Even during the height of the Cold War with its threat of Nuclear Armageddon, the cultural exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union never ground to a halt. But in the last few years, because of the "boomerang effect of a rancorous legal battle between the Russian government and the Chassidic Jewish group, Chabad" (LA Times 1/17/13), Russia imposed a ban on all art loans to American museums. This legal case is based on Chabad's decades-long effort to recover religious books and manuscripts that the Russians expropriated after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.
Visiting some major museum exhibitions in Paris this past April, I thought about this unfortunate freeze on art exchange between America and Russia. The traveling exhibition, Keys to a passion, currently on display at Fondation Louis Vuitton, proudly displays one of the most famous paintings by Matisse, La Danse (1909-10), on loan from The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. At the same time, the impressive retrospective of paintings by Pierre Bonnard at Musée d'Orsay displays with particular reverence the largest and most famous triptych by the artist, La Méditerranée (1911), which is also on loan from The Hermitage Museum. The Bonnard exhibition is scheduled to travel to San Francisco next February, but this famous triptych, in all probability, will not be allowed to be included on the American leg of this traveling exhibition.
With all the above, I was glad to read in The New York Times that last week, Carnegie Hall was the site of a Russia Day concert by the renowned St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. And this weekend, we in Los Angeles are welcoming the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, which is bringing to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion its performance of "Rodin." Seeing a prior production of this company, one expects this upcoming production to be very theatrical and very emotional in its telling of the dramatic relationship between Rodin and his student and mistress, Camille Claudel.
A few weeks ago, while reporting about my trip to France, I spoke about a surprise trove of photographs and sculptures by Camille Claudel that I came across at the St. Croix Museum in the city of Poitiers. There I was, in a far-away cozy corner of France, interacting with Camille and Rodin. Now, in Los Angeles, I am looking forward to reconnecting with them again through a Russian ballet company -- a good example of how art and culture create welcome connections, in this case, between Russia, France, and America.
In the last few days, prompted by the opening of the new Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal published in-depth articles about the state of Russia's art world.
Among special installations commissioned for the opening are works by famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and German artist Katharina Grosse. Among the high-profile guests scheduled to appear are a team of curators from MOMA, Metropolitan Museum Director Thomas P. Campbell, LA collector and philanthropist Eli Broad, and movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
One hopes that all this cultural exchange will bring a degree of understanding that might somewhat defrost the current winter of discontent between Russia and the U.S.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.