Monday, October 31, 2011

London Book Launch: Biography of Igor Savitsky, Founder of the Karakalpakstan Museum, Nukus

Igor Savitsky founder of Nukus Museum Uzbekistan
Igor Savitsky
If you're in London on Wednesday 9 November, don't miss the launch of Marinika Babanazarova's biography of the founder of the Karakalpakstan Museum: Igor Savitsky - Artist, Collector, Museum Founder at Pushkin House at 7:00 p.m.

The museum, located in Nukus in far western Uzbekistan, houses a collection of Soviet avant-garde art that is rivalled only by St. Petersburg's Russian Museum. Russian artists, caught up in the idealism of the early Soviet days, were drawn by the exoticism of Central Asia. They visited the region, some settling there, and painted exuberant works fusing modernism with orientalism. Simultaneously, Uzbek artists were producing remarkable pieces influenced in particular by primitivism.

All this came to an abrupt end when Stalin promulgated the decree On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations in 1932. Artists whose works did not meet the 'radiant future' style of socialist realism found their paintings removed from galleries and were unable to participate in exhibitions. Worse, some artists were repressed, sent to gulags and mental institutions or executed.

Savitsky rescued thousands of these 'dissident' works and hung them in his museum. Nukus' very remoteness worked to his advantage: because of the chemical warfare testing conducted nearby it was off-limits even to most Soviet citizens. So displaying paintings, even banned paintings, that no one would see, was feasible.

Road of Life and Death by Alexander Nikolaev
Road of Life and Death by Alexander Nikolaev, 1924
Marinika Babanazarova has been the museum's director since Savitsky's death in 1984. She is the grand-daughter of Karakalpakstan's first president (who was himself repressed and shot as an enemy of the people in 1938). Savitsky often visited her family's house in Nukus and later, Tashkent.

Her memoir draws upon correspondence, official records, and other documents about the Savitsky family that have become available during the last few years, as well as the recollections of a wide range of people who knew Igor Savitsky personally.

As she states in the foreword to this deeply moving and personal narrative: “I hope this memoir will serve not only as a multifaceted, broad-based portrait of a great man who was my mentor, but also as a tribute to his legacy.”

Houses by Lyubov Popova 1914
Houses by Lyubov Popova, 1914
The book, in separate English and Russian editions, will be on sale at Pushkin House (from 9 November) and at selected locations in Tashkent, London, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. as well as the Nukus Museum. All sale proceeds go directly to the Museum to support the maintenance and preservation of the Savitsky Collection. The book is available online now through Discovery Books, London. (Around A$24 including postage to Australia).

The story of Savtisky and the collection is told in a remarkable, award-winning documentary The Desert of Forbidden Art by Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev. You can watch the trailer and purchase a copy online. (US$35 including postage to Australia). Should you happen to be in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 3 November there will be a screening at 6:00 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency and a screening on 11 November at the University of Central Asia, Bishek at 4:00 p.m.. Also on Monday 7 November in Riga, Latvia, at the historic Splendid Palace cinema at 7:00 p.m.

On Uzbek Journeys tours we spend an entire day at the Nukus Museum: it is one of the highlights of the trip . As well as the marvellous paintings and works on paper, the collection includes priceless examples of Karakalpak nomads' carpets, jewellery and textiles, also saved by Savitsky. Excellent catalogues are available there for purchase. Visiting the museum's website provides a valuable overview of its history and collection before your visit.

Related posts: Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk, Christie's Exhibition
Sotheby's London Exhibition: Contemporary Art from Central Asia & the Caucasus
Desert of Forbidden Art screens at Venice Biennale