Russia, with love
By Patricia C. Johnson, Houston Chronicle
Posted on Sunday, June 2, 1996
A small window opened between Houston and the city of Ekaterinburg
in Russia when a handful of visitors from the former Soviet Union
visited earlier this month. Tamara Galeeva, Valentina Grigoryeva,
Alex Karavayev, Viktor Maynov and Venjamin Stepanov were
invited by the Art League of Houston, in conjunction with its exhibition
Russian Art for Texas.
The current exhibit is the second half of an art exchange organized
by Frank Williams, an artist from Houston who’s
been living in Russia since 1993. The first show featured Houston
artists in the Russian cities.
The five visitors described, through translations by Grigoryeva,
the community of artists in their home base of 1.5 million since
Perestroika. Located at the southern edge of Ural Mountains, the
biggest change in Ekaterinburg has been from its status as a forbidden
city – center of the Soviet defense industry and closed to everyone
– to one that welcome tourists, including foreigners. The artists’
community has changed dramatically as well.
Maynov owns one of the few independent galleries that represents
contemporary artists. He opened White Gallery four years ago in
a space inside the city’s art academy, but though he cooperates
with the academic program, hosting lectures and workshops, for instance,
he is free to organize exhibitions and other activities of interest
to himself and his artists.
Stepanov, president of the artists’ union, explained that under
communism, the union represented the government-sanctioned artists
who were the only ones permitted to exhibit and to have access to
materials. In today’s society, though, without official censors,
the union, which in Ekaterinburg has dropped from about 1,000 to
some 200 members, appears to be more of a hangover from the past
than an effective organization.
Galeeva is an art historian and critic affiliated with the University
of Ekaterinburg. She explained that the work on view now at the
Art League was limited to small works on paper because of the difficulty
of transporting large works, and also the reluctance of other important
artists to send work without adequate insurance. She offered a select
group of slides, however, by some of the artists she called the
"best in the country", to add dimensions of style and
subject matter. In a range from abstract to realist, landscape to
portraits, the highlight was images that dealt with Western mythology
and religious subjects – both subjects taboo under the communist
regime but now finding widespread appeal.
The last member of the group, Karavayev, represented Uniland Corporation,
which is sponsoring a new exhibition of prints by three of the league’s
Texas Artists of the year – Karin Broker, Lucas Johnson
and George Krause – scheduled to open at the University
of Ekaterinburg on July 4. Uniland, he explained, is a cooperative
wholesaler/distributor based in Ekaterinburg which handles products
ranging from cosmetics to household cleaners by companies in United
States, Sweden, Germany and other European countries.
The exhibit Russian Art for Texas remains on view through June