Martiros Saryan: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Book Illustrations, Theatrical Alexander Kamensky; Shahen Khachatrian; Lucy Mirzoyan; Ashkhen Mikoyan; Nikolai Kutovoi

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  • Martiros Saryan: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Book Illustrations, Theatrical Design. byAlexander Kamensky; Shahen Khachatrian; Lucy Mirzoyan; Ashkhen Mikoyan; Nikolai KutovoiReview by: John E. BowltSlavic Review, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 776-777Published by:Stable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 00:10

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  • 776 Slavic Review

    zitti"). The Rossini tune resembles the Russian folk song only in its first phrase, and the notes of that phrase constitute a simple diatonic pattern as common in music of the primo ottocento as beets are in borshch. Of course, such quibbles cannot gainsay the quality of Mazo's work overall.

    Presentation is exemplary; the quality of paper and printing is superb; the facsimile is re- markably clear and free of blemish. All texts are fully legible, and the music is -so clear one easily could perform from it after adjusting to the notational peculiarities of the time. In sum, this book puts back in circulation a rare primary source of important music, beautifully printed, carefully and thoughtfully introduced, with only tiny flaws here and there. One looks forward to further volumes in this new subseries.

    ROBERT OLDANI Arizona State University

    MARTIROS SARYAN: PAINTINGS, WATERCOLORS, DRAWINGS, BOOK ILLUSTRA- TIONS, THEATRICAL DESIGN. By Alexander Kamensky. With a catalog of works by Shahen Khachatrian and Lucy Mirzoyan. Translated from the Russian by Ashkhen Miko- yan. Designed by Nikolai Kutovoi. Madison, Conn.: Sphinx, 1988. 344 pp. Illustrations. $85.00, cloth.

    The general history of modern Russian art is already well known in the west, thanks to many major publications and exhibitions, such as Camilla Gray's pioneering monograph The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863-1922 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1962 and subsequent re- printings) and "Paris-Moscou" (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1979). Certain artists, such as Lev Bakst, Vasilii Kandinsky, Mikhail Larionov, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rod- chenko, and Vladimir Tatlin, are now highly appreciated in the academic and commercial worlds-and fakes of their work abound (a perverse, but sure sign of their current worth).

    Inevitably, many misconceptions have accrued to our hurried reappraisal of Russian mod- ernism, not least the categorical association of the subject with artists who, strictly speaking, were not Russian: Marc Chagall and El Lissitzky (Jewish), Lado Gudiashvili (Georgian), Gustav Klucis (Latvian), Malevich (Ukrainian-Polish), and Martiros Sar'ian and Georgii Yakulov (Ar- menian). Moreover, a curious, but somewhat arbitrary, distribution of merits has also taken place, often the result of the given accessibility or inaccessibility of an artist's work or of our own particular stylistic fashions-Russian geometric abstraction, for example, is "in," whereas Rus- sian expressionism is "out." Consequently, our current assessment of modernist art in Russia is uneven, even capricious, taking good account of, say, Malevich, but ignoring the superb graphic work of Boris Grigor'ev, perpetuating the mythology of Kandinsky, but unable to deal with the complex spatial theories of Kuz'ma Petrov-Vodkin. Unfortunately, to a considerable extent, Martiros Sergeevich Sar'ian (1880-1972) is also a victim of this partiality.

    Much has been written about Sar'ian, one of Armenia's leading twentieth century artists. He has been the subject of several scholarly monographs (for example, Shahen Khachatrian's Martiros Sar'ian published in Erevan in 1979), his works have been shown in the west (for ex- ample, his series of flower paintings at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 1987), his autobiography, Iz moei zhizni, has appeared in Russian (1970 and 1985) and in French (1976), and Sar'ian him- self was well known in Paris in the 1920s (he lived there in 1926-1928). Even so, western mu- seums do not possess major paintings by him, and his vivid, lapidary still lifes and portraits do not elicit the same delight in France and the United States as they do in Armenia and Russia. For some western observers, Sar'ian is a mere epigone of Henri Matisse, for others, he is a quaint Orientalist. But few value him as a symbolist whose lyrical evocations of eastern fairy tales maintain the abstractivizing process of Mikhail Vrubel' and Viktor Borisov-Musatov or as an original and brilliant primitivist whose oils and gouaches reflect the arid spaces of his native Armenia. Indeed, as Alexander Kamensky emphasizes in his introduction here, perhaps the most remarkable phenomenon in Sar'ian's artistic career was his rapid progression from the translu-

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  • Reviews 777

    cencies of his early pictures, such as Love Fairy-Tale (1906) and Panthers (1907), to the tactility and color of the "primitive" paintings, such as Persian Girl (1910) and Flowers of Asia (1915).

    Kamensky presents a general overview of Sar'ian's life and work, describing the artist's association with the Crimson Rose and Blue Rose symbolist groups in Saratov and Moscow in 1904-1907, his discovery of the East during his travels through Turkey and Egypt in 1910- 1911, his response to the October Revolution, and his subsequent acceptance of the new real- ism-culminating in his industrial landscapes and bountiful still lifes of the 1930s- 1950s. Still, as Kamensky implies, Sar'ian remained faithful to his own spontaneous resolutions of color and form and, as a matter of fact, during the Stalin epoch, he was criticized harshly for his "for- malism" and for his failure to adjust to the didactic tenets of socialist realism. The reproductions supplementing the Khachatrian-Mirzoyan catalog of works illustrate this loyalty, demonstrating that Sar'ian was a painter of almost primordial energy (in the same way that Malevich was) and that his experiments around 1910 (for example, Date Palm, 1911) were as audacious as those of Natal'ia Goncharova, Larionov, and Matisse. At the same time, Sar'ian never tamed his riot of colors, never curbed his sheer love of paint, and it is perhaps this rawness and impetuousness that have tended to alienate the western viewer.

    Sar'ian belongs to the generation of modern artists that looked to the East for inspiration- Paul Gauguin, Matisse, Pavel Kuznetsov, Yakulov-and, like them, he felt that the "non- constructive" art of the East was superior to the "constructive" art of the West. Sar'ian could not accept cubism, futurism, suprematism or, of course, constructivism, and he reaffirmed the natu- ral vitality of everyday existence, whether the slopes of Ararat, the sultry alleys of Armenian villages, or the brilliant cobalt of the southern sky. His simple, depictive style with it laconic forms and economy of colors distinguishes him immediately from the reductionist, rational ex- periments of such contemporaries as Malevich, Liubov Popova, and Rodchenko, while still af- firming his position as a prime mover of the new art. In this respect, the very publication of this handsome volume with its biographical sketch, catalog of works, bibliography, and exhibition list not only pays tribute to an important artist of our time, but also raises the complex and fas- cinating question of the "national" components of the "international style." Armenian primi- tivism, like Czech cubism, Georgian dada, Hungarian futurism, and Polish constructivism, needs to be delineated and appraised, an avenue of enquiry that guarantees surprising conclu- sions. Our present scheme of the development of European and Russian modernism is at best unstable, and examination of such a vital question might force us to rethink a number of precon- ceptions and redefine the present profile of early twentieth century culture.

    JOHN E. BOWLT University of Southern California

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    Article Contentsp. 776p. 777

    Issue Table of ContentsSlavic Review, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 599-810Volume Information [pp. ]Front Matter [pp. ]DiscussionThe Bolsheviks' Dilemma: Class, Culture, and Politics in the Early Soviet Years [pp. 599-613]Class and State in the Early Soviet Period: A Reply to Sheila Fitzpatrick [pp. 614-619]Social History and Its Categories [pp. 620-623]Reply to Suny and Orlovsky [pp. 624-626]

    On Barriers to Pluralism in Pluralist Poland [pp. 627-641]Vasilii Aksenov and the Literature of Convergence: Ostrov Krym as Self-Criticism [pp. 642-651]The Mir and the Military Draft [pp. 652-666]The Revolution of 1905-1907 and the Crisis of Polish Catholicism [pp. 667-686]The Roles of Jovan Skerli, Steven Mokranjac, and Paja Jovanovi in Serbian Cultural History, 1900-1914[pp. 687-701]Notes and CommentsAphorism in Contemporary Serbian Literature [pp. 702-708]Unconventional Literature in a Society of Conventions [pp. 709-715]

    Review ArticlesPerestroika and Its American Critics [pp. 716-725]Intertextuality, Its Content and Discontents [pp. 726-729]

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    Books Received [pp. 778-783]Reference Books of 1986-1987: A Selection [pp. 784-792]Letters [pp. 793]News of the Profession [pp. 794-796]Back Matter [pp. ]


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