The art of the USSR

Website of collector Mihaila Arefyeva

Mikhail Arefyev's collector

The collection of paintings and Mikhail Arefyev's schedules started being formed since 2004. The sculpture appeared in a collection since 2010. Now meeting totals more than 700 units of painting and graphics and more than 40 sculptures. Works presented in Mikhail Arefyev's meeting begin from 20 years of the XX century and come to an end with the XX century end. The 1st part of meeting is now printed in Berlin: "Art from the USSR", including 190 works of painting and graphics of the Soviet artists. The 2nd part of a collection where more than 40 sculptural works will be presented together with painting and graphics prepares for the edition.

1.The Scope and Peculiarities of M. Arefyev’s collection.

In my opinion there are few collectors who would collect contemporary paintings as tenaciously and passionately, insisting on their personal taste, as Mikhail Arefyev does. And he likes spirited paintings and textural paintings that have rich hues and are through and through earth-bound, in whose images and themes people and their toil on the native soil, their pleasures and their grief are alive. For him the guiding criterion in this is authenticity, ethical and artistic truth in art, for which N. P. Karacharskov, one of the oldest contemporary painters of Chuvashiya, found exact words: “In order to lay the soul of one’s people bare in pictures, to be deeply conscious of one’s heroes, one needs to know their lives well, their pleasures and their woes, their holidays and every day life; and to know this not only through newspapers, magazines, books, radio or television. You have to live side by side with them, see them and be in contact with them day by day. Only then will you really understand. In addition to this, I don’t know a more grateful spectator. Throughout the 30 years of my work in the countryside, I have never seen indifferent faces at our exhibitions. This light of their souls is the moving force of our creativity.” (N. Karacharskov. Painting. Graphic Art. Exhibition catalogue, M. 1987). Without any doubt this is exactly what is meant by the broad term of “realism”, which is also possibly the best way to characterize the scope and the peculiarities of M. Arefyev’s collection of paintings.

2. The Works of Sergey Malyutin.

It is also the reason for his preference of traditional genres – still lifes, landscapes and genre-pictures. At present the collection comprises works created from the 1920’s up to the end of the century. By right of seniority a survey of the collection should start with Sergey Malyutin. He was an artist of many talents (painter, graphic artist, theatre decorator, interior designer), member of “The World of Art”, the “Union of Russian Artists”, the fellowship of itinerant artexhibitions. In 1922 he became one of the founders of the Society of Artists of Revolutionary Russia, uniting supporters of the realistic tradition of Russian art. Portraits were always the strong side of Malyutin’s work, portraits, in which, according to I. Grabar, “his mastery, knowledge, feeling and artistic intuition celebrate the highest victory”. In the 1920’s he continued his portrait gallery, which he had started as early as the 1920’s with portraits of writers and artists. Now not only representatives of the creative intelligentsia attracted his attention, but also scientists, medical doctors, engineers, the part of the intelligentsia that remained loyal to the Soviet power and that put its knowledge, experience and talent to the service of the new Russia. One of this pleiad is I. A. Dobzhinskiy. His portrait, as well as other portraits painted by Malyutin, is splendidly composed, the head and the hands – “the two main components of the human character” (A. Grabar) are expressively sculpted, the relation of the colours results in quiet harmony. All in all the figure is distinguished by the accuracy of the characterization of the hero and his time.

3. Painting of the first half of the twentieth century.

Fyodor Bogorodskiy, author of a canonized history of the Soviet art of the “sailor-brethren” and homeless children, whose biography might have been turned into the subject matter of an adventure novel (the son of a well-known lawyer and a simple peasant woman, law student, circus artist, commissar and many, many other things, and all the time also an artist), is represented in Arefyev’s collection by intimate works of painting and graphic art. The watercolour “The Market Place in Kozmodemyansk” was apparently brought back from a creative working journey to Chuvashiya and the Mari Province in the summer of 1925. The drawing “Sailor with Girlfriend and Harmonica” (1930) is associated with a series of works on the circus and “entertaining” topics from the beginning of the 1930’s. His two paintings are characterized by a free, impressionist, artistic manner and at the same time by a deeply “personal” relationship to nature. Fyodor Antonov, Andrey Goncharov, Konstantin Vyalov, Alexander Deyneka are artists of one generation, who were united by their membership of the Society of Indoor Painters (OST), who combined the devotion to indoor paintings with the passion for the latest tendencies in art and scientific or technical achievements. The ensuing creative evolution, however, opened up new possibilities and facets of each artist’s talent. So F. Antonov’s creative manner changes considerably in the 1930’s towards the perception of the environment through painting, and together with that a new, warm and deeply felt relationship to man, which the artist was missing before that, the wish to pass on “a healthy feeling of life”, vivacity, energy and power. “Study of a Girl” (1930’s) is a vivid example of this. Without any doubt, the graphic work and the paintings by Sergey Koltsov are interesting, although Koltsov is better known for his sculptural works. “Tango” from the graphic series “Paris” (1928- 1930) and “The House of Malyuta Skuratov” (1932) are characterized by a high degree of graphic and painterly mastery. One of the central works of the collection is, without doubt, “Good Morning” by Alexander Deyneka, painted during the work on the cyclus of mosaics “People of the Land of the Soviets” (1959- 1962) for the Kremlin Convention Centre.

4. Painting of the second half of the twentieth century.

In the field of painting of the second half of the 20th century, M. Arefyev takes an interest in the works of masters who started to work at the end of the 50’s and who inherited ethical pathos and picturesqueness as the dominating qualities of the masters of the first half of the century. Many of them are still working today and the collector highly values the possibility of personal communication with the artists (this is why, in addition to the pictures, the catalogue contains documentary photographs that were made at opening-days and in workshops). The painters’ autographs on their works clearly augment the value of his collection. In this part of the collection, Mikhail Arefyev’s individual strategy as a collector has two directions that can be clearly discerned and that make him different from his colleagues. The first one is his interest not only and primarily in metropolitan art but also in art remote from Moscow and St. Petersburg, in the so-called Russian “backwaters”, in paintings from artists from the Russian regions: the Volga region, Central Russia, the Altay region, the Far East, the Republics of Chuvashiya, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and others.What can be seen as an absolute stroke of luck of the collector in this respect is the acquisition of works of the People’s Artists of the Russian Federation, M. Ya. Budkeev (Barnaul), V. F. Zhemerikin (Nizhniy Novgorod), A. V. Panteleev (Vologda), the People’s Artists of the Chuvash Republic N. P. Karacharskov and V. L. Nemcev and the Distinguished Artist of the RSFSR K. I. Shchebeko (Vladivostok), whose works are part of the collections of the leading museums of Russia and form the immortal, very best not only of M. Arefyev’s collection, but also of Russian contemporary painting. The second direction of the collection is the interest in the school of the outstanding masters of the second half of the 20th century, E. E. Moiseenko and A. A. Mylnikov. It is, of course, in a special way linked to the first mentioned, as many representatives of the regions in his collection are graduates of the I. E. Repin State Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of the Russian Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, who received their professional training in the workshops of the Academy masters. In various years I. M. Varichev, I. M. Kravcov, B. V. Lesov, I. M. Salcev, I. M. Shevchenko (Simferopol, Ukraine) studied with A. Mylnikov. P. P. Vasyukov (Donetsk, Ukraine), S. N. Kondrashov (Lugansk), V. N. Skobeev (Kazan), G. S. Starovoytov (Syktyvkar), V. P. Saenko (Kharkov), S. F. Fedorov (Cheboksary) and were all graduates of E. E. Moiseenko’s workshop.

5. Zonal Exhibitions.

Obviously, almost all of the artists in the collection of M. Arefyev are members of the Artists’ Union of the USSR and participants in Union, zonal, Russian and regional exhibitions. Especially the zonal exhibitions play a particular role in Soviet art of the 1960’s – 1980’s. The traditions of the zonal exhibitions were formed in the 1960’s and became an extremely important factor in the artistic life of the Russian Federation. The preparation of the first zonal exhibitions began soon after the founding of the Artists’ Union of the RSFSR in 1957 and immediately after the inaugural session of the Russian Artists’ Union in 1960. At that time the whole huge territory of the Russian Federation was divided into ten zones. From 1960 on republic-wide and from 1964 on zonal exhibitions were held.

6. Mikhail Arefyev is reconstructing the artistic space of the RSFSR. The relatively small collection of Mikhail Arefyev is again discovering this already somewhat forgotten subsoil of Russian art and is reconstructing to a certain degree the artistic space of the RSFSR. In his collection, the kind of Russian painting is represented that could be seen for decades at the zonal exhibitions “The Soviet North”, “Great Volga River”, “Socialist Urals” and “Socialist Siberia”, “The Soviet Far East”, “The Black-Earth Centre”, “The Soviet South”, Moscow and Leningrad. And together with the masters working in Uzbekistan and in the Ukraine this space is getting close to the borders of the former Soviet Union. The broad and unbiased look at contemporary art, which does not limit itself to the narrow circle of renowned painters but also takes account of new names, is one of the main attributes of M. Arefyev as a collector. This unique feature provides the resources for future growth of his collection which is far from being exhausted.

Olga Polyanskaya

Art Historian


T. S. Zelyukina
PhD in Art History, Scientific Assistant in the Department of Painting of the first
half of the 20th century at the State Tretyakovskiy Gallery

The Task of the Private Collector

Everything that has become the treasure-house, the depository of artistic memory, museums, galleries, that have formed our concepts of life and its perception, books on art – all this was started by those, who at some point, even before the time of Watteau and Diderot, were called “connoisseurs” and are now called “private collectors”. They were the first to devote themselves to the noble cause of selecting and preserving works of art, which led to the founding of the first museums and the creation of the great museums. The contemporary museum aims at creating an objective concept of the development of art. This is what constitutes its dignity but at the same time – its lack of freedom. An art collector is moved by love, he is free in his choice. Whichever item it is, that interests him, it is the only and, in its own way, invaluable layer of civilisation, which has links to history, to memory and to the array of knowledge and concepts, which constitute culture. And when we are speaking of a collection of works of art, of a collection of paintings, there are no words to express the value and splendour of this kind of activity. By the way, there is in this a certain paradox. A collector, who is committed to collecting pictures by Rembrandt or drawings by Degas, can hardly succeed in competition with a great museum. And this is not necessary either. He is capable of achieving something different, priceless in its own way. Based on his own choice, he can concentrate on one definite period, some personages that particularly interest him, or he can make his very own personal contribution to the knowledge of art and to an understanding of its yet undisclosed aspects, periods and names. This is the case with Mikhail Arefyev. A collector of pictures by our painters (mainly from the 1960s to the 1990s), a great number of which represent the painting of this period of time in a totally new and very praiseworthy way. And eventhough to us not all the names of these masters may sound at all familiar – they do lead to an understanding of the true value of what was shown in the exhibitions of this period and which has by no means lost its professional, artistic, and – I dare say – historic meaning; and they do this in an authoritative way. None of the museums, no matter how huge and rich, is in a position to take upon itself the permanent, practical and also spiritual “sustenance” that can be given to the historian and the practising painter (as well as achieving the recreation of the objective idea of the art of the past) by a collector, who is dedicated to a definite topic and motivated by his personal predilection.

Officially Accepted and other Art during the Period of “Socialist Realism”

Nowadays our memory is short-lived; the recent past has been simplified into a primitive scheme: all too often the past appears as the basic confrontation of the official “socialist realism” versus the valiant dissent, of the stupid versus the good, the “governmental” versus the free and valiant. This was the case, of course. There was the sycophantic art, aiming at prizes and subservience, titles and awards; there was also the unselfish devotion to forbidden experimentalism, the readiness for the dangerous fight for one’s convictions. The state insisted on the resemblance to real life, on life-affirming topics, on “ideological commitment”. The other-minded, not wishing to serve the regime, were adepts of free search, a creative attitude towards form, of what was reminiscent of the tradition of the Itinerants (painters of the 19th century realistic school). They were taking risks, letting their thoughts run free, and received the sympathy of liberal onlookers. And although their art was not always drawing upon the golden reservoir of professionalism and a strict school, they were and have remained an example of civil courage, of the honest service to pure art. With the progress of time, however, the simple differentiation between “pure” and “impure” has no relevance anymore. In place of the struggles between conflicting tendencies there is now the daily routine of personal choice. An irritated self-esteem, the loss of a “communal spirit”, the desire to survive and at the same time to be successful, the disappearance of a common enemy, the fact that perpetual self-affirmation is no longer necessary (on both sides), the collapse of the formerregime, the necessity to be responsible just for oneself – all this not only brought about a fundamental change in the practical aspects of art, but also in the assessment of art, which had seemed unshakable before. The myth of the everlasting conflict broke down. It became obvious, that “those on the right” as well as “those on the left” have their salon, their weaknesses, and that frequently the difference in ideology did not result in dissimilar figurative systems and a different quality of art. The former aesthetic criteria came crashing down and above their smouldering ruins the sprouting buds of sensible appraisals and sober choice began to emerge timidly, but persistently. Here the collector began to serve Clio, the muse of history, in a dignified and fruitful manner. Mikhail Arefyev is one of those.

The Collection of Mikhail Arefyev

When he understood, that art can and must be varied and free, he – absolutely correctly – demonstrated that the collector is equally free in his choice. And that his predilection, born in travail and much thought over – is the way to preserve the art he appreciates. As the saying goes, you cannot love without understanding and you cannot understand without loving. The collector is not backed by anyone. He does not enjoy either state or any other support. He himself is the master and the servant of his own choice and of his own taste, his own art expert, and only his own efforts and ability help him to collect what he loves. He learns from his own intuition and by acquiring experience. Of course he needs knowledge, but what he really needs to start with is what museum employees call “an eye”. The exact, intense vision, that seems to be able to tell the real from the false intuitively, without abstract reflexion. This kind of vision is a happy mix of guessing, experience, love and knowledge, without which connoisseurship turns into empty foraging. It comes with time. Mikhail Vladimirovich Arefyev is a trained medical doctor (by the way, history knows the names of physicians, possessing the genuine talent of a collector and connoisseur, – Van Gogh’s friend Doctor Gachet, Doctor Paul Alexander, who helped Modigliani a great deal, Nikolay Ivanovich Kulbin in Russia), he quickly acquired knowledge and intuition. Step by step, relying on his predilections, Mikhail Vladimirovich was collecting items that make one think about the value of quintessential, traditional workmanship, almost forgotten nowadays; and about the fact that by no means all those, who were sticking to their predilection for a serious school and concrete form, were preoccupied with the themes and topicality being drummed into the people.

The Traditions of National Painting, Metropolitan and Regional

The traditions inherent in national painting, engrained in the social, moral agenda, the intense conscientiousness and moral responsibility that have been characteristic of Russian painting from time immemorial, the principles of the Soviet school of fine arts, education, the reality in which whole generations were brought up from infancy on, from kindergarten to university – all this formed a perfectly distinct way of thinking and the absolutely concrete understanding of the role of art, which was not to be questioned. We must not forget, however, that at the time, when most of the paintings included in the collection were painted, not only the indispensible “All-Soviet” exhibitions were opened, but also the so-called “zonal” , much more modest ones. Apart from the obligatory “life-affirming” pro-Soviet works, there were sometimes objects, absolutely amazing in their, as I would put it, “calm maestricity”, artistry without pomp, whose pithiness was not determined by a topical subject, but by eternal, purely artistic motives: a landscape, still-life, portrait, much more rarely a genre painting, and this, too, would do without political suggestiveness and tributes to the ritual slogans. Within the boundaries of everything that was being painted in our country, there remained, if one may say so, an “independent territory of painting”, where the brush “breathed” freely, where there was always the opportunity for professional boldness. And in these relatively modest exhibitions we often stopped in front of canvases, under which there were hardly known, or even completely unknown names, – these were canvases reminding us of the fact, that in our country – and certainly not necessarily in the capital cities – a distinct culture of painting is still present; this “hum of the canvas”, as it was called in the twenties, is saturated with the “substance of art”. Far away from the renowned cultural centres then unknown masters were toiling, and were later to become real “maitres”. Later on some of themwere appreciated and treated with great benevolence and were awarded titles and prizes; others simply remained just themselves , but – most importantly – the high artistic quality was living on and the bar was raised sufficiently high. Our frequently (and mostly rightfully) criticized system of art education nonetheless preserved one indisputable advantage; it taught professionalism. Many a workshop at a college of art also taught many other things – seriously and profoundly. And this is shown very clearly in Arefyev’s collection.

The Historical Aspect of the Collection of Mikhail Arefyev

By the way, this collection also has an important historical aspect. Many of the painters in the exhibition are people savaged and moulded by the war. They were students at a time, when our culture was fenced off from world art by the iron curtain. There was much they didn’t know, but the authentic history, the years of war they had gone through, inspired them. The painting “The Triumph of the Victorious Motherland” (1948-49) by Mikhail Ivanovich Khmelko, creator of major historical works that were famous at the time, is a testimony to the time when in life as well as in art, pitiless truth was identified with myth, and the burning happiness of victory did not cool down even after several years, but still prevailed, was ongoing. The artist reverted to this theme more than once. The version referred to shows soldiers, commanders and leaders hazily in the background. Yes, this collection is the living history of the never dying tradition of a top professional school. Starting with the superb picture “In the Tea- House”, painted before the war (1940) by twenty three year old Klavdiya Tutevol, a student of Deyneka, Ulyanova and Lentulov, a picture in which an almost illusory concreteness very naturally blends with a forceful plein-air effect, up to the works of the sixties and seventies, the collection demonstrates the never dying dignity of an academic training, and all the more so, when this is enhanced by an individual vision. Things that were not even painted by the most famous masters are sometimes extraordinarily telltale and may highlight the time. As early as 1957 the twenty three-year old Chuvash painter Nikolay Karacharskov painted the still life “The Lilac has burst into Bloom”, where in the sharpness of the slightly shifted angular outlines and in the complex system of reflections the interest for the – at that time forbidden – avant-garde is apparent, as well as glimpses of the “harsh style” which would soon be dominating the Soviet art of the “thaw” years. Generally, Chuvashiya was notable for a high standard of the fine arts – which was already noticeable at the time of the “zonal” exhibitions. Other works are also examples of this, especially from Arefyev’s collection, and later works of the same Karacharskov, and the fine, simple and at the same time ornately triumphant, conscientiously executed Chuvash Still Life by Victor Nemtsev (1969). Next to this there are in Arefyev’s collection perfect museum-like items by masters who moved to the forefront of the scene of national art: there is the excellent canvas “After the Battle” (1986) by Petr Pavlovich Ossovskiy – a leading figure of the “harsh style”, who, at that time, experienced the wrath of those in power, after which he received official recognition as well as a title, a prize and real, well-earned fame. The powerful lineal rhythms and the hard but at the same time poetic truth of war, born at that time of a renewed, strict understanding of history, romantic (“and the political commissars in dusty helmets …”), free of the sugary formation of myths, are a precious testimony to the art of the long bygone sixties.

The Academic School 1: The Workshop of E. E. Moiseenko

By the way, it is especially this spirit of lyricism, synthesized with a hitherto unknown naked truthfulness that was cultivated in the workshop of the celebrated Leningrad master Evsey Evseyevich Moiseenko, who is also represented in Arefyef’s collection with his own superb – late – picture “Orpheus and Eurydice” (1982) and with works by his students. Moiseenko, endowed with a powerful talent, a free and passionate man, carried something “Gaydar-like” in his art: a clear faith in people’s courage, in the triumph of justice, in the romanticism of revolutionary achievements. In Moiseenko’s art the large-scale picture, as well as the intimate landscape, are links of one chain. In them you perceive the solitary, difficult way to the comprehension of the world. And at the same time the quest for the artist’s own way in this world. Later on he turnedmore and more often to eternal themes, and subjects from antique myths, from the Holy Writ and motifs from Pushkin’s works appear on his canvases. In the above mentioned picture “Orpheus and Eurydice” there is real tragedy, transmitted by the powerful vibration of pictorial dabs, sharp contrasts of blurred shadows, the triumphant rhythm of a fine arts requiem. What is most interesting: although he was the idol of his students, he didn’t impose anything upon them. From his workshop painters emerged, who chose the most varied approaches; from the narrative, social psychological painting and a completely figurative sculptural style to complete abstraction, while maintaining the most accomplished professionalism, respect for skill and courage in the quest for individualism. Of course, a great number of Moiseenko’s students adopted his vision and his style to a certain degree, but the master himself insisted upon the free, independent development of young talent. An outstanding example of this is the work of Stanislav Fyodorov, Frunze on the South Western Front (1968), where Moiseenko’s teachings are undoubtedly combined with the study of the poetic system of Petrov-Vodkin and of Fyodorov’s own very personal talent. And next to it the picture “Catching Salmon at Kamchatka” – splendid in its artistry, freedom of painting and bold compositional accuracy, painted in the same year by another talented student of Moiseenko, Vladimir Frents (who, unfortunately, had a very short life). The daring juxtaposition of the distant and the close-up, the festive severity, the energetic brushwork – all this makes Frents’ work a vivid example of the “harsh style“ of painting, in whose basis lay the drive to attain a poetic truth without prettyism and varnish. Generally speaking, Arefyev’s collection confirms the value of the academic school (especially in Leningrad), where work in the creative workshops was in fact bold as well as professional and varied.

The Academic School 2: The Workshop of V. M. Oreshnikov

Victor Mikhaylovich Oreshnikov, vice-chancellor of the Repin Institute of the Academy of Fine Arts and head of a creative workshop, was, no doubt, a gifted and subtle colourist, utilizing a specific style of painting, fluid and obscured; the portraits painted by him were always notable for their lyrical realism. His students, however, though appreciating the culture and maestricity of their teacher’s works, quite frequently combined the lessons they had learned with a conventional and completely self-sufficient, figurative language. It suffices to look at the works by Sergey Yakobchuk contained in the collection, at the particularly fine choreography of the lineal composition and the chromatic elegance of the picture “The Collection of Birch Bark” from 1969 (which is doubtlessly also marked by a certain influence of Natalya Goncharova) and the decorative expression of the almost abstract “railway poem” “Rails and Signals” (1970).

Various Aspects of the Art of the 60’s

It seems to me very important, that Mikhail Arefyev is presenting different aspects of the sixties in his collection. So in Leningrad, too, the tradition never expired, in which an absolute allegiance can be detected to what used to be called “etudism” (the sum of the devices characteristic of the Russian version of the impressionist style). The cult of the free brush stroke in conjunction with the most subtle feeling of colour and tone, to a high degree inherent in many of the colourists of the Leningrad school of 1920-1930, is excellently implemented in the landscape by Ivan Varichev – the outstanding Leningrad landscape-painter (“Autumn at the River Syas”, 1968). Maybe the broad, seemingly careless, improvised brush stroke does not preserve the immediate connection with the subject matter, but it still has a certain dependence on it. In order to fully belong to the plane of the picture, Varichev’s brush stroke does not separate itself from the world of the subject matter, but it also avoids illusiveness. The past decades of our pictorial art look rather rich and varied: Even within the limits of true to life-painting, of concreteness, of what we are in the habit of not too exactly calling “realism” in everyday life, there was an ongoing professional polemic of tendencies, manners and convictions. Of course, the “harsh style”, with its striving for the unvarnished truth was called for by the spectators. They were demanding an art, in which there was, in the words of Tvardovskiy, “the heat of the living, truthful speech / and not the lie’s cold smoke.” Beside the intimate landscape by Varichev, there is in the collection a picture typical of the “harshstyle” (also from Leningrad): Aleksandr Tatarenko’s canvas, “Black Sea Region Dwellers”, Odessa, (1967). The “harshness” may even be somewhat exaggerated – as especially the war topic was so often lacquered, and the painters were striving to show its real, scorched and terrible face. As is the case with most of the pictures of this school, many of its qualities are rooted in the art of the twenties and thirties – we may remember Aleksander Deyneka, and even the “Heroic Primitives” by Boris Ermolaev, which are also dedicated to the Red Navy sailors. Sharply cut faces, the deliberate pointedness of the form, the use of remote associations with cheap popular prints (clouds, a deliberate narrowness of the background – a plane, a sailing boat, ships) – all this creates the feeling of a menacing popular holiday, metaphors of the power of the human spirit, of the unforgotten war. The canvas “Onto the Clearing” (from the cyclus We on the BAM) by Vyacheslav Zhemerikin (1976) also preserves the intonation of the “harsh style”. Here is a combination - rare in painting (and unexpected) - of carefree merriment, excitement and serious monumentality, the sensation of “mastering” the hardships of work, rendered with the help of syncopated, apparently jazzy, linear rhythms, the manifest mutual effects of spots of colour – angular, pointed, as if vibrating. The illusions of the time of the last “thaw - period” have already passed, but there remains the inertia of hope that is always helping art ….

Kirill Ivanovich Shebeko

Kirill Ivanovich Shebeko, graduate of Rudolf Rudolfovich Frents’ workshop (Repin Institute) painted his picture “The Airborne Postman” (1969) on the eve of his fiftieth birthday. He did not belong to the generation of the romantics of the sixties, but had a fine sense of the atmosphere of the time, its new motives, rhythms, the growing interest for casual beauty and the authentic value of everyday life. In the mundane subject – the arrival of a helicopter on a deserted northern shore – the artist subtly expressed the significance of an eternal theme and discovered the beauty of a cold region open to the cold and to the wind. The ultrafine texture of the painted surface, the masterly and intentionally placed stroke, the tender and energetic movement of the brush, the harsh, but exactly balanced colour contrasts – all this enhances the feeling of a special festiveness of the event, which is filled with themeaning of the course of the proceedings and the days. The helicopter, resembling a scarlet butterfly, almost seems to be a symbol of good news, and the graceful silhouettes of the white and black Huskies, as extraordinarily expressive as in medieval bestiaries, enhance the epic festive effect.

The Courageousness of Free and Exact Choice

There is no doubt about it – in Arefyev’s collection there are a great number of interesting, admirable works, representative of the period. Works, in which the dynamism of art becomes obvious as well as the onlookers’ predilections. And the 20th century art criticism is unanimously of the opinion, that the history of art is the history of public taste. Within the confines of a small article there is no opportunity – and no need either – to analyze a great number of pictures, although there is something to be said about each of them. It is important to mention those that define the focus of the search, the selection of tendencies in the art of the recent past. In this sense the Arefyev collection is extraordinarily informative and valuable. The free and exact choice demands courage – even if this sounds strange to the uninitiated. To acquire and also to track down everything is impossible, consequently you have to choose for your collection what is absolutely necessary, not what seems to be most attractive, but also what will become an indispensable part of the collection, a link between other things, and what will give it a greater value, logic, completeness, will fill in gaps, will contribute an important conceptual, historic, aesthetic accent. No matter how interesting this or that item may be, like a note in a chord it will only sound right next to the others. Especially in a collection there emerge molecules of the whole: of the history of artistic culture. The taste is honed in the process of the search, in the course of which mistakes are unavoidable, and the collector is consciously taking risks, too. The collection has not only a present, but also a future. What has already been done is the pledge of this future.

Mikhail German
Professor, PhD in art criticism,
Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) of the UNESCO


Site of the collector M. Arefyev.

Art from the USSR.