Russian art

This summer, a trip to the homeland left me wanting more. After only ten days, my head was swimming with thoughts about all of the paradoxes that are now post communist Russia.

Statues of Lenin smeared with pigeon shit next to coca cola signs, Kentucky Fried Chicken written in Cyrillic and translated into Russian — ципленок кентаки, newly shined and polished façades of the touristy Nevsky Prospect just blocks away from utter post-soviet decay.

Wealthy young Russians with cell phones and fancy cars, post-soviet grannies begging for change or selling pathetically wilting flowers, old men working as billboards for banks.

Amway in Russia???!!

Another paradox that struck me is the incredibly prolific, sexy and inspired public art in contrast to the hollowness of advertisements slowly spreading over the city like some alien virus.

This sculpture is one of the four famous iron “horse tamers” on the four corners of Anechkov bridge over Fontanka canal. Each of the four sculptures shows a tamer, progressively taming the horse. On one corner, the tamer is on the ground getting trampled under the feet of the rearing animal. In this one, he is walking calmly along. I was awed not only by the shiny, perfection of the round buttocks, but also by the incredible detail. The animal skin draped over the muscular and veiny rump of the horse looks soft, though it’s cast in iron.

The story itself is Russianly poetic. Man taming nature, yet there is something melancholy about it. The man is naked alongside the horse. He is pummeled by the beast and I don’t feel the righteousness of victory. The progression is more about the struggle. These sculptures stand over a channel that flows into the temperamental river Neva. Many people died in it while St. Petersburg was being built.

A hunk of granite is missing from the pedestal. A plaque tells the story. The pedestal was damaged during WWII by artillery fire but the statues survived because they were removed and buried in the palace garden nearby. My mom remembers when the statues were resurrected after the war was over. She saw them when she was a little girl, these naked men kept safe in the earth, raised back out of the dirt.

What can be more poetically paradoxical than the symbol of man’s triumph over nature protected by the earth itself from the destructiveness of man?

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