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30 January 2012


7 Derbenevskaya Ul. (Novospassky Dvor business center complex), bldg. 31, (495) 640 1476, m. Paveletskaya/ Proletarskaya,
Open Tue.-Sun. 11 am-8 pm, closed Mon. Free until March; entrance will then cost 150 rubles for most visitors, with a system of concessions, and free for art students, pensioners and veterans

Abstractionism and postmodernism might be more hip, but realist painting still has many fans – and some are prepared to sink serious money into it.

Billionaire businessman Alexei Ananyev has been collecting Russian realist paintings for almost a decade. His thousands-strong collection outgrew his home, so he founded a gallery – or as he prefers to call it, an institute -- to promote his favorite style.

Ananyev’s Institute of Russian Realist Art opened in December inside the Novospassky Dvor business center complex at Paveletskaya. It’s huge, occupying 4,000 square meters of space over four levels in the former cotton print factory – a 19th-century red-brick building with a tall red-brick chimney. About 500 paintings are hanging on its walls, but even this overwhelming display is just a fraction of Ananyev’s vast collection.

“The opening of the Institute of Russian Realist Art is the result of work which I personally conducted for almost 10 years,” the 47-year-old businessman was quoted as saying at the opening.

The head of the advisory board at Technoserv, and co-founder and chairman of Promsvyazbank, Ananyev is Russia’s 48th-richest businessman according to Forbes’ 2011 ranking, which estimates his wealth at $1.9 billion. He has big plans for IRRA.

“The exposition you can see now is only the beginning,” he said.

The exhibition provides a thorough overview of the scope of Soviet and Russian realist art from the 20th-21st centuries, spanning Impressionism, Socialist Realism and contemporary styles.

‘Aprel’ (April) by Vitaly Klimov-Vlasov, 1986–95

Headscarfed babushkas are in abundance, along with bearded old men, soldiers and thick-limbed laborers. There are more views of Vladimir, Suzdal, and Sergiyev Posad than you’ll see on a Golden Ring excursion; a smaller number of pictures depict factories, railways and urban scenes. It’s fun to recognize familiar Moscow streetscapes as they were in decades past, with no commercial advertising and fewer cars but plenty of stylish Soviet citizens sporting retro fashions. If you explore the exposition’s depths you’ll spot Stalin being feted by rosy-cheeked children, and even Gorky lying in state in his coffin.

As the “heart” of the collection, the institute names Russian Impressionist Sergei Gerasimov, Vasnetsov’s student Arkady Plastov whose paintings exalt the peasantry, Alexander Deineka who is well-known for many iconic works including the Mayakovskaya metro station mosaics, Yury Pimenov who is best known for a painting in the Tretyakov (“New Moscow,” 1937) depicting a young woman driving a convertible, “Severe Style” masters Gely Korzhev-Chuvelev, Nikolai Andronov, Viktor Popkov and Viktor Ivanov, and post-Revolutionary Impressionist brothers Alexei and Sergei Tkachev.

There’s much here to make a visit worthwhile for anyone interested in Russian history, art and culture. And even if realism is not your style, you might appreciate the collection’s significance as a historical artifact or an example of a contemporary art form that has been eclipsed by other genres but still lives on.

Natalia Alexandrova, the head of the State Tretyakov Gallery’s department for the second half of the 20th century, who took part in preparation of the first exposition, seemed to acknowledge possible criticisms in her speech at the opening.

The old factory’s interior has been meticulously renovated

“This is the first effort to present the post-WWII period of Russian Realism in such broad context, though the contents of the collection may seem controversial and uneven to my dear colleagues and artists themselves,” Alexandrova said, according to the press service.

PR and marketing director Nadezhda Stepanova said the institute was in many ways envied by its colleagues at the Tretyakov – something that Alexandrova did not deny.

“I do,” she said in a phone interview, when asked if she envied it. “Primarily for the scale of the exposition. At the Tretyakov we only have three halls of such art. ... Ananyev’s exposition consists of about 500 works – a very large volume.”

As for quality, she said the Tretyakov’s was superior, but the IRRA’s main strength was in the way it created context, with the inclusion of regional artists whose work few people had seen before.

Stepanova said the IRRA was “not simply a ‘museum.’”

“We don’t even call it one. In coming years the Institute of Russian Realist Art plans to become a base for serious art research. We will have our own media library, lecture hall, restoration workshops. In a year or two we will introduce a system of grants for students of art schools.

“We very much want this period and style of Russian art to become known to more people, so that Russia will see the appearance and development of masters working in a realist manner, so that the school of Repin, Levitan, Polenov, Surikov, Kuindzhi will find its continuation in the young generation of artists.”