Modern icons

Vladimir Tatlin: Counter-relief, 1914

Two years ago, in October 2014, they inaugurated one of the most recent iconic buildings of Paris, the exhibition hall of the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The building, which resembles the Sydney Opera House, towers like a huge ship with its large glass sails among the trees of Bois de Boulogne, the old amusement park of Paris. At the moment, the sails are dotted with the patches of color of Daniel Buren’s installation Observatoire de la lumière, which lends a somewhat temporary retro feeling to the composition instead of the timeless effect of the original white sails. But the building is still an unmistakable calling card of one of the greatest contemporary architects, Frank Gehry. His marks are the complex spatial construction, the multitude of curve planes intersecting each other, and the dancing lines, which he applied in some of the most influential works of the past decades, the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao (1997), the Walt Disney Concert Hall of Los Angeles, (2003) or the Dancing House (1996) of Prague.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton during the present (Oct. 2016 – May 2017) Buren installation, and originally, in the summer of 2015 (source: pinterest)


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A feature of Frank Gehry’s buildings is that they organize not only the surrounding space, but also the wider social space, and are able to catalyze the economic and cultural revitalization of whole quarters, or even cities. The extraordinary exhibitions of the Fondation Louis Vuitton are also major international events. Such as the present Icons of Modern Art. The Shchukin Collection, running from last October until March 5 of this year.

Born in a wealthy Moscow merchant family, Sergei Shchukin started to collect the works of contemporary French painters in 1897. In twenty years he created with an excellent flair one of the best collections of contemporary art, which included, among others, fifty works by Picasso, thirty-eight by Matisse – who personally helped to arrange the salon of Shchukin’s palace in Moscow –, sixteen by Gauguin, thirteen by Monet, and eight by Cézanne, whom he estimated above all. It must have been an incredibly intense experience to enter this palace, in whose halls, and even corridors and dining room two hundred and fifty eight such pictures covered the wall. From 1908 on, Shchukin also opened his collection to public Sunday visits, and in the following years it had a huge impact on Russian avant-garde art.

“Russian avant-garde artists in those days had come round to the view that our greatest artistic school was not the academy of fine arts in Saint Petersburg but the Gallery of S. I. Shchukin … Seeing the work of illustrious French artists for the first time, those splendid painters, the impression was quite simply mind-boggling … Not everyone could understand Picasso, although everyone recognized the enormous power of his talent … His principles of constructing the painting, the dismembering of the object by means of shifting and his other experiments, thus gradually became more comprehensible to us.” (Ivan Kliun)

Picasso: Violin, 1912 summer (in the Shchukin Collection since 1912 winter)

Nadezhda Udaltsova: Violin, 1916

The term “icon” in the title is very appropriate, for several reasons. It fits a building that is to become a modern icon of Paris. It characterizes the contemporary Russian reception of these images, interpreted, in the atmosphere of the rediscovery of the old Russian icons between 1905 and 1914, as modern icons, and as Shchukin himself compiled Gauguin’s religious paintings into a personal iconostasis in his dining-room. And of course, each of these images has since then become an icon of modern art. Each of them has its own Wikipedia entry, and many of them received a separate book. Do you recognize them on the basis of the following details, photographed yesterday on the exhibition?

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Ivan Kliun: Musician, 1916