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I got a kick yesterday reading this post on the Facebook page of director Philipp Grigorian: “I am incapable of grasping the concept of this damned ‘muzeon.’ I think it’s hellacious trash. What the frig is this Lomonosov standing here for, not on a granite pedestal in the center of a park named for him, but in the mud under some bush, next to some damn deer made out of tubing????” He accompanied his mini-rant with two photos – Lomonosov in the mud and the tube-made deer standing nearby.
You see, just a few weeks ago I myself walked through this place called Muzeon and snapped a few photos myself, including these of Lomonosov (I passed on the deer). I thought I’d probably lay them away for some rainy day when I’d have nothing else to write about, but Grigorian made me want to come back to them right now – not to take issue with him, or even to agree with him, but just because these carelessly snapped shots all of a sudden took on a certain real-time urgency.
Muzeon is the outdoor sculpture park behind the House of Artists located on Krymsky Val in Moscow. It is essentially a graveyard for sculptures and monuments. There’s a creepy, well-made one of Stalin here, and lots of hack-jobs of Lenin. In these pages I have written about several somewhat more interesting pieces that can be found here – Maxim Gorky, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov and maybe another one or two. You can chase those down on this blog spot.
But Philipp is right, of course. There is a weirdness to this place. It makes no sense. Many of the abandoned old monuments – ones to Brezhnev and his ilk – stand in lines like bad tombstones. I wrote about a marble Pushkin here that is bizarrely stuck in a corner between two sidewalks coming together. When I photographed it, its feet were covered in dirt – just a royal mess. The better, more intriguing pieces, like this Lomonosov, are sometimes fortunate to be outside of a graveyard grid. But Grigorian’s question is the first that comes to mind for anyone passing through – what the hell is this doing here? Where was it before? Why isn’t it there now? Is this really the best place they could find for this?
This sculpture of Russia’s “first genius” – a mathematician, astronomer, chemist, poet, playwright and more – was made by Leonid Baranov (born 1943). Baranov is a successful sculptor who specializes in work honoring famous individuals. He created a likeness of Peter the Great that stands in Amsterdam (where Peter went to learn the craft of shipbuilding), and he is the author of a monument to Fyodor Dostoevsky that stands in Baden-Baden (where Dostoevsky loved to gamble.). The Lomonosov sculpture we see here is actually a duplicate of an original which was created in 1980 for the Lomonosov Theater in Arkhangelsk, near the great man’s birthplace.
To what I fear will be the chagrin of Philipp Grigorian, this duplicate was forged a second time from the original cast in 1991 specially in order to stand here in the Muzeon Park. That would explain why it stands outside the “gravestone rows” – it’s not a salvage job, but rather a purposeful choice on someone’s part.
I rather like the piece. It has a comics-like feel while also doing honor to historical reality. The nice rufflery (if that’s not a word it should be) on the shirt corresponds pleasantly to the layers of curls in Mikhail’s presumably powdered wig. The gaze, even through two blank orbs, is specific and focused. The facial expression is blank enough for us to read what we want into it, but clear enough to offer a sense of knowing and self-value. The chubby cheeks fit nicely with the low, but long, forehead, the broad, rolling shoulders and the comfortably protruding belly. Also of interest to me is the tiny book in Lomonosov’s left hand, and the large, strong, outstretched right hand that many passersby evidently cannot pass without giving a good shake. I did it myself and I swear Lomonosov returned back a nice, firm, gentlemanly shake.