Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baltschug Boasts Superb 'Sketches'




A new exhibition and sale in the Atrium Gallery of the Baltschug-Kempinski Hotel boasts a very worthy collection of modern works by Russian painters and sculptors. Unfortunately, the effect of the many fine pieces is diminished by the presence of numerous mediocrities, included, it would seem, solely because they were done by famous artists.


The exhibition, "Sketches of Time," is the sixth that Atrium has staged in the Baltschug. It is being held to stunning effect in the atrium of the hotel, a vast indoor courtyard in the shape of a symmetrical trapezium. The current show includes more than 300 paintings by 70 artists, ranging in price from $150 to $9,500.


Unsurprisingly, in a show covering over a century of artistic endeavor, the range of media and style is vast. At one end of the scale there are works such as "Sketch of a Horse" (1879, $1,900) by Nikolai Sverchkov (1817-1898), arguably the most famous equestrian painter of the 19th century, whose paintings feature prominently from museums in Saratov to auctions at Sotheby's. At the other, there are works as modern in spirit and technique as Sergei Serezhin's bronze sculpture of "Europe and the Bull" (1997, $1,500).


Serezhin's bronze is one of the most outstanding works in the exhibition. It refers to the famous myth of the Rape of Europa, in which the beautiful maiden Europa is abducted from a beach by a lust-lorn god who disguises himself as a white bull. The theme has inspired countless artists ranging from the seventeenth-century French painter Poussin to Russian Valentin Serov.


Serezhin, however, does not simply produce yet another treatment of a hackneyed theme, but rather turns the entire topos on its head. His maiden is no terrified victim, but a busty lass who sits astride the bull in startled outrage. With her tightly-bound pony-tail streaming out behind her and her dress blowing up from behind to reveal little else in the way of clothing, she crosses her arms firmly under her breasts, determined to sit out this unexpected interruption to her schedule. The bull, on the other hand, seems anxious to unseat her. It is depicted charging ahead in a manner more fitting of a Spanish bull-ring than a god in love.


Other works by Serezhin reveal that he is as adept at capturing the sadder sides of life as he is satirizing well-known myths. "Lonely" (1996, $900), for example, is a masterpiece of understated emotion in bronze and stone. A tight-lipped, angular woman sits dwarfed in an enormous chair, which towers above her. Her pride and despair are reinforced by the rigid verticality of the piece, which recall the masterly portraits of Giacometti. One does not need to know the title Serezhin gave his work to know that this woman is lonely.


As Serezhin's spectacular sculpture demonstrates the strength of the exhibition lies very much in the modern works on show. "Woman in the House" (1964) by Alexander Tyshler (1898-1980), for example, is worth every penny of the $4,400 being asked for it. Not only is the bizarre head-and-shoulders portrait of a woman with a house-like contraption on her head entirely typical of Tyshler's surreal vision, but it is beautifully executed, with the painter's characteristic muted color scheme belying the latent humor in the work.


Unfortunately, these and other first-class works are greatly undermined by scribbles of little or no merit whatsoever that have been included simply by virtue of being penned by somebody famous. Examples of this are numerous. Drawings by the Russian impressionist, Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939), of nothing more than school-boy quality are offered for between $750 and $1,300.


Equally, Nikolai Ge, the deeply spiritual artist of paintings as tormented and tantalizing as "What is Truth? (Christ and Pontius Pilate)" in the Tretyakov Gallery would turn in his grave to see a graphite smudge bearing his name selling for $900. The work is optimistically entitled "Evening," as if it actually depicted anything recognizable. It is more likely nothing more than the piece of paper against which the artist sharpened his pencil.


Finally, Isaac Levitan (1860-1900), one of the most elusive and atmospheric of Russian landscapists, is represented by the sort of doodles he would have made while talking to his mother on the telephone, had it been commonly used in his day. Levitan's thin and wobbly drawings, such as "Copse" and "On the Outskirts" (both 1890s) are asking prices ranging from $850 to $1,000. In contrast the larger, better painted and far more substantial "University in Winter" (1954) by Konstantin Dorokhov (1906-1960), is asking a mere $750. In Dorokhov's painting the unmistakable silhouette of Moscow State University shimmers behind a winter landscape as cold and compelling as that of Monet's celebrated "Magpie" in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.


The organizers of the exhibition should have had the courage of their convictions and stuck to promoting "University in Winter" and other excellent works by modern masters, whose potential they obviously recognize. Instead, and to the exhibition's detriment, they have felt the need to pad these out with mediocre works by 19th-century celebrities.


"Sketches of Time" is on in the Atrium of the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel until Dec. 22. Open from Monday to Saturday, 2-8 p.m.