Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

Trail’s End

February 25, 2016

When will we know that the end is near for Putin’s Russia?  When his underlings repeatedly take their tactical cues from Waking the Dragon, that’s when.  Almost two years ago I urged Europe’s fractious peoples to “Make Art, Not War” as the preferred approach to resolving social conflicts (and we know how that worked out).  But somebody somewhere was listening, because Russia soon embarked on an intensified soft power cultural offensive by deploying its vast strategic reserves of artistic capital –the museum collections of the Hermitage, Tretyakov Gallery, Savitsky Museum and so on.  Art exchange programs with England’s British Museum and National Portrait Gallery ensued, as did a major exhibition deal with the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris; just a few prongs of a multi-tined salient that appears intended to insert the tips of several wedges between the United States and its allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Russia Today

What’s the goal?  Mainly, reducing support among NATO member states for economic sanctions against Russia.  And this strategy appears to be enjoying partial success.  Britain, France and Germany have all been making muted murmured remarks looking ahead to the expiration of sanctions.

But hey, all that’s just ice floes under the Bolshoi Kamenni Bridge.  What really matters, what’s truly disturbing, is the impact my recent blogposts have had in Russian domestic politics.  At the end of January, I blogged about Werner Herzog‘s visit to the mountain ranges of Colorado, and his impromptu diatribe against the stupidity of the netizen masses. And I closed the post with an image culled from the extensive lowbrow oeuvre of Messrs. Howard, Howard and Fine which illustrated Hollywood’s Depression-era riposte to Marie Antoinette’s famous 18me siecle quip “Let them eat cake.”  In short, a riff on the classic Stooges pie-fight that featured escalation to layer cake.  Unfortunately, some nameless Moscow apparatchik took this as a literal suggestion for enhancing political discourse.

  • Former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he was sitting in a central Moscow restaurant [February 9] when around 10 men of “non-Slavic appearance” entered, threatened him and rammed a cake into his face. The incident came several days after Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya republic, posted a threatening video on Instagram that showed Kasyanov in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.  The Kremlin called the cake attack an act of “hooliganism” and rebuffed the idea that it was related to Chechnya’s leadership.
  • Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on Thursday [February 25] said attackers threw two cakes in his face in Moscow, adding that the assault was linked to the Kremlin.  Navalny said the attack outside his office was carried out by “some jokers” who “chucked two cakes at me and legged it.”  “Putin and Medvedev see hurling cakes as the only way to respond to the challenges of the opposition,” he wrote on Facebook.


Okay, if this is how it’s gonna be, two things are clear:  Russia is gonna need tremendous bumper crops of soft white wheat and sugar beets to meet its booming demand for cake flour and frosting, and Moscow’s bakeries are gonna have to work double shifts around the clock to finish all their orders scheduled for delivery this coming Saturday.  Why?  Because …

Opposition supporters are preparing to mark Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the shooting of politician Boris Nemtsov close to the Kremlin with a march through central Moscow.




Void Where Prohibited

November 22, 2015

I’m not at all pleased that Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square has intruded upon my consciousness twice in the past few weeks.  In the first instance I was myself partly to blame, because I attended a presentation by an art theorist academic whose talk meandered in eccentric orbits, guided by the gravitational pull exerted by Black Square over the past century.  The experience must have primed my attention for an unexpected return engagement, because I actually took notice of a minor media report proclaiming as novel what I’d thought was old news:

An X-ray examination of Kazimir Malevich’s famed “Black Square” painting by Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery found that two earlier paintings [are concealed] under the black expanse.  [According to] Tretyakov director Zelfira Tregulova, there’s also an inscription by the artist using the title of a 19th century black square painting by the French humorist Alphonse Allais that purportedly portrays two black men fighting in a cave at night.


There are four known variants of Black Square, the first in 1915 and the last circa 1929 or thereabouts.  The version in the Tretyakov Gallery is (I think) from 1923, but strictly speaking the precise provenance doesn’t really matter.  That’s because the meaning and significance of Black Square always lies outside the frame –in the totality of the social context/ experiential “reality” that accompanies the spectator through time and space to her spot in front of the canvas.

Black Square is a window into the void, a place where a steady gaze brings the viewer no more information than a passing glance … or, alternatively, all the information that anyone can ever know.  Is that its intention?  What would Malevich say?  It might depend on the occasion:

“I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation.

Malevich’s 1915 painting is sometimes cited as a historical milestone which marks the break between representational painting and abstract painting —-and Black Square has thus become one of the key (should I say “iconic”?) shorthand symbols for the complex and contested transition from a representative regime of art to the aesthetic schema that still (sorta-kinda) prevails today.  Whatever.

The final, smallest, Black Square painted by Malevich was intended [to be displayed] as a diptych together with the Red Square for the 1932 Leningrad exhibition Artists of the RSFSR: 15 Years.  The two squares, Black and Red, were the centerpiece of the show.


Perhaps this would be the appropriate time to note that:

In United States maritime warning flag systems, a red square flag with a black square occupying the middle ninth of the flag is used to indicate a storm warning.  The use of two such flags denotes a hurricane warning.




Earthquake in Moscow?

October 3, 2012

I awoke to see the walls of the hotel room rippling and flexing as though made of thick beige rubber.  The floor beneath the bed   –and the bed itself–   slowly undulated as if gently jostled by a passing wave-swell.  This lasted for what seemed like thirty seconds  –in dreamtime.  Not an unpleasant experience, but somewhat unsettling.  There aren’t supposed to be earthquakes in Moscow.  If that’s all it was …

Another one of those Russian dreams.