An Unexpected Discovery: Tsereteli’s Museum-Studio
Recently, I happened across the strangest but most fabulous place. I was absentmindedly walking in the general direction of the Moscow Zoo, hoping to discover some unknown spots – I was not disappointed. On Gruzinskaya Square, not far from Barrikadnaya metro station, there is a line of ginormous statues across the front of a minty green building. I spotted them from way across the other side of the road and just had to cross to see what it was all about. The composition of sculptures got even more bizarre when I saw the clowns hanging off the building to the left and beyond the big gates to the courtyard I could see the tips of more, even bigger monuments. I had to get inside… and luckily I could as it turned out to be a part of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Though little did I know that I was entering the world of Zurab Tsereteli (Зураб Церетели).
Tsereteli is an artist whose sculptures in particular have brought him his fame. His best known pieces include his St George slaying the dragon at the Moscow War Memorial on Poklonnaya Hill (Поклонная Гора) and its various smaller copies across Russia (and even in New York), the Russian fairy tale characters that decorate the fountains by Manezhnaya Square (Манежная площадь) and the controversial monument to Peter the Great on the Moskva river. Tsereteli’s work often finds itself in the centre of artistic debate: his Peter the Great was once voted the tenth ugliest construction in the world and many of his works are never accepted by their intended recipient, though I personally find his Peter the Great to be so hideous that it is fabulous – it is such an eyesore and almost a ridiculous sculpture, that is it is funny and wonderful and would be a terrible shame for it to ever be removed. Yet, despite the many rejections he has faced, Tsereteli has nonetheless unveiled sculptures across the globe and Moscow is littered with his work, perhaps in part due to his close relationship with Yuri Luzhkov, the city’s mayor from 1992-2010.
Tsereteli’s huge collection of works is not limited to the 1990s however. His most recent controversial statue – five whole metres of Putin in his judo kit, which even the Kremlin wasn’t keen on – can be found amongst the models of many of his most famous monuments in the museum on Gruzinskaya Square, which is dedicated to Tsereteli’s work as well as being the site of his studio. The main building houses a vast array of his paintings and models for his bronze sculptures, both in miniature and full-size form. The courtyard is jam-packed with statue upon statue, the walls lined from drain to gutter with commemorative plaques and mosaics. The place is mad with barely a patch of ground to spare, perhaps much like the mind of the artist, whose work is in such fruitful abundance that you cannot help but think the man a bit crazy: anyone who can think up that Peter the Great statue must have a certain something going on in his mind. However, an artist’s madness is often his genius and there is no denying that many of Tsereteli’s works, despite the much criticism he receives, are beautiful and somehow magical.
At least the museum certainly is. I spent the first half an hour not really understanding whose work I was looking at. A room dedicated to the awards Tsereteli has received, with walls covered in photos of the artist with various world leaders and celebrities and his position as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador commemorated, made me aware that this man, controversial or not, has made waves in the Russian art world and has always aimed to do good with his work. Regardless of whether his work is to your taste or not, I would recommend a look at the museum. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes at the sheer scale of it all, and combined with the huge, angry Alsatian guarding the back perimeter of the courtyard exhibitions, the madness of it all left me speechless. The museum instantly became my favourite of all I had ever visited and I’m already planning my return, this time with some research on Tsereteli and a newfound appreciation for even the ugliest of his works under my belt.
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow