N O V E M B E R 18 – 28, 2013
There is no doubt that virtually every collector secretly aspires to emulate Sergei Shchukin, Ivan Morozov, Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Stein, George Kostaki and others who discerned and believed in future luminaries of world art before many others did and who formed the by now world famous collections. The point is not at all money. Little do the collectors care about the worth of their treasures growing ten-, hundred- or thousandfold. What is more, even most of the heirs (especially of Russian descent) have little to gain from the speculative rise in the value of the wealth accumulated by their ancestors. So forget the money issue. It is something else.
The absolute majority of people can, to one extent or another, also call themselves collectors. We all find, buy, collect and store somewhere something, be it stamps, postcards, books, cups, plates, coins and many other things that have mysteriously caught our interest. With most people this urge peters out rather quickly, virtually at the initial stage, and but a few develop a veritable passion for collecting, gradually becoming experts in a certain field.
I was lucky enough to come into contact with many a major collector at different times. Their personal destinies and those of their collections varied. Yet, when forming their collections every one of them hoped to make a discovery, however small, in their fields of interest. Of course, few can boast to have made any major finds capable of changing ideas about specific artists or artistic trends, few have been lucky enough to discover new talent and even fewer managed to foresee in their collections the future development of fine arts. However, this does not prevent ever more collectors from spending their time, effort and money on looking for, studying, preserving and popularizing the objects of their passion.
Without aspiring to make any serious discovery in the by now fairly well-known legacy of Antonina Sofronova, I want to draw your attention to a relatively brief period of her work that enables a fresh assessment of her place in the history of Russian art.
I did not know Antonina Sofronova personally: I was two years old when she died. But I have known and fruitfully cooperated with her daughter Irina Yevstafieva (also an artist), her husband Sergei Ivanovich and their daughter Nina. I got to know practically the entire vast archive of the artist from her early immature pieces to the latest watercolors. I liked some things without reservations from the outset, but had to catch up to appreciate others. Sofronova’s works are very feminine and lyrical. Landscapes and portraits of the 1930s – 1940s, drawings of the Moscow Zoo and numerous still lifes are all pervaded with lyricism. Despite the individual, pictorially harsh series of the 1920s, for many of us Sofronova is still a lyrical artist.
Today I want to introduce an absolutely different Sofronova to you. Now if in the book illustrations on display we see the usual and quite recognizable Sofronova, in the magazine drawings she comes across as an entirely different artist. Needless to say, the very specifics of drawing for magazines at that time called for more austere and stylized plastics. However, in Sofronova’s case this contrast between large-size drawings and watercolors, on the one side, and drawings for magazines, on the other, is stunning.
After a nationwide campaign had been launched against formalist and non-objective art, Sofronova along with many others was taken to task for her non-objective and Constructivist ventures. She nevertheless found a way out and continued her experiments in this field, working under contracts with publishing houses. Book covers and fly-leaves became a sort of creative laboratory in which Sofronova dared to take “certain liberties”. I would like to point out the small decorative compositions made for book covers. In those Sofronova followed the trend started by Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Nikolai Suetin, Ilya Chashnik, Pavel Mansurov (Paul Mansouroff) and other artists. That was still partially possible in book design whereas any other forms of creative quests were nipped in the bud. Surprisingly enough, what Sofronova did in the 1930s anticipated the plastic solutions which Ulo Sooster, Yevgeny Mikhnov-Voitenko and many other artists of the so-called “second wave of the Russian avant-garde” arrived at in the 1960s.
I am sure that most of you could have hardly imagined such Sofronova. In these works she is far closer to Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Nadezhda Udaltsova, Varvara Stepanova and Olga Rozanova, the heroines of Russian art who have of late been referred to as the Amazons of the Russian avant-garde. From my point of view, Sofronova’s place in this galaxy is only natural and well-deserved.