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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sculptor of Monumental Repute

It is fitting that the ?migr? sculptor Ernst Neizvestny announced the launch of his arts foundation in a Moscow casino, because the venture is something of a gamble. Not only is the artist almost sure to lose money, but a monument dedicated to the millions who died in Stalin's gulags depends on Neizvestny's success.


"My foundation is not a charity," proclaimed Neizvestny, who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1975, at a crowded press conference. "It is an investment in the cultural future of Russia."


The Neizvestny Foundation has three main aims: To discover talented young artists in the Russian provinces, to give grants and to organize exhibits of Russian artists here and abroad. Its creation comes at a time when state support for the arts has collapsed, and few private firms find room in their budgets for aiding culture.


The foundation's first task will be to finance the construction of a monument to the victims of Stalin's purges that Neizvestny has already designed. The memorial is in fact three sculptures, one to be put in Magadan, one in Vorkutia and one in the sculptor's native Yekaterinburg.


"I envisioned a 'Triangle of Suffering,' because these three places were the gateways to the gulags," said Neizvestny, 68, one of the most popular artists of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras.


A lot of people have donated money for the work, but most of the donations have been small -- and from sources one might not expect. "We have received money from victims, scientists, KGB agents -- people from all walks of life," Neizvestny said. "It will be a monument for everybody."


Nevertheless, money is still short, and the project has met some political opposition. Neisvestny says that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Yekaterinburg is against such a monument because it is not in the church's tradition to support such projects. But clergy in Vorkutia and Magadan, Neizvestny says, have been very helpful and have even contributed money. The most noteworthy donor may be another native of Yekaterinburg, President Boris Yeltsin, who gave 45 million rubles (about $22,000) from the proceeds of his book "The Struggle for Russia" for construction of the monument. Mezhcombank is also on board. Nevertheless, another 90 million rubles are needed to complete the project, Neizvestny said.


As a member of the Soviet Union of Artists, Neizvestny was one of few Russian sculptors to have his works exhibited abroad, in London, Paris, Rome, Geneva and Vienna. His two most famous commissions while he lived in the Soviet Union were "Lotus Blossom," an 87-meter high sculpture atop the Aswan Dam in Egypt; and the black and white marble tombstone of Nikita Khrushchev at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.


But Neizvestny remained active in the underground art world, particularly with the journal Metropol, and was exiled to Switzerland in 1975. He moved to the United States a year later, where he sculpted a bronze bust of Dmitry Shostakovich for the Kennedy Center in Washington.


Although he resides permanently in the United States, Neizvestny wants to help Russian artists through these harsh economic times and build a framework for future support with his foundation.


Neizvestny, who was probably the best monumental artist the Soviet Union knew, discounted the idea that public memorials are anachronistic now that the Soviet Union has fallen. When asked what should be done with remaining Soviet monuments, he said:"Save them. They are history. Even though people never learn from history, it should never be destroyed. Statues of evil people should have a plaque attached that lists their crimes."