Tag Archives: Zuk Club

Mikhail Bulgakov mural, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.

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I wish there were more of these around Moscow. The city is laid out in such a way that there could be many more full-building murals. There are countless blank and open building walls just waiting to have cool pictures painted on them. Street art, mural art is a wonderful way of personalizing a city. Look how cool this Bob Dylan mural looked in Minneapolis even before it was completed. I have written about several murals in Moscow – including ones depicting Stravinsky and Alexander Pushkin. The one I post today is of Mikhail Bulgakov. It was the first in a series of murals painted in the Heritage project. It was created jointly by the two main (and overlapping, as far as I can tell) “graffiti-advertising” organizations in Moscow – Novotekart and Zuk Club. It is painted on the north-looking wall of the apartment house located at 33 Afanasyevsky Lane in the Arbat district, and it appeared in September 2014. Showing a playful sense of humor, the artists depict Woland’s cat Begemot hanging out up on two stray balconies at the top of the wall. (Woland, of course, being the devilish character in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita who comes to Moscow to do evil, but can do only good….)
Much of the action in The Master and Margarita takes place in this general Arbat region, so the choice of this location for the portrait was not random. Although I read and enjoyed the novel when I first encountered it a couple of decades ago, it has never been an obsession with me like it is with many. The cult of Bulgakov, his novel and his characters is one of the strongest in all of Russian culture. For this reason it is arguably the source for more public art in Moscow than any other artistic work. I ran a net check on the topic on Yandex (the Russian Google) and came up with a huge gallery of photos.
However, people far more impressive than I have been influenced by Bulgakov’s Master, Margarita, Woland, Berlioz, Begemot, Azazello, Pontius Pilate and the rest.

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Arguably the biggest splash that The Master and Margarita had outside of Russia was in the Mick Jagger tune “Sympathy for the Devil.” The first stanzas are pretty much built on Jagger’s reading of the novel:

Please allow me to introduce myself,
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.

And I was round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain,
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate.

Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

The song then departs from the novel, but maintains the Russian context by adding:

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change,
Killed the czar and his ministers;
Anastasia screamed in vain.

A comprehensive Master and Margarita site has this to say about the Stones meeting Bulgakov:
“‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is one of the few Stones songs which Mick Jagger wrote alone, without the help of his buddy Keith Richard. At first, he said it was based on a poem of Baudelaire. But later he said it was inspired by The Master and Margarita, which Marianne Faithfull would have offered to him as a present. Faithfull, who was Jagger’s girlfriend at that time, said during an interview with Sylvie Simmons from the magazine Mojo in 2005: “I got Mick to read The Master and Margarita and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song.”
More recently, Patti Smith tossed a nod in the direction of Bulgakov by naming an album Banga. In a blog for The Moscow Times I pointed out that, “…as any net search will tell you, the mysterious title was drawn from a very minor figure in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. Banga in Bulgakov’s creation is Pontius Pilate’s dog, a creature so loyal he is willing to wait for his master virtually forever.”
But Patti didn’t stop there in her plumbing of Bulgakov’s writings, for, as I wrote in the same article, “Smith references another Bulgakovian dog without naming him: Sharik from the novella Heart of a Dog. She name-checks the full title to kick off her narrative, which explores the dark side of loyalty. ‘You can lick it twice, but it won’t lick you,’ she sneers, later adding, ‘Loyal he lives and we don’t know why.'”

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Igor Stravinsky Street Mural, Moscow


I just heard about Zuk Club a couple of weeks ago. It was in passing and I didn’t quite get what it was all about. And then life took over and I forgot about it. That is until yesterday when I was out hunting down interesting places in my neighborhood. I was coming across Bolshaya Polyanka from First Khvostov Lane in the Yakimanka district south of the Moskva River and something simply grabbed my eyesight and yanked it in its direction. You see it above, it was a huge  portrait of Igor Stravinsky. Based on information on Zuk Club’s Facebook page this went up in mid-November, maybe on the 18th. I hadn’t seen it yet and its effect was enormous when I did. I almost burst out laughing. I didn’t want to move from my position in the middle of the street, even though cars were bearing down on me.
This is not the kind of thing you see in Moscow. Moscow has never been particularly whimsical, and street art of this kind is all about whimsy. Yekaterinburg has tons of street art – there are even walking tours you can take to see little gnomes drawn into decaying garages, short works of literature written into the crevices in walls, and murals painted on building sidings. On my street, Pyatnitskaya, there has long been a gorgeous, colorful fairy-tale-type tree painted on a building siding, but I’ve always treasured this especially because it was so one-of-a-kind. But, surprisingly enough, there occasionally are new things under both the sun and the the low, gray Moscow sky. It turns out that this Stravinsky mural is just one of many that in recent times have sprung up all over Moscow. There are already huge murals of Mikhail Bulgakov, Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Scriabin, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin and Sergei Rachmaninov and that isn’t a full list. I’ll have to get out and do some work on that, but for the time being the Stravinsky portrait at 33 Bolshaya Polyanka will suffice.

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Based on information from Zuk Club’s website, it would appear that the group has been in existence since 2011. It has done hundreds of murals and pieces of street art all over Russia and Europe. The Stravinsky and other such portraits in Moscow were mounted as part of the Best City on Earth program run by the Moscow Culture Committee with support from an organization called Novatek Art. There is a kind of revolving stable of artists who work on different projects including Kirill Stefanov, Artyom Stefanov,
Sergei Ovseikin, Maxim Malyarenko, Irina Zvidrina, Kirill Smirnov, Alexander Kochergin, Sergei Belikov, Alexander Okootin, Stepan Leshenko, Lisa Smirnova, Nikita Pavlov and Olya Shirokostup. I grabbed all these names from a virtual gallery on the Zuk Club site that shows 100 of the group’s projects done since May 2011.
Stravinsky (1882-1971) is a perfect portrait to have in my neighborhood. I consider myself rather challenged in my knowledge and appreciation of classical music. Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison saw to that. But I’m not a total rube – at least, not all of the time – and Stravinsky is one of the reasons for that. When I lived in Washington, D.C. – way-way-way-way-way-way back, as Van Morrison would sing it – I had a cassette tape of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale that I played in the car all the time. On the flip side was a recording of his Dumbarton Oaks concerto, which I loved no less. That particular piece always had especial meaning because the park at Dumbarton Oaks was located just a few blocks from where I worked and I would, on occasion, wander up there to dream on my lunch break. None of those dreams came true. At least they haven’t yet. Which doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on my affection for Stravinsky, and, perhaps, even enhances the attachment I feel to this portrait of him that has unexpectedly showed up in my neighborhood.