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Treasures of Kazakhstan Take Centre Stage in London
Mika Kaliyeva of Christie's auction house looks at work by Kazakh artist Salikhitdin Aitbaev entitled 'Happiness' at an exhibition of the Treasures of Kazakhstan at Christie's London, Wednesday, Sept., 1, 2010. the painting at right is a painting by Kanafiya Telzhanov entitled 'The Land of our Grandfathers'. AP Photo/Alastair Grant.
LONDON.- Christie’s presents a special and unique loan exhibition, Treasures of Kazakhstan – Exhibition of Kazakh and Russian Art from the Kasteev Museum and a Distinguished Kazakh Private Collection at its headquarters in London from 1-8 September 2010. This selection of masterpieces of Kazakh and Russian art of the twentieth century will enable visitors to discover artistic developments that have taken place in Kazakhstan over the last 80 years. 75 extraordinary works that have never before been exhibited outside Kazakhstan will be shown, including important works from the museum’s permanent collection, complimented by works from a private collection. In celebration of its 75th anniversary the museum is currently undergoing refurbishment which has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Christie’s to bring masterpieces from the Kasteev Museum to London. All the works will be returned to the Museum following the exhibition and will be available for public viewing in the newly opened museum’s pavilions in early 2011.

“Christie’s is extremely proud to have been entrusted with the opportunity to hold an exhibition of Kazakh and Russian masterpieces from the Kasteev Museum in our main rooms in London, the company’s headquarters. This exhibition will be the latest addition to the 240 year long tradition of showcasing international artistic talent to a wide audience at Christie’s,” said David Linley, Chairman, Christie’s UK.

The Kasteev State Museum of Arts in Almaty was founded in 1935 and renamed after the renowned Kazakh artist Abylkhan Kasteev in 1984. Today it is the largest museum in Central Asian region renamed in1984 after the most renowned Kazakh artist Abilkhan Kasteev (1904-1973). Over 200 works, transferred from the State Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin Museum, the Hermitage and Russian Museum as part of the cultural exchange program among the Soviet Republics in the 1930s, formed the foundation of the museum’s collection. For example, one of the highlights of the present exhibition Abstract Composition by a Russian avant-garde artist Olga Rozanova formerly belonged to State Tretyakov Gallery and became part of the Kasteev Museum’s collection in 1936. Later the curators of the Kasteev Museum acquired paintings directly from artists’ studios, exhibitions and from the private collections of a large number of people who had settled in Almaty. The renowned Still life by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin was acquired from a German collector formerly based in Leningrad, who moved to Almaty at the beginning of the Second World War.

The majority of the museum’s collection was acquired from the Republican and All-Union exhibitions. The master works by Moldakhmet Kenbayev A conversation and A game of Kokpar and On the land of our grandfathers by Kanafiya Telzhanov, never before seen outside of Kazakhstan, are highlights of the present exhibition. In these monumental pictures, Moscow-educated Kenbayev and Leningrad-educated Telzhanov fully exploit the artistic methods of the Realist School in order to convey the national spirit of the Kazakh Republic. The late 1950s was a period of transition for Kazakh art, followed by the emergence of a Kazakh national style of painting in the 1960s.

The visual language of the artists working in the 1960s and, later, a movement named after the decade, “shestidesyatniki” (“1960”), sharply contrasted with the established classic realist painting style of the time. This movement took shape with Salikhitdin Aitbayev’s (1923-1989) Happiness, which was exhibited in 1966 at the First Republican Youth Exhibition and became an emblem of this new group of artists searching for a national form. Its artistic terms, which became inseparable from the direction of the Kazakh national school of painting, were flatness, monumentality of form, unity of colour and drawing, and symbolism.

The museum’s collection, as well as Kazakh art in general, was hugely informed by the geographical remoteness from the Soviet ideological centre Moscow. From the 1930s through to the 1950s, even the slightest departure from the standards of the official Socialist Realist style was considered a political crime and could result in the artist’s imprisonment. In the peripheral Almaty, conforming to the principles of Socialist Realism, artists, g the artists represented in the exhibition many lived and worked in Kazakhstan: in 1934 Vladimir Sterligov was banned from all large Soviet cities and as a result he moved tonevertheless, could express themselves and experiment more freely. Moreover, progressive artists were often exiled from Moscow and Leningrad to Kazakhstan. Amon Almaty, where he conceived his famous cup-dome method. Sergei Kalmikov and Pavel Zaltsman both first came to Almaty as theatre designers, but decided to remain there until the end of their lives.

Almaty’s remote location not only enabled artists to be more experimental than their Moscow and Leningrad colleagues, but also it provided an opportunity to the museum curators to collect more avant-garde works. Thus, the Kasteev Museum was one of the first official institutions to start acquiring works by some of the greatest artists of the Russian avant-garde, including Robert Falk, Petr Konchalovsky, Pavel Kuznetsov and Alexander Kuprin whose work is included in the present exhibition.

The exhibition will also feature two works by Pavel Filonov. Despite provisions within the artist’s will stating that his work could only be donated to The Russian Museum in St Petersburg, the Kasteev Museum managed to add several drawings and watercolours from the estate of Pavel Filonov to their collection; the sister of the artist kindly agreed to send the works to Almaty, as in the 1960s the Kasteev Museum was the only State Museum that was able to publicly exhibit Filonov’s work.

Works from the private collection of Mr. Nurlan Smagulov complete the exhibition. In the private collection there are over thirty oil paintings by Zhanatay Shardenov (1927-1992), whose masterly painting technique in thick relief-like impasto makes him truly unique within the history of the twentieth century art. Works by the contemporary artists Abdrashit Sidikhanov and Kenzhebai Duisenbayev from the private collection are also included in the exhibition, showing that the search for a national form and a national spirit continues even today.

“London has long been an international centre for art and a place where cross-cultural exchanges take place. Londoners have already developed a great taste for Russian art: Russian art week is now an important yearly event and one of the highlights of 2008 was a loan exhibition at the Royal Academy, London entitled ‘From Russia!’ showcasing paintings from the museums in Moscow and St Petersburg,” said Alexis de Tiesenhausen, the International Head of Russian Department: “The present exhibition is a long awaited event on the London art scene and we hope that it will further stimulate the growing interest for Kazakh art in London.”

Christie's | Treasures of Kazakhstan | David Linley |


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