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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

50 Years of Russian and German Art

In what promises to be one of the biggest events in the Moscow art world this year, the Pushkin Museum is opening on Tuesday "Moscow-Berlin, 1900-1950," a massive, eclectic collection of Russian and German art from the first half of the century.

Over 2,000 items from private and museum collections in Russia, Germany and the United States have been gathered to present a vibrant picture of a tumultuous time when Germany and Russia wrestled ideologically and battled each other in two world wars.

The exhibit itself, which showed in Berlin last fall, was conceived at the most critical time in the second half of the century for both nations. "This is a very controversial exhibit. It was being put together during the time when Germany was reuniting and Russia was falling apart," said Mikhail Shvydkoi, deputy Russian minister of culture, at Monday's press conference on "Moscow-Berlin."

One of the strengths of the exhibit is its discipline-spanning breadth, from the best-known works of Russian realist painter Valentin Serov to an architectural model of the gloomy, industrial Leningradskaya Pravda building to the weird 1919 bronze work of German sculptor Rudolph Belling and costume designs from early Soviet theater productions.

Perhaps because "Moscow-Berlin" covers tremendous historical and artistic ground, it is at times overwhelming. Ten rooms -- the entire second floor -- of the Pushkin are devoted to the exhibit, which is arranged chronologically rather than by discipline. Strange juxtapositions can result. For example, a beautifully intricate wood-and-metal model of Alexei Shchusev's Kazansky Vokzal in Moscow stands right next to a rare collection of old photo archives and Russian and German copies of the works of Alexander Blok, Valery Brusov and Maxim Gorky. Jarring or not, "Moscow-Berlin" provides a kind of one-stop cultural shopping for those who don't have the time to visit such disparate venues as Moscow's Museum of Architecture or the Literary Fund.

Judging by the public response in Berlin, the Pushkin's exhibit is likely to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. From the day it opened last fall in Berlin, hordes of people came from all over Europe to see it.

Germans, especially, were fascinated by the never-before-seen German realist paintings art of the 1930s and 1940s that told the powerful story of that country's eventual near-destruction. The parallels between that German work and Soviet propagandistic art from the same period are striking. Both styles are disturbingly unnatural, tasteless and pathetic in their crude desire to get a message across, as in "Hitler at the Front," a huge oil painting showing the dictator on the battlefield surrounded by adoring infantrymen.

"Moscow-Berlin" is a great departure from the academic and staid Pushkin Museum's usual fare. Ascending the lush red carpeting on the grand staircase leading to the second floor, you immediately get a sense that something is different as a graceful, sweeping two-meter steel model of Moscow's Shabolovskaya television designed by Vladimir Shukhov comes into view. The first hall features architectural designs of the early 20th century, including several projects from the reconstruction of the historic center of Berlin between 1910 and 1915.

From there, some of the highlights include a room showing the non-traditional trend in the art of the early 20th century with works like Aristarkh Lentulov's 1913 "Moscow. Paneaux." The giant oil features a bouquet of multi-colored house roofs of different architectural styles mixed with church domes, symbolizing the instability of that troubled time. Along with Lentulov's paintings are less-known works by abstract pioneer Vasily Kandinsky borrowed from Russian provincial museums, mixed matter works by Mikhail Larionov and Ilya Mashkov's remarkable "A Portrait of an Unknown Man with a Flower in His Lapel." Among the Germans the most prominent are the expressionist paintings of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Groups of rooms are divided thematically by the unorthodox -- for the Pushkin Museum -- use of the music of Skryabin and Schonberg played over stereo systems.The music is only faintly audible in some rooms -- in the one displaying avant-garde works, for example. Here, too, there was a noticeable absence of explanatory labels. As Pushkin Museum director Irina Antonova explained during Monday's preview, "If something is not ready, excuse us. It will be ready by the opening for the public."

According to Antonova, not all the works on display in Berlin made it to Moscow because some owners refused to part with their property for that long. But, she said, "it didn't spoil the Moscow exhibit because the missing works were substituted with works no less interesting."

"Moscow-Berlin" runs through the end of June at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, which is located at 12 Ulitsa Volkhonka and is open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. except for Monday. A general admission ticket is good for entrance to the exhibit. Tel. 203-9578. Nearest metro: Kropotkinskaya.