in the living room? Then she starts to judge all the pieces by how much they cost, which is irritating as one of the nice things about the exhibition is not really knowing at first glance which canvases are done by the established artists and which by the unknowns. As it turns out, she has expensive tastes. Her favourite paintings were on for not less that £4,500. Two children with their faces obscured by the ornaments of birds they were looking at. Mama feels this is, more or less, how my Super Big Brother should be immortalised, albeit it would work better as a window on his inner soul if it was done with actual wildlife.

The one I want, however, is £100,000, which is much more reasonable. Ones and naughts can’t be that much. A bicycle with wheels made out of metal flowers. We watched the video of somebody taking it for a spin around London three times before Mama dragged me away. It’s called the Two Nuns, although why, Mama could not explain to me. Shame it’s so long until my next birthday, but on the other hand I can’t ride a bike yet, so perhaps it is better to wait.

I also liked the climbing frame in the room with the big bit of burnt tree. The climbing frame you can’t actually climb on. Clearly some kind of artistic comment on the futility of something or other. Very clever. Mama was relieved to find the charcoal lump. She’d been wondering whether she was imagining the aroma of charred wood since she walked in to the gallery, or if she had missed the massive news story of the first version of the Summer Exhibition burning down. It was great to find out that it was all just part of the plan. She does wonder who would pay £54, 000 for that very intrusive smell though. Perhaps a hermetically sealed room? She has given some thought to this. There go holidays for the next few years then.

The exhibition took us just under an hour, Mama would have gone back for another go round, there’s just so much to see, but Babushka and I overruled her.

We went home via Green Park and Buckingham Palace. Mama had to carry me most of the way as we had left the scooter at home. The Royal Academy has a very small cloakroom, and although they let her take the pushchair in last time, Mama didn’t think trying to cope with that while trying to protect the artwork from me was a good idea. There were ice creams all round, and we all got to watch people spreading gravel with a determined display of righteous hard work in front of the Queen’s house for ages. It’s hard to knock off for a cigarette when you know you’ll get photographed by 500 tourists as soon as you do. Mama says.

Anyway. While there were some serious points being made by some of the artists, the overwhelming impression of the Royal Academy’s 2014 Summer Exhibition when you are pushing through it at the speed of the whimsy of a three year old and a seventy *cough* year old is one of cheerful colour, good humour and celebration. Almost irresistible. Mama is quietly determined to go again next year. And I can’t say as how I’d protest that much.

Our thanks to the Royal Academy of Arts for letting us use some of their photos, taken by Benedict Johnson. If you watch the video, you should be able to spot some of our favourites.

More Information

The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2014 website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the question of what is art – Constantin Brancusi’s bird. Or kitchen utensil?

Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

Opening: The Summer Exhibition runs until 17th August 2014. Sat to Thurs 10am -6pm, Fri 10am -10pm.

Price: £13.50 for adults, concessions £11.50, under 16s go free.

By tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines) and Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines). 

By bus: Lots of buses!

By car: Just don’t.

Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

The success of the recent(ish) Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts can probably be summed up by my reaction to the first installation we came across.

I stopped short and breathed WOW! in an awed voice.

 A huge squareish wooden War of the Worlds alien dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room

Well, you would wouldn’t you? A huge square wooden War of the Worlds alien, dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room, complete with gold angel trimmings? It was impressive stuff, especially when it turned out you could scramble up and down twisty steps in the legs or run up and down a series of shallow ramps to get into the box on top and squint though slits at the punters below or the ceiling mouldings above.

We did that a lot. I do like a good staircase. My Wonderful Big Brother liked the ramps. Mama liked the spy holes. Something for everyone.

We also approved of the room with the tunnel of straws. Of course, manual dexterity is not really my Wonderful Big Brother’s thing, so he didn’t really get involved in the suggested activity of adding our own creations made from long coloured plastic tubes. And I would have preferred removing the fruit of the other visitors’ labour. But it was nice to be able to touch something so visually attractive and tactile, and nice to see the many many adults’ little faces all lit up as they all threw themselves enthusiastically into the crafting opportunity.

Adults adding brightly coloured straws to a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Next up was dashing around a stick-walled maze, interspersed with lots of little wooden wendyhouse type rooms for us to explore. At its heart was a pebble room, which made truly satisfying crunchy noises as we stomped around it. We spent quite a bit of time in there building cairns. Just like being at the beach! Without all the inconvenience of being boiled by the relentless sun, covered in eye-stinging sunscreen, getting sticky from ice cream, or having to deal with all that salty wet stuff. Mama definitely approved, and wonders why more playgrounds don’t replace the unpleasantly gritty sandpit with a nice pebble box instead.

A pile of pebbles at the Royal Academy

Not everything was to our taste. There was an exhibit which mostly involved standing still and looking up rather than whizzing around and touching stuff which we were less impressed by although the big people seemed entranced. And while Mama LOVED the dark rooms with the mysteriously lit thin sticks we all thought looked like fire, I found it positively frightening  refusing to let her into the second part altogether, and my Wonderful Big Brother lost interest when he realised he wasn’t allowed to fling himself into the middle of the flames.

Thin bamboo sticks twisted into flames and lit up in the dark

 

But overall it was by far the most interesting high art experience Mama has dragged us off to, and it’s a shame she can’t recommend it because it has now closed, and the various exhibits sold off.

There is a wider point Mama wants to make here though.

The reason we went to this exhibition in the first place was because the RA had made an effort to market it at parents and their children, going so far as to host a get together of Brit Mums bloggers in their cafe (with the opportunity to go round Sensing Spaces for free afterwards). The reason why we went back with my Wonderful Big Brother in tow and paid actual money to get in was because Mama was impressed on this visit by the staffs’ genuine commitment and enthusiasm for getting the kids in and letting them have at it, and damn the noise and sticky fingers. Even the doorman was jolly.

Admittedly, this sort of attitude did encourage all the many many kids who were subsequently taken along to Sensing Spaces to think of the exhibition as a playground, and so the whole experience was a tad confusing as we were all were alternately encouraged to get stuck in and then sharply pulled up when we did, nearly bowling over an elderly art patron or shattering a large mirror in the process. As a result, the air did rather ring with desperate cries of ‘Not quite THAT fast/ loud/ energetically, honeypie!’ as the exhibition did rather too good a job of stimulating us. Mama also wondered if the non-children-encumbered patrons were enjoying the chaos as much. But the atmosphere seemed pretty good humoured, and our enthusiasm certainly got a lot of amused glances. She is forced to conclude that perhaps everybody was secretly delighted by the opportunity to wreak a bit of havoc in an art gallery.

Long colourful straws inserted into a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Anyway. Mama thinks the Royal Academy might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s a wrench, of course, to part with a full £14 in a city where there is so much free stuff to enjoy, but certainly the next time they say their latest offering is child-friendly, then we should probably believe them. And if they say it often enough, there are membership options to consider. Just leave the pushchairs at home. There isn’t room in the cloakroom.

More Information

The Royal Academy of Arts’ website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the world’s most beautiful buildings.

Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD.

Opening: Sat to Thurs 10am -6pm, Fri 10am -10pm.

Price: This exhibition was £14 for adults, under 17s free.

By tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines) and Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines). 

By bus: Lots of buses!

By car: Just don’t.