It’s pretty much impossible to avoid Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) in Moscow. In the Soviet years he was one of the great warhorses on whose backs the Soviets loaded literature, theater and culture in general. Streets, theaters, parks, film studios, you name it – they were all named after Gorky at one time. That’s come down in recent decades. (Will it go back up? We’ll have to wait and see about that. I certainly hope not.) This modest statue stands between the Chekhovskaya and (now) Tverskaya stops on the Moscow metro. It’s here because Tverskaya Street for many decades was called Gorky Street, hence, what for decades was called the Gorkovskaya metro stop is now called Tverskaya. If you think that’s confusing, that’s just one little metro stop and a street. Imagine what it’s been like for folks here to deal with all the other changes that have come with the taxing process of historical evolution. But let me get back to the topic at hand: Maxim Gorky. Or, to be more precise, this statue of him underground.
While I stood and photographed this statue for ten minutes, maybe more, nobody looked at it of their own volition as they passed by. A few looked at me and a very few looked in the direction of where my camera was pointed, and, thus, I presume their sight randomly happened to settle briefly on the statue. But this is a weird thing about art in metros. You wonder if it doesn’t inure people to culture as much as sensitize them to it. Poor guy – if he survived being read (and probably hated) by kids in school, now he’s ignored for being that thing in between two of Moscow’s busiest metro stops. I’ll be honest, I almost forgot he was here myself. I was taking pictures of Chekhov mosaics on the Chekhovskaya stop and I was preparing to go photograph the bust of Pushkin on the way to the Pushkinskaya stop (I wrote about that in May), when I thought I’d just check to see if there was anything to shoot at the Tverskaya stop. Now, I’ve only transferred between these two stops a million times in my life. And when I saw Gorky’s head looming ahead of me as I rode the elevator up from the Chekhovskaya stop, I suddenly remembered his presence here. Still, he was less than an afterthought in my mind. Consequently, I made an effort to stop and look inside the version of Gorky that this sculptor (unknown to me) provides.
I like his youth here, he’s not yet encrusted with all the paradoxes and nasty stuff that accrued to him after he returned to the Soviet Union from self-imposed exile in 1932 at the personal invitation of Joseph Stalin. (You can guess that wasn’t the best of his life decisions.) Young as he may be though, that big head of hair has been blown by life. The lines in the face are hard already – perhaps an anticipation of what was to come. He looks late-twenty-something to me, maybe maybe early-thirty-something. But probably not, and he’s probably not yet a writer. Look at the books he holds in his hands – I wager those aren’t his; he’s still a reader here. The body, scrawny and gangly and exaggerated for the sake of style, is that of a student, a learner, somebody just starting out on a journey. There’s something in that I find attractive. In fact, if I’m going to like a Gorky statue – although I’m not sure that’s going to happen – it would probably be something like this one.