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Portrait of Oleg Vassiliev with his painting of his wife Kira walking from a beach into a bowl of light. Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace taken in November 2011.
Internationally known for his serene paintings and elegant graphic designs, Oleg Vassiliev was officially scorned in his Soviet homeland for his failure to embrace the government's aesthetic dictates. Despite foreign fame, he never had an official exhibiton in his homeland until after the U.S.S. R. dissolved in 1991.
Vassiliev died Friday, January 25, 2013 at a hospice near his home in Shoreview, MN, a suburb of St. Paul. He was 81 and had been ill with cancer for more than a year, although he continued to paint until shortly before his death.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, Vassiliev and his wife Kira emigrated, first to Paris and then to New York City. His wife died in 2010, after which he moved to Shoreview to be closer to his son Alexei who survives him.
His death was announced by The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) in Minneapolis on behalf of his family. The museum staged two exhibitions of Vassiliev's art in 2011. One was a quasi-retrospecitve featuring more than 20 of his paintings. The other showcased a suite of 30 etchings inspired by a story by Anton Chekhov. Executed in Paris in 1991, the Checkhov suite had not been exhibited previously in its entirety.
The Russian museum also threw a gala to mark Vassiliev's 80th birthday in November 2011. The event attracted friends and admirers -- artists, publishers, collectors -- from Paris, Moscow, New York and even Columbus, Ohio.
Born in Moscow in 1931, Vassiliev graduated from the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow in 1958 and spent the next three decades designing and illustrating books including children's tales which he injected with unusual sophistication and wit. The innocuous profession enabled him to earn a living while pursuing his own art in private.
Non-confrontational by temperament, he slipped into a kind of internal exile to avoid antagonizing authorities. "The path to socio-political struggle . . . was impossible for me," he wrote in a 1997 biographical essay. "What we created for ourselves in the studio, we tried not to show to the officials. Our only viewers were friends and a narrow circle of acquaintances."
Nevertheless, his work was essentially suppressed in the Soviet Union where "even this pursuing of one's own work was criminal, according to the principle 'He who is not with us is against us," he wrote. His only show during Soviet times was a one-night exhibit at a Moscow cafe in 1968.
After the U.S. S. R. collapsed, however, his work was exhibited at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. They now own his work as does the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and museums in Bern, Switzerland, Athens, Greece, Lexington, KY and Denver, CO.
Vassiliev often used isosceles triangles as structural devices in his delicately marked paintings, arranging four of them so they converged as a horizon line at the canvas' midpoint. In both landscapes and abstractions, the geometric forms pull the eye deep into the interior space of the painting, as if luring viewers into a vortex or along a path through a woods. He loved the flat terrain of northern Russia with its stark birch forests, and often used drifts of leaves to suggest memories or past time.
Frequently he would depict skiers peering into the scene from the edge of a canvas, as if gazing into the distance or poised at the edge of a stage or film set. The skiers doubtless were meant as veiled portraits of himself and his lifelong friend Eric Bulatov, a fellow artist and book illustrator with whom he frequently went on long wilderness camping trips to escape the tedium of their official jobs.
Even in what he dubbed self-portraits, Vassiliev would typically turn his back to the viewer, gazing away into the life of the mind. In a recurrent image, he depicted himself seated at the edge of a stage, holding a glass of vodka, with the silhouette of a collapsing house sketched onto a theater scrim behind him.
A memorial event will be held in spring, somewhere on the East Coast, said Masha Zavialova, a friend and Russian-born curator at TMORA.
Two ancient warriors pose with Minneapolis curator Liu Yang.
"China's Terracotta Warriors," an exhibit of ancient Chinese tomb sculpture and artifacts, attracted more people to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts than any other show in the past 20 years. A total of 146,507 visitors saw the exhibition during its 12 week run from October 28, 2012 through January 20, 2013.
The Warriors attendance is the third highest in the museum's history, topping even "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth," a 2000 exhibition of memorabilia from the Star Wars films.
The top ten shows at the MIA, ranked by their attendance figures, are:
1. "The Vikings," (1981): 212,956
2. "Impressionism: Selections from Five American Museums" (1990): 155,198
3. "China's Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor's Legacy" (2012): 146,507
4. "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" (2000): 128,725
5. "Monet at Vetheuil" (1998): 124,316
6. "Degas and America" (2001): 118,137
7. "Eternal Egypt," (2003): 114,068
8. "Dale Chihuly: Installations 1964-1997: (1997): 112,197
9. "Rembrandt in America" (2012): 107,090
10. "Visions of the People: A Pictoral History of Plains Indians" (1993): 101,309
Veteran Twin Cities arts administrator David Galligan will return to Walker Art Center as deputy director and chief operating officer starting April 15. He served in a similar role at the Walker from 1996 to 2002 under the title COO/treasurer.
He is expected to focus on bonding issues and developing a "campus plan" that will better integrate the Walker's building with the city owned Minneapolis Sculpture Garden across the street. A key question in the plan will be how to use the now-vacant land west of the Walker where the original Guthrie Theater once stood. It is now a popular sledding hill and site for community celebrations including the annual Rock the Garden concert. Various plans have been sketched out during the past eight years, but all have been shelved for lack of money.
During his previous Walker employment, Galligan helped plan the museum's 2005 expansion and was particularly influential in persuading the Minneapolis City Council to pay for a $25 million underground parking garage as part of the complex. He also championed new online education programs, helped diversify the center's financial support and balanced the budget throughout his tenure, a status the Walker has consistently maintained.
Following his Walker tenure, Galligan was president and CEO of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for four years, during which he restructured relationships with the organization's resident tenants, the Minnesota Opera, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Schubert Club.
A shrewd political operator, he engineered the Ordway's first public support of $8 million from the state of Minnesota and the city of St. Paul and raised $4 million in new endowment funds. He also balanced the Ordway's budget each year.
As an independent consultant since leaving the Ordway, Galligan's nonprofit clients include the Guthrie Theater, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the University of Utah.
A terra cotta Chinese warrior from the show opening October 28.
Not content with having balanced its $25 million operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year (and squeeked out a $17,000 surplus), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is looking for new crowds and revenue sources in unusual places.
It plans to rent out its third-floor party room for weddings and has already booked six for the coming year said director Kaywin Feldman at a season preview lunch Tuesday. While the venture is a first for the MIA, other museums including Walker Art Center and the American Swedish Institute have successfully engaged the white-gown trade.
Attracting new audiences is also a priority at the museum which is especially eager to lure "millennials." Senior museum staff, including the director, have each been assigned a "millennial" coach to jolt them out of their usual notions about how art museums should operate. A first piece of advice from the young is to nix the whispers. Talk normally in the galleries, even introduce music, white noise or other lively sounds. Officials are debating the idea.
"Supper for Shakespeare" is the most unusual new show on the schedule. Cooked up in collaboration with culinary historian Ivan Day, it will feature real banquet foods (mostly desserts) from the 16th and 17th-centuries. Eric Harper of St. Paul's Summit Brewery is crafting a limited-edition Tudor-style ale that will be served at a Tudor Keg Party in January. The museum's historic Tudor Room (dating to about 1600) is getting new LED lights and a sound system which artist Ethan Holbrook will test with a new sound-installation juxtaposing Shakespearian and modern audio. All this plus a food-themed show of paintings, tableware, cookbooks, food molds, kitchen utensils. (December 13 through March 31).
But first, "China's Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor's Legacy" opens this month. The show is expected to feature 10 life-sized terracotta warriors, some of which have never traveled to the West, plus bronze vessels, jade artifacts, gold and silver ornaments, and architectural details up to 2500 years old. Political tensions and uncertainty among Chinese museum officials have delayed the show's transit schedule, said Matthew Welch, the museum's assistant director for curatorial affairs. Even so, "Warriors" is expected to open as scheduled on October 28 and to run through January 20.
Other future highlights:
"Young People's Ofrendas," a show of 60 ofrenda's designed by kids at four Minnesota schools: El Colegio Charter School (Minneapolis), Austin High School (southern Minnesota), Thomas Edison High School (Minneapolis) and Humboldt Secondary School (St. Paul). October 23 - December 2.
"More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness," featuring manipulated, twisted, fact-challenged contemporary art that blurs "notions of truth and reality." A cornicopia of contemporary hot shots and international superstars, the show includes films, videos, sculpture, paintings, etc. Organized by the MIA in conjunction with SITE Santa Fe where it debuted this summer to enthusiastic reviews. March 3 - June 9, 2013.
"For the Love of Art: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Prints and Drawings," featuring more than 70 prints, drawings and other works on paper by leading contemporary American and European talents. July 14 - September 2013.
"The Modern Face: Portraits from the Centre Pompidou, Paris" will showcase about 90 portraits by 20th century painters, sculptors and photographers ranging from Francis Bacon and Constantin Brancusi to Henri Matisse, Marlene Dumas and Andy Warhol. October 6, 2013 - January 5, 2014.
Most Minnesota museums are already free to visitors, but even some that do have an admission charge will be free on Saturday, Sept. 29 as part of a national celebration involving more than 1,400 institutions around the country.
The Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and the Walker Art Center and the American Swedish Institute, both in Minneapolis, normally charge admission but will be free that day. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is always free, is not participating.
Drummed up by Smithsonian magazine, the freebie is inexplicably dubbed "Museum Day Live!" The odd title seems to imply that museums are otherwise dead. Or suspended in some zombie-state. Or perhaps that museum visitors are less than perky. Well, never mind.Consider it a reminder to visit a museum.
There is a catch, naturally. For free admission to participating museums, you have to download a free ticket here at the Smithsonian site. Have fun.