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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Neizvestny Unveils New Sculpture

Ernst Neizvestny, the internationally acclaimed artist who has been living abroad since 1976, was greeted with a tricolor of balloons and a military orchestra as he came to unveil his new monument in Moscow, his first project in the city in over 25 years.

The sculpture, called Rebirth, was commissioned by a new business consultancy and development center, the National Institute of Corporate Reforms, where the unveiling took place.

Eclipsed by the myriad of high-ranking officials in attendance - including Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroyev, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko and Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais - Neizvestny, 75, managed to squeeze in only a few words about his new work, which he said symbolizes the rebirth of domestic business and future prosperity.

"This monument will defend Russia from evil forces," said the sculptor, who emigrated as a result of increasing friction with Soviet authorities over his "unofficial" art.

The 5-meter tall monument, portraying the Archangel Michael with a sword in his hand, was hewed from beige stone specially brought by the artist from Jerusalem to underscore the spiritual nature of the project.

But, for the ceremony's organizers, business was more in the spotlight than art, as speakers presented the new institute, which is located in a recently renovated 18th-century mansion that once belonged to the industrialist and generous arts patron Timofei Morozov.

"Today in this small courtyard, Russian business and Russian culture have united as one," Chubais said.

Rebirth is Neizvestny's second work in Moscow.

The first marks the grave of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at Novodevechy cemetery: Khrushchev's larger-than-life head is half black and half white to represent the changing positions of the controversial leader - who personally condemned and cursed Neizvestny's art in 1962.

Another of Neizvestny's monumental sculptures, The Mask of Mourning, was erected in the northern city of Magadan to commemorate the many gulag victims who died there.

"That project cost me a great deal: I lost $120,000 of my own money, I lost my nails working in the deep frost," said Neizvestny in an interview on Tuesday.

While in Moscow, he confirmed that he still hopes to follow through with his long-time pet project, the Tree of Life, inspired by Futurist painter Vladimir Tatlin.

The Tree of Life sculpture was initially set to measure 150 meters in height. But when preliminary estimates put the price tag at $50 million, the planned size shrank to a less ambitious 7 meters.

Neizvestny said a Moscow location for the Tree of Life has been agreed upon with Mayor Yury Luzhkov, though he did not say where it would be erected.

While neither Neizvestny nor the institute would disclose the cost of the Rebirth project, the sculptor's work can go for a hefty price.

For example, the Salomon Brothers brokerage in London purchased Neizvestny's Centaur for $240,000.

Neizvestny, who recently received Russia's Order of Honor from then-acting President Vladimir Putin, has said before that it would be difficult for him to return to Russia.

"If I were a poet, I would be here, but sculpture means production facilities. In order to create those facilities, I spent 20 years in the States," he said.