Tag Archives: Alexander Rukavishnikov

Mikhail Sholokhov monument, Moscow

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I have been photographing this monument to Mikhail Sholokhov, the Nobel Prize-winning author who claimed to have written the classic Soviet novel The Quiet Don, for several years now. I have never liked the photos I got. Often it was a problem of light – I usually happened upon it on very sunny days when I got nothing but black shadows and burned-out white spots. But there were other problems, too. One is the monument, which is sprawling and multifarious and, therefore, difficult to get an angle on. Another is the figure of Sholokhov. Controversial is no longer the word for him – it now seems certain that many will continue forever to call him a fraud -still another of those frauds, like the Stakhanovite shock workers or the child hero Pavel Morozov, none of whom actually existed, at least as the stories were told about them. Sholokhov may well have been one of those heroes that the Soviet state needed, but didn’t have, so chose to make up. And he turned out to be willing to play the part – why not? –  it made him rich, famous and powerful. Rumors, and not only rumors, have long posited that a certain Fyodor Kryukov, a soldier who was killed during the Russian Civil War, wrote most of The Quiet Don (English publishers traditionally have cut this work into two, And Quiet Flows the Don, and The Don Flows Home to the Sea). Over the decades other authors, or partial authors, have been put forward, including Alexander Serafimovich (who denied he wrote the novel). The 1999 discovery of the manuscript that Sholokhov first submitted for publication at the end of the 1920s gave support to those who believe in Sholokhov’s authorship. It was clearly determined that 605 of the 885 pages were written by Sholokhov, while the remaining pages were written by his wife and her sisters.
And yet, the doubt that hangs over Sholokhov’s head is just too serious to be dismissed. After all, who is to say that Sholokhov and his wife didn’t merely copy out Kryukov’s, or someone else’s, abandoned text? A highly detailed article about the controversy on Russian Wikipedia lists 17 serious accusations that have never been successfully refuted. It lists 10 detailed reasons to believe that Sholokhov wrote the novel.
I am no expert in this topic, which, as the Russians say, could easily make the Devil himself break a leg trying to maneuver the details. I did have the memorable, though, ultimately inconsequential, experience of once working with a TV producer who came from the Don region, knew the people there, the stories, the reality, and who passionately, even vehemently, supported the version that Sholokhov was a plagiarist.
Sholokhov was recently in the news again when the archives of the Nobel Prize Committee for 1965 – the year he won – were made public. You can read some details in an article in The Guardian, but here are a few tidbits: Writers passed over in favor of Sholokhov included Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Konstantin Paustovsky, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Somerset Maugham, Samuel Beckett and several others. Although records show that the choice of Sholokhov was unanimous, it was, according to a piece published by Colta.ru, far more controversial than it would appear at first blush. At one point a suggestion to give the Prize jointly to Sholokhov and Akhmatova appeared to gain traction. It was apparently shot down by Professor Anders Esterling, who declared, with some reason, that such an award would be pointless since nothing, other than their native tongue of Russian, unified the two writers.

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This monument, conceived by Iulian Rukavishnikov several decades ago, but eventually created by his son Alexander Rukavishnikov, and unveiled May 24, 2007, was the second monument honoring Sholokhov to be erected in Moscow. It has been – like its subject – controversial from the very start. It is located in the garden walk area of Gogol Boulvard immediately across from house No. 10, where Ivan Turgenev occasionally lived. Many felt that if any monument were to go up here, it should have been one honoring Turgenev. This is not, however, a fully arbitrary location for the present sculptural group, as Sholokhov lived for many years on Sivtsev-Vrazhek Lane, which runs perpendicular to Gogol Boulevard right in front of the monument. Sholokhov, sitting in a boat presumably navigating the Don River, looks directly down the street where he lived. Behind him is a fountain – which doesn’t always have water flowing in it, and certainly did not on the sub-freezing day I photographed it – that shows horses fording the river in the opposite direction from Sholokhov (who appears to be letting the boat float where it will as he poses for the sculptor). Across the walkway there is a two-sided bench, the backs of which bear symbolic images important to the Cossacks, the main characters in The Quiet Don (such as sabres and the Russian symbol of the two-headed eagle). Scattered around in the walkway around the benches are bronze imitations of stray sheets of manuscripts. The one I provide here (the second-to-last photo below) is of the title page from Sholokhov’s other famous novel, They Fought for their Motherland. You can’t help but wonder if this is the sculptor’s sly idea of a way to acknowledge the legend that Sholokhov came upon “his” Quiet Don as an abandoned manuscript.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky monument, Moscow

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If you look a little further down at the photos here you’ll see where the jokes come from. It’s been said this monument to Dostoevsky by Alexander Rukavishnikov is a “monument to the Russian hemorrhoid.” It is also called “At the Proctologist.” So says Russian Wikipedia, anyway. There’s plenty to joke about. This may be one of the weirdest major sculptures of an important cultural figure I’ve ever encountered. And it’s not just because it looks like Dostoevsky is slipping off the seat he’s trying to sit on. Look at his face. He’s ready to burst out crying. The pain on his face is plain as day, even on a gray, gloomy, murky day in October when the sun never shines, the rain never really stops and the sky allows no breaks in the monotonous, deadly dull, silvery canopy. His hands – he doesn’t know what to do with them. His right hand seems like it wants to grab onto something, but there’s only his leg, unstable because he’s neither sitting nor standing. His left hand is tucked under him but it does him no good – he’s going nowhere.
So, when you walk around this monument your thoughts are running wild. My first response was that I hated it. Then it began to grow on me. I kept looking around – sculptures are, after all, part of a landscape – and the artistic picture grew clearer and clearer. This Dostoevsky wants to be ANYWHERE BUT HERE! Anywhere. Almost anywhere. Anywhere except before that firing squad the Tsar teased him with in 1849. Just a little joke there, Fedya. We thought we’d teach you a lesson. You know, condemn you to death. Put you in front of the firing squad and then seconds before the trigger is pulled send in a well-dressed adjutant on a fine, prancing steed to stay the execution. Such a humane action.
So INhumane, actually, that one of the guys in the firing line with Dostoevsky went mad. So, no, he doesn’t want to be back there – but he clearly would be happy to be absolutely any other place than there and here before the Lenin Library on 3/5 Vozdvizhenka, just across the street from the Russian Duma (popularly called the Russian Dura, that is, Imbecile, these days), and a stones’ throw from the Kremlin itself. Fyodor is kind of looking out from under his eyebrows in a crosswise way at the Kremlin. Like, “God, I am stuck here for eternity! How in the frig am I going to do that?!”

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The Lenin Library – it’s a great library, one of the greats in the world. I’ve worked there and I know. But the whole notion of poor Fedya having the name of Lenin, in bright gold even on a dreary day, shining eternally behind his head – how can you survive that? The building itself is a disaster, a train wreck of Soviet architecture pretending to play on Greek forms. Ugh! It’s gross and pathetic. Walk up close to those columns or the walls and they’re falling apart; the tiles are chipped and broken; everything is aging, cracked, forgotten. There are a couple of cathedrals attempting to reach out to Dostoevsky from behind corners or trees. They don’t seem to have much power on him, though.
Tiny story here. An hour before I took these photos I had participated in a conference on contemporary Russian culture in the Manege, the exhibition hall that is pretty much across from Dostoevsky, right in his site line. Our panel was crashed by a small group of semi-unhinged people with very unclear, but very adamant, aims. They hated us, they hate everybody who is making theater these days, they hate the Russian city government, they hate gays, foreigners and the Lord knows what else. We had to shut down early and go home because these guys wouldn’t quit shouting and interrupting. They were – they are – I believe, the eternal forces of Russian chaos. They are the people that Dostoevsky described in his novel The Devils  or The Demons or The Possessed – the title is different depending upon what translation is used where you live. I came away from that aborted panel thinking black thoughts. It was raining and – not cold, but – chilly to the bone. And I walked around Dostoevsky, hating him  (hating the sculptor) at first, mumbling, grumbling, picking mentally at every little thing. Until I got it. The sculptor’s point of view, the story he wanted to tell me, the satire he imposed on all the official people who must see this huge and imposing work of art in a wide-open space while they run around doing whatever they do – that all came home and hit me hard.
There’s a  wonderful Bob Dylan song called “Lo and Behold” that will be coming out on a special CD compilation next month. We collectors have known the song for 45 years, but it will be released officially for the first time ever in November. There is a line in there where Dylan sings, his worried, agitated voice rising up higher and higher with unease as it goes: “Let me out of here, my dear man!”
That’s what Rukavishnikov put into this bizarre, deeply compelling monument to Dostoevsky.
The place Dylan’s voice best suits this is at about 1:20 on the Soundcloud recording that you can listen to here.  For the record the monument was unveiled in 1997.
“Lo and behold! Lo and behold! Looking for my lo and behold! Get me out of here – my – dear – man!”

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Mikhail Bulgakov house, Moscow

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I hate to say it, but Mikhail Bulgakov’s memory has not been done a favor by all the attention paid to the building he lived in at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya Street from 1921 to 1924. It is honored with two plaques, one a workmanlike affair indicating the years of the writer’s residency and the information that the building is maintained by the state, the other a more decorative thing that adds the information that some scenes from Bulgakov’s popular novel The Master and Margarita are set in this building. This latter plaque, as you can see below, is rather under attack from the signs that the contemporary world heaps on many city dwellings. Even the rather imposing second-floor balcony sign proclaiming the location The Bulgakov House, gets lost in the visual chaos of the place.
That’s not so bad, you say. That’s just what happens in the modern world. And you’d be pretty much right. I wouldn’t argue it. But, to my eye somehow, Bulgakov plays second fiddle here, popular as he is. The surfeit of information smacks up against a deficit of impact. But that’s nothing compared to what hits you when you enter the courtyard of the building where the entrance to Bulgakov’s apartment was located.

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Here the building featuring two museums and a theater has been plastered with all kinds of stuff – sculptures, bas reliefs, pictures, posters, marquees and such. At least one statue – of Woland’s helpers Fagot and Begemot – was erected near the door to one of the museums. This work by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov was originally planned to be part of a large ensemble of sculptures that was to be erected in the mid 2000s in and around Patriarch’s Pond, another section of the city that is closely connected to the plot of The Master and Margarita. (You can see a bunch of them here.) Although all (or almost all) of the statues were made, none  were ever erected in the intended location. I guess it was kind of a consolation prize that Fagot and Begemot were given a home at building No. 10. If you’ll look closely, you’ll see that they stand in close proximity to a trash can, although if you look even closer, you’ll see that many candy- and cigarette-hungry visitors just stuff their waste papers into the primus heater held by Begemot. People have their picture taken with the duo like they don’t really care, and the whole atmosphere of the place reminds me of a cheap attraction in a run-down, half-forgotten town. A little deeper into the courtyard is the entrance to museum No. 2, the so-called “bad apartment” from The Master and Margarita – that is, apartment No. 50, in which Bulgakov actually lived. I don’t know, folks. De gustibus non est disputandem. The great truth of which is proved by taking a gander at one of the many websites devoted to this conglomeration of museums and statues and such. Here, for example, are just a few of the comments on Afisha, or Marquee, magazine’s page devoted to the place:
“The Bulgakov House is a special place for me! I was there once and I talked about Mikhail Bulgakov all night…,” writes Svetlana Migovich.
“I think this was done really well and the spirit [of the place] is well-created…,” writes Aigul Kh.
“The museum may be marvelous, but the rudeness of the guy at the door amazed me…,” writes Ekaterina Arkharova.
Well, nobody’s perfect. As for me, after about 10 minutes of forcing myself to take pictures, I ran out there as if somebody had sucked all the air out of the place.

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Mstislav Rostropovich Monument, Moscow

IMG_3545.jpg2This monument to Mstislav Rostropovich appeared in the little square at the crux of Moscow’s Bryusov Pereulok and Yeliseyevsky Pereulok in 2012, five years after the cellist died. He was one of the great artists and great citizens of the world. He sheltered Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the early 1970s, when that writer was under attack from the Soviet authorities. But I don’t want to get into listing all of this cellists great deeds – I’ll never get anything else said.

IMG_3546.jpg2 IMG_3552.jpg2I used to see Rostropovich perform frequently in the 1980s in Washington, D.C., when he was the musical director and principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. I loved him for his temperament, his enthusiasm, his passion. No symphony orchestra could merely play under the direction of his baton. The musicians had to perform. With Shostakovich at the helm, the National Symphony Orchestra was a beast – a live, living organism that breathed and seethed. I know, I know. There are those who thought Rostropovich, especially as a conductor, was too emotional. In my book: Baloney. Rostropovich brought class, quality, breadth and depth to classical music in D.C. during his tenure. He breathed life and importance into a sleepy art form in a sleepy, or as the song has it – a “bourgeois” – town.

IMG_3547.jpg2IMG_3553.jpg2In Moscow, from the Perestroika era on, Rostropovich was a frequent and welcome guest. He rarely missed an opportunity to make it known what side he was on politically – showing up to play his cello as the Berlin Wall fell, and showing up in Moscow during the coup in Moscow to lend his support to Boris Yeltsin. The monument in Moscow is a multi-layered work by sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov and architect Igor Voskresensky. Among other things, it includes a page from the music to one of the works that Sergei Prokofiev wrote expressly for the musician.

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