Note: Click on photos to enlarge.
Today’s message is short and sweet: Even Pushkin ends up in dump heaps.
But what impresses me is not so much that somebody removed this small Pushkin statue to Moscow’s Muzeon Park of Fallen Monuments to share space with the disgraced Joseph Stalin and Felix Derzhinsky alongside more respectable company such as Mikhail Lermontov, Mikhail Lomonosov and others. Everybody has their bad days. No. What gets me is the way it was done. Look at these photos. The great Pushkin was just unloaded at a corner between two sidewalks going different directions. Now, it’s true you can find photos of this statue on the net that aren’t quite as bad. Some show grass under the base on which his feet stand. Some show him looking in one direction, some show him looking in another. But in all cases Pushkin more or less looks like a sore thumb in a bad place.
The photo immediately below is the most damning. I realize this was probably a temporary thing. I just happened to come along with my camera and catch it for eternity. But, still. How could this have happened for more than 10 minutes? How could it have happened at all? Somebody dug up a sprinkling line or something running through the environs, and he or she simply piled the dirt up on Pushkin’s feet! What kind of a person do you have to be to throw dirt on Pushkin’s feet? Did it never occur to this person that, maybe, this shouldn’t have been done? Or that, maybe, it ought to be undone once it was done? Which brings us to the next question – why hadn’t anyone ordered the great poet’s feet to be cleaned? Anyway, just beyond this rather forlorn Pushkin stands another abandoned object, perhaps a pedestal for some statue that didn’t make it here in one piece. This whole “ensemble” of wayward, tilting pedestals and half-buried Pushkins stuck in corners is just too much for me to bear.
As for the statue itself, it is the work of Aldona Nenasheva. She created it in 1987. This much I’m able to glean from the fairly informative Muzeon website. I’m not able to glean much more. I don’t know why her Pushkin is sitting here, and although I don’t know this for a fact, I suspect he was intended to sit somewhere else. In a vain search for answers to these and a few other questions, however, I ran across quite a bit of commentary about this little statue by others. It appears to be a fairly popular likeness. Folks talk about its philosophical air, its culture, its whatever all else. I must admit I was surprised. It’s possible I was just thrown off by the dirt on his feet, but this Pushkin looks to me like one of those miniature plaster casts that you’d buy at a tourist trap. Okay, there’s a bit of a thoughtful gaze and there’s something nice about his curly hair being picked up by the ruffles on his shirt. But, still. Isn’t this cookie-cutter Pushkin? The Muzeon site assures me it’s not. Here’s what it has to say:
“The work of A.M. Nenasheva clearly reflected the general stylistics of the development of Soviet sculpture of the last decades: the revealing of the heroic in an everyday image of a contemporary; the expansion of theme in minimal movement; the development of monumental forms; keen psychological portraits.”
Or, maybe this is just another example of why I ran screaming from academia when the opportunity presented itself to me. What a scholar can’t say when s/he begins piling words on top of one another…
Mikhail Lermontov, who died in 1841 at the age of 27 in a duel , is a reproach to all of us who have ever looked up for a moment and wondered why we haven’t done more with our lives. Lermontov had just begun his life when he was cut down, and yet he left behind a legacy of poetry and drama that makes him one of the great Russian writers. This statue, which stands in the Muzeon Park near the Central House of Artists alongside the Moscow River, is an artist-authorized copy of Oleg Komov’s statue that stands in Tarkhany, the estate where the poet grew up and where he is buried. On one hand this sculpture is simple to the point of banality – it reminds me at moments of a student work, as if the artist were trying out the basic ABCs of his future profession. On the other hand, its simplicity is surely “built in” and intended. Lermontov sits there in a relaxed pose with a relaxed expression on his face. Yes, there’s a little concern in his gaze, but not too much. His military uniform, which can make him look stiff and very official in his portraits, here has a warmly and humanly haphazard air about it. The closer you get to the monument, the more you feel a living person inside it.
I don’t know why this particular statue is located in the “fallen monuments” section of the Muzeon Park, but it is a nice place for it. There are lots of guests always around it – I mean monuments and real people – and so there is always a sense of community to this little plot of land. If you look at the upper part of Lermontov’s thighs, you’ll see that the bronze has been worn to a shiny sheen. That is from people who can’t refuse the opportunity to take a seat in a great poet’s lap. That, too, adds to the personable feel of this otherwise deceptively modest statue.
Maxim Gorky is a writer I have a hard time relating to. Solzhenitsyn’s condemnation of him as someone who turned a blind eye to the Red Terror was an enduring blow. Gorky did not see a lot of violence and perfidy, or he chose not to see them. Either way, he was too big a figure, too famous, too smart, too talented, too well-connected to allow himself such an egregious error. In his favor, I am being one-sided. He supported young talent and came to the defense of many who were in trouble. Surely he will always remain a paradoxical figure in Russian-Soviet literary history.
Gorky’s literature is another thing. He was held up during the Soviet period as a sort of Soviet Tolstoy and his stature as a cultural giant, though somewhat diminished, continues today. I’ve always found him to be a royal bore. It seems to me that he has all of Tolstoy’s pretensions to greatness, but none of the greatness. His most famous play The Lower Depths – still frequently staged today – strikes me as a pack of cliches about workers, intellectuals and lowlifes. His much better Summer Folk is, in fact, a rip-off of Chekhovian devices, but without the lightness or wit of Chekhov. His Ostrovsky-inspired family sagas – such as The Petty Bourgeoisie or Vassa Zheleznova – can be very powerful in the hands of a good director. I’ve never been able to stick long with his novels, famous as some of them are – Mother, The Life of Klim Samgin and others.
The monument that now stands behind the House of Artists on Krymsky Val is one of hundreds of “abandoned” sculptures that make up the Muzeon Park, or, as it is sometimes known in English, the Fallen Monuments Park. Gorky stands here rather ignominiously stuck up against some trees not far from old statues of Joseph Stalin, secret police chief No. 1 Felix Derzhinsky and other politicians whose reputations have suffered in recent years. Gorky, who used to stand in the plaza before the Belorussky Train Station, ended up here for a different reason. The plaza and everything around it was dug up in 2005 to begin reconstruction of roads and intersections in the area. Nine years later the construction is still going full force and Mr. Gorky – if there ever were any plans to return him to his proper place – still stands in the Muzeon Park. This monument, an impressive one no matter what you may think of the man or his writing, has a curious history. It was designed by sculptor Ivan Shadr in 1939, three years after Gorky’s death, but was not completed until 1951 (10 years after Shadr’s death) by sculptors Vera Mukhina and Nina Zelenskaya.