Russian Art and the West: A Century of Dialogue in Painting, Architecture and the Decorative Arts

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Rosalind P. Blakesley and Susan E Reid, eds. Russian Art and the West: A Century of Dialogue in Painting, Architecture and the Decorative Arts. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007. 246 pp. Illustrations. Index. $42.00, cloth.

The main theme that unites the essays in this well-written, impeccably researched, and finely-illustrated volume is Russia's thrall with the West-its technology, its economy, and its art-a love affair whose intensity is matched only by Russia's contempt for the object of its obsession.

Rosalind Blakesley and Susan Reid have gathered the work of an impressive roster of Western scholars (including tiiemselves) whose contributions to the field of Russian visual culture are substantive and wide ranging. All ten essays in this volume fulfill the aims stated in the editors' introduction. Contributions like Blakesley's own essay on Aleksei Bogoliubov-a little-known figure who played a pivotal role in introducing Russian academic painters studying in Paris to French artists and ensured that the art of the Peredvizhniki was exhibited in the City of Light-broaden the focus of the discussion about Russian art and the "West" beyond better-known artists and movements; and include discussions of decorative arts and architecture, as well as realist and academic painting.

In the introduction, the editors carefully nuance received notions of the "West" in light of recent postcolonial and post-structuralist thinking, but ultimately define it in much the same way as the otiier contributors to this collection, namely France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Despite their claim that many contributors illuminate "not a one way flow of influence passively absorbed by Russia, but a dynamic, dialogic process of proactive-and interactive-exchange" (p. 9), this dialogic, interactive exchange is hardly in evidence in the ten case studies this volume presents. One essay that posits a more dialogical process is Jane Sharp's discussion of Natalia Goncharova, who is placed in the position of authority (read: Western) vis-à-vis her artistic counterparts in Georgia. In this imperial(ist) position Goncharova is empowered to bring Nico Pirosmani to Moscow and to bestow upon him the legitimization that comes with acceptance in the centre of the Russian art world, all the while borrowing from his style.

The other essays in the volume, however, are scrupulous and nuanced studies of the nature of Russia's complex relationship with the West. Space limitations do not permit an assessment of every essay, but several will suffice as exemplary.Charlotte Douglas rests her foot on the tricky terrain of influence, in her essay comparing the contemporaneous emergence of abstraction in the Bloomsbury circle in London and in Moscow. …


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