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Carnegie Museum of Art Unveils the Visionary and Rarely Seen Art by Andrey Avinoff
Andrey Avinoff (American, 1884–1949), Tibet: Monastery in the Mountains, 1912. Graphite and watercolor. H: 9 in x W: 12 ¾ in. Patrons Art Fund, 2008.12.3

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art presents an exhibition that unveils the visionary and rarely seen art of the brilliant and multitalented Andrey Avinoff (1884–1949).

“I bow to scientific fact until five o’clock. After that I may have other ideas.” –Andrey Avinoff

The exhibition, on view from February 26–July 24, 2011, features more than 50 works of art by the entomologist and former director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History (1926-1945), including many of his watercolors, most of which have rarely been seen. Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, conducted years of intense research to organize the exhibition, which tells Avinoff’s story in full for the first time.

“Andrey Avinoff emerges as an important historical figure. He was a gay Russian artist who made it in the very straight world of American science and education, and an autocratic European traditionalist who helped create the modern, anything-goes New York scene. His intriguing body of artwork, multifaceted interests, and equally multifaceted identity significantly enhances our understanding of twentieth-century art, in all its vitality and complexity,” said Lippincott.

Like the butterflies he pursued in exotic locations, Avinoff’s life encompassed inspiring metamorphoses. From gentleman-in-waiting at the court of the Russian tsar to tireless researcher in the mountains of Tibet; from upstate New York dairy farmer to successful New York City commercial illustrator; from director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh to important collaborator with Alfred Kinsey, Avinoff transformed himself as the culture and politics around him changed.

During his lifetime, Avinoff was known worldwide for his scientific research on the influence of geography and ecology on the evolution of butterflies. But he also created a rich body of gorgeous, meticulously painted watercolor paintings that expressed his wide-ranging ideas about the unity of the natural world and of life itself. Many of Avinoff’s artworks can be read as symbolist fantasies or surrealist nightmares, often depicting iridescent butterflies, exquisitely detailed flowers, and translucent, reflective surfaces such as flowing water, soap bubbles, gems, and jellyfish. His private feelings—such as his loyalty to Russian traditions and a deeply spiritual view of nature—are all expressed in his art.

In addition to his artwork, the show also features many of Avinoff’s scientific illustrations of butterflies and plants, and the mounted and preserved butterflies that he collected and donated to Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

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