Thursday, November 15, 2007

Breaking from Religions to Discuss Sexy Soviet Nudes

I went to the Russian Museum last Saturday. First things first, should you ever find yourself in Petersburg, set aside a day and go to the Russian Museum. Just do it. Maybe even two days, it’s a bit overwhelming – particularly if one is from an art-poor backwater (I love you Memphis, but...)

So, after salivating over the portion of the icon collection that is on display, the less interesting portraits of dead tsars and Russian nobility, and the absolutely amazing late 19th/early 20th art, I walked through the two temporary displays up at the Russian Museum.

One titled the Soviet Venus, the other a collection of nude works by a Soviet painter whose name I have forgotten. The latter was a rather banal collection of nude females, several of which were allegories for “exotic” countries such as Turkey and India. Yeah...okay, I wasn’t impressed.

The Soviet Venus exhibit had a little more meat for gnawing on. It was a bit of an awkward experience, in part because a very decent percentage of Saint Petersburg was there to see it, and the gallery it was crammed into had very little space to begin with. Then there was the factor that I couldn’t quite decide whether I was looking at Soviet art or Soviet soft porn.

Female athletes losing their clothing while competing – while a young man with a gleeful smile looks on. Bit of an awkward ideology there. The piece doesn’t just assume an audience, but actually supplies the prototype of the ideal audience. Also, not exactly a good piece of art to begin with, but I’m not a fan of Soviet Realism to begin with. I preferred the female machinists in varying degrees of jumpsuitedness, but that could just be me.

Oddly enough, I found that the best art pieces in the exhibit were the ones that were furthest into the boundary zone between art and pornography. There were two photographs from a series titled Romance with the Theater. They were beautifully composed and dramatically lit, with a great sense of tension and plot even. The two figures were a young, artsy, fully clothed young man, and a completely naked woman, depicted as tied up in one of the photos. It was certainly art. Sex was an element. And, yeah, I was slightly disturbed by the photos, but disturbed in same way I would be by a good Chuck Palahniuk novel or David Foster Wallace.

The setting might have had something to do with my indecision. The good photos were surrounded by bland, disembodied breasts, and the like – no where nearly as compelling. Philosophically, I don’t know why allegorical figures are almost always nude females, but at least this one was intriguing rather than the “exotic nations” in the other exhibit.

I’m still processing.

However, it seems that classic art does teach that all heroic acts should be performed in the nude.

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