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.
It certainly is not the best bust of Alexander Pushkin ever made. But it may be one of the most “popular” in Russia. By “popular” I mean the most visited, the most seen, the most passed-by. This small bust of Pushkin stands on a pedestal in a niche that connects Moscow’s Pushkinskaya and Chekhovskaya stops on the metro – on two of the most traveled lines in the whole metro system. This is an extremely busy place most any time of the morning, day or night. Just like the huge monument to Pushkin that stands more or less straight above this subway stop on Pushkin Square, it is also a place where people meet. “Let’s meet by Pushkin” is a phrase that has been spoken millions of times in Moscow over the decades. As can be seen in this series of photos, those meetings – or ones that do not happen, or, maybe, meetings that once happened and are being remembered – aren’t necessarily always the happiest. As I was taking these pictures I must admit I did not pay much attention to the woman who was standing just to Pushkin’s left. It was only as I was editing them that I realized she was experiencing a difficult moment of some kind.
In the last photo above, as in the first one below, the woman actually appears to be looking up to Pushkin for some reason – for strength? for friendship? because she realizes I am taking pictures of Pushkin? In any case, for the most part nobody is paying much attention either to the woman or to Pushkin.
When the Dostoevskaya metro station opened on the gray line a couple of years ago – it’s located right next to the Russian Army Theater and a hop-skip-and-jump from the fabulous Ten’ (Shadow) Theater – it raised a veritable ruckus. Oh, there was all kinds of nonsense about how it was going to scare metro riders away, how it was going to create murderers with its portrait of Raskolnikov, and how it was going to foster suicide by encouraging young people to throw themselves on the tracks as trains were coming in. You get the picture. The typical damned nonsense that people write and say and think and propagate this crazy day and age. In fact, the entire underground part of the station, designed by Ivan Nikolayev, is a brilliant monument to the world of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels. What I particularly love is the way, for instance, that Nikolayev even gave a nod to Nikolai Gogol, the most important early influence on Dostoevsky. A Gogol-like figure depicted on the wall of the stairwell appears to be hurrying down to catch a train as actual riders pass him by. It’s a lovely touch, smart and witty. I also love the black, white and gray color scheme that suits Dostoevsky’s art so well.
Down on the actual platforms, mosaics on wide columns illustrate various scenes from Dostoevsky’s greatest novels. I happened to click my camera at two columns depicting the characters and events of Crime and Punishment, maybe because that was the first Dostoevsky novel I ever read way back when in another lifetime. For the record, I read Crime and Punishment on the heels of having read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina and I didn’t notice the slightest drop in quality. This was in high school. The 1970s had just gotten underway. That little bit aside, I should mention that I wrote about this wonderful metro station in a Moscow Times blog several years ago. Should the spirit move you, you can read that here.