Tag Archives: Alexander Kibalnikov

Vladimir Mayakovsky bust, Moscow metro


Note: Click on photos to view them in a larger size.


The new, northern, vestibule of the Mayakovsky stop is one of my favorite places in Moscow’s metro system. It is challenged only by the spectacular platform of the Dostoevskaya stop, about which I have already written on this blog space. Hard to believe it’s been in use now for nine years, but that’s what Wikipedia tells me. It was opened Sept. 2, 2005.
There is a bust here of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) that, to the best of my knowledge, is a small copy of the head portion of Alexander Kibalnikov’s monumental full-body statue that stands a few dozen meters away in the middle of Triumphal (formerly Mayakovsky) Square. (For the record I’ve written a bit about that, here, too.) The bust, like the statue on the street, is a fine likeness. It has that hard, dynamic, energetic feel that Mayakovsky did himself. There are a lot of great images of Mayakovsky out there – just Google him and hit “images” and you’ll see what I mean.
But it’s not the bust that makes this space such a success. That is actually a modest detail, quite small actually, placed to one side of the vestibule. No, what makes this space so exciting is the vaulted mosaic ceiling. Again, Russian Wikipedia tells us that artist Ivan Lubennikov and three other unnamed artists worked for over three years creating the mosaics. They mix sky images with shapes drawn from the Constructivist style of using circles, oblongs, lines and rectangles in designs. Scattered in and amongst the images and backgrounds are bits and pieces of Mayakovsky’s poetry. The large, yellow background – nothing sky-like in that – really gives the whole space a bright, happy feel that contrasts with, and reflects well in, the black marble walls. The geometric shapes, then, placed around the ceiling, are like apertures revealing a sky that is located somewhere beyond the ceilings. Up there clouds drift, airplanes fly, and rainbows come swooping down towards us. One of the coolest angles from which to see the ceiling is on the up escalator. The higher up you go, the more the ceiling and the sky “beyond” it are revealed.

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Lubennikov, born in Minsk in 1951, has done quite a bit of work for metro spaces, including for two other relatively new Moscow stops – Sretensky Boulevard and Slavyansky Boulevard. He also created the stained glass design of the Russian folk figure Speckled Hen for the renovated Madeleine stop on the Paris metro, line 14. That design was installed in 2009, and you can see a small gallery of photos by going to an article on the Vesti.ru website. Don’t be daunted if you don’t read Russian – just click on the small boxes beneath the larger image at the head of the story. This is what Russian Wikipedia has to say about the Paris design:
“The Speckled Hen composition is unique in that it is the personification of a whole country as seen by Russian artist Ivan Lubennikov. This work suggests a quilt sewn from various patches; you can see a samovar, the first sputnik, the hammer and sickle, a Moscow metro station, golden domes with crosses and the Kremlin, while Malevich’s Black Square is located in the middle of the image of the chicken. The stained glass panel stands against a black background and is flanked by French and Russian texts telling the story of Speckled Hen. Some of the French inscription crosses over from the wall onto a golden egg.”
None of this has much to do with the Mayakovsky stop in Moscow, but it does whet my appetite to get back to Paris to shoot pictures of Lubennikov’s Speckled Hen. I’m always looking for reasons to go to Paris.

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Vladimir Mayakovsky on Triumphal Square, Moscow


The square where Moscow’s most prominent monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky stands had its name returned to Triumphal Square in 1992, although everyone still calls it Mayakovka. It was officially Mayakovsky Square from 1935 to 1992. That first date, 1935, is no random number. Mayakovsky threw a monkey wrench in the ideologues’ spokes when he committed suicide in 1930. How could the great bard of the Revolution be so self-centered as to kill himself? It took Stalin and his people awhile to figure out what to do about, but they chose in 1935 to “canonize” the dead poet and to sweep his sad end under the rug. His reputation was “rehabilitated” in what Boris Pasternak called his “second death” – from 1935 on, Mayakovsky ceased to be a real poet and a real person with a real biography, that is, with lots of warts and paradoxes. He officially became The Model Poet, the Great Civic Poet, the Great Poet of the Revolution. The statue which we see here was constructed by sculptor Alexander Kibalnikov and erected in 1958. This was another loaded year on the square. Right here on this square a feisty new, freedom-loving theater was opened in 1956 and it was called the Sovremennik, or, the Contemporary. A child of the Thaw, it was a huge success with audiences, taking the opportunity to speak out in ways that most Russian theaters had forgotten could be done. There is still a nagging suspicion that the decision to erect a monument to Mayakovsky was taken by the authorities in order to demolish the building occupied by the Sovremennik and to push the theater out of the city center. The Sovremennik was given fancy digs in a beautiful new building on Chistye Prudy a couple of kilometers away. For awhile, at least, it survived the temptation to become a bourgeois theater in its classy new digs, continuing to be a cutting-edge playhouse, while in its absence on the square a new tradition of free speech arose almost instantly. Poets and wannabe poets, as well as all those who cling to both, began gathering at Mayakovsky’s feet to proclaim the newest and boldest poetry being written. The connection that this small chunk of land has to a striving for freedom has continued into our day. Beginning in 2009 small groups of tenacious protesters would gather here every time a month had a 31st day in order to mark the 31st article of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly. The irony, of course, was that the authorities always threw thousands of storm troopers and paddy wagons at the few hundred protesters, scooping them up almost before they could gather and hauling them away. For a few years, in order to discourage these protests, the authorities even closed off the space around the Mayakovsky monument with chain-link fences and deep pits. Officially they were “reconstructing” the space, although for years I never saw a worker there. In fact, they were attempting to deter the protests. In 2013 the square was, indeed, rebuilt, closed to traffic, and outfitted with small plots of grass and plenty of benches for tired passersby to rest on.

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Mayakovka is one of the most culture-packed locations in all of Moscow. The Satire Theater, founded in 1924, is located here. Right around the corner in the Aquarium Garden stands the Mossoviet Theater. Vsevolod Meyerhold, who directed three of Mayakovsky’s plays, was supposed to have his new theater built here, and construction was begun on it. But when Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in 1940, the building was turned into a concert hall, which it remains to this day. On the north side of the square across from the Satire Theater and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall once stood the first film studio and film theater in Moscow, run by Alexander Khanzhonkov. Until recently films continued to be shown there in a cinema called the Khanzhonkov House, but that was eventually closed and turned into a concert hall for pop and rock music. The famous spire-topped Pekin Hotel and restaurant are located behind Mayakovsky’s back and can be seen in several of the photos here. The Pekin is not quite as famous a meeting place for cultural figures as the Metropol Hotel near Red Square, but its walls could still tell many a story. For awhile in the mid-to-late 2000s the back rooms of the Pekin hosted a small club called Last Money (Poslednye den’gi) where my wife’s great band Oxy Rocks rocked the house many a time.

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Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


One of my favorite places in the neighborhood where I live. When I go out for walks my autopilot takes me right here, to the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Pereulok, or Lane, almost 80% of the time. The whole surrounding area is beautiful, but the gallery and the short street it stands on are especially so. Just a few hundred yards northward is the marvelous Bolotnaya Square, with its imposing Ilya Repin statue, about which I wrote a month or so ago.  The Tretyakov is one of those incredible structures that oozes Russianness. I would hazard to say that the only other building I know like it is the stunning St. Basil’s Cathedral, about which I’ll get around to showing and telling-about some day. Pavel Tretyakov, who is the individual emerging from the chaos of granite here, was one of the great Russian philanthropists and supporters of the arts. He was an avid, not to say obsessive, collector of art, with a particular interest in Russian work (as opposed to his brother Sergei Tretyakov, who collected much European art). Even when he began collecting in his 20s he had the thought in mind of creating a national gallery of Russian art.


Indeed, Tretyakov – and the curators to whom his collection was bequeathed – put together one of the most astonishing collections of Russian art ever assembled (the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg is the only competitor, and, as one who has spent many hours in both museums, I come down on the side of the Tretyakov as the leader). There are painters here of genius that almost no one in the West, sometimes even among specialists, has any notion of. The large collection of pieces by Karl Bryullov is a self-contained treasure in its own. The room dedicated to several huge (and small) works by Mikhail Vrubel is magical. My beloved Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Alexander Ivanov are well represented. The downstairs room of icons  takes you on a breathtaking, unexpected journey through centuries of Russian spirituality. Interestingly, Alexander  Kibalnikov’s statue of Tretyakov, which stands in the courtyard of the museum entrance, has only been in place since 1980. From 1939 to 1980 the position of “greeter” was held down by a large statue of Joseph Stalin, and before, that, Vladimir Lenin. Take a look at these pictures and just imagine what that must have looked like.

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