Ildar Galeyev is founder and director of the Galeyev Gallery (Галеев Галерея) in Moscow. The gallery specializes in 20th Century Russian works of art of the pre-World War II period. It was founded in May 2006. The gallery’s goal is to introduce to the public previously unknown artworks of the 1920s and 1930s, bringing to light artists who have been undeservedly forgotten and have not received the artistic attention their talent merits, and to exhibit the lesser-known works of the more famous artists of that era.
Russian Art and Culture Editor Theodora Clarke met Ildar to discuss his latest exhibition in Moscow on Robert Falk, a founder and leading member of the influential Knave of Diamonds group.
Ildar Galeyev: I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Ildar Galeyev, the owner of Galeyev Gallery, which specialises in art of the 1920s and 30s. Our field of venture is in modern art of Russia from the pre-war period. I believe it is very important for a gallery to pick its place, pick a niche within the propaganda of art itself. Our exhibitions are not the only thing that the gallery is participating in. We also have many publishing projects about artists we exhibit. Our latest is a two pronged approach. One is an exhibition of Robert Falk’s major works of art and the other is an album of his works on paper. The album will include many works that have been previously impossible for the public to see as they are from private collections and museums across Russia.
Theodora Clarke: Why did you choose to exhibit work by Robert Falk?
IG: Robert Falk is one of the foremost names in Russian art of the twentieth century. He is an icon and an ideal for many generations of Russian intelligentsia, not only in Moscow and St Petersburg but across all of Russia. His name is not only connected to the propagation of Avant-Garde art in Russia but he also developed his own personal style which is instantly recognisable and which solidified his role as an icon in twentieth century Russian art. Unfortunately his last major exhibition in Moscow was in 1966 which was the year I was born!
TC: Robert Falk was part of the Knave of Diamonds group and also the Russian Cézannists. Could you explain to our readers how he fits in with the history of Russian art, which groups he exhibited with and which artists he is associated with?
IG: Primarily he was associated with the Knave of Diamonds group, with whom he exhibited in the 1910s. At the beginning of the century it was the most vibrant and interesting group of artists in Russia. In the 1920s he was the head of the art faculty in VKhUTEMAS which was the primary institution for artists in Moscow. He was also a Professor there. Towards the end of the 1920s he became disillusioned with Bolshevism and in 1927 he left Moscow for Paris. In 1937 he returned to Moscow. After that a completely new period in his artistic work began in which he started primarily to explore colour. It was during that period that his most prominent accomplishments can be seen. In the 1940s and 50s his work was the centre of convergence for anyone who was interested in the unofficial art, for anyone who did not accept the doctrine of Socialist Realism. Many of the artists who later in life became important figures in the Non-Conformist Unofficial art movement in the Soviet Union were as young people guests in Falk’s workplace. The most prominent follower of Falk in that period was Erik Bulatov who wrote a number of texts on the subject. In his works of the 60s a great influence of Falk can be seen and it was exactly at that time in 1966 that the biggest exhibition of Falk took place. Unfortunately it hasn’t been repeated since.
TC: How well known is Robert Falk in Russia? In the UK most of our readers wouldn’t be as familiar with his work. What do you think is the reason that he is not so well known in the West?
IG: The thing is that Robert Falk is a reflection of the situation in Russian art at that period in time. For many people involved in the art community it was instantly recognisable the inspiration and the drive behind Falk’s avant-garde art of the 1910s and how he later decided to become greyer in the 1930s. He practised almost silent protest. He never publically denounced the Soviet authorities. He worked almost as a hermit in his studio and crafted real art and for that he was seen by many as a real hero. For many in the West perhaps his position as a silent protestor could be understandable but his accomplishments in art would be not be considered as great. However for Russian art lovers it doesn’t really matter whether Falk has the recognition in the West or not. For people in Russia the name and the associations with the name of Robert Falk is that of art and the drive for real art, for good art.
TC: What would you say is the highlight of the exhibition?
IG: First of all part of the exhibiton is based on the collection of the State Museum of Tatarstan, which is based in Kazan, who purchased a great number of Falk’s graphic works in the 1970s. This is the first time those works have been exhibited in Moscow because they usually never leave the Museum in Kazan. The second part of the exhibition is based on the oil paintings which come from the collections of friends and relatives of Falk. Most of these have not left flats and house since the 60s. Many of the people who contributed do not like to be involved in public processes and it took a great deal of effort to convince them to lend works to the exhibition. For example this self-portrait was made in 1927 in Paris. Here we can see a very special moment because whenever an artist depicts himself he puts special effort into it. In this painting we can see very rich colouristic decisions. Falk practiced putting several layers of paint onto his works and achieved a special sense of illumination in certain details of his works. As you can see the whole atmosphere of the painting, especially the background, it’s almost as if it’s breathing. It is a reflection upon the times at which this portrait was made when people where very doubtful about the future.
This is another portrait, this time of his son Valerik. It was made in the late 1920s in Paris. As you can see Falk here exhibits a very vibrant colour palette and he likes to use a pink colour. This is Paris in the 1920s. There is also some material here related to the life of Falk and photographs that come from the family of the artist. For example this photograph comes from Vitebsk in 1921 when he was working with Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich was embarking on his role as a professor there.
TC: Is that Kandinsky in the photograph too?
IG: Yes you’re right. That was taken at VKhUTEMAS in 1921 at a meeting of the professors and tutors. Falk was the head of oil painting. In that picture he is with his second wife. She was the daughter of a famous theatrical director Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky has always been the basis for all Russian theatrical and acting schools. During that period of time in the early 1920s Falk met with a number of actors and theatre directors and people related to that field. This is a photograph of Falk with his son in Paris in the 1920s. Unfortunately he was killed during the war in 1942 and it was a great tragedy for Robert Falk. Over here you can see a photograph from the first Jack of Diamonds exhibition.
TC: That looks like Larionov too in the centre.
IG: Yes. On the right hand you can see Falk. These over here are photographs from his workplace. Here Falk is depicted playing chess. It was his great passion and he was very successful. In this photograph is his wife Angelina. It fell to her to organise the legacy of Robert Falk after his death. She decided which museums would get which works and it is to her credit that she saved a number of his paintings.
Here we have a number of drawings, a portrait of his wife and his son and a collection of his letters. You can also see the tag from the 1966 exhibition. This is also a very important work; you could say it is one of the most important in the exhibition. It was made in 1942 in Uzbekistan. During the war a number of Russian artists had been moved there for protection. Falk didn’t have the surfaces to work on. He lacked canvases. He only managed to make enough for 13 of his paintings and this one we can exhibit in the exhibiton.
TC: You have a number of Asian works in the exhibition which surprised me. Why is that?
In this part of the exhibition we tried to bring attention to the fact that Falk was also a collector of Japanese engravings. It was almost a tradition laid down by the Impressionist artists to collect Japanese works of art. Manet and Pissaro did that and Falk also continued. It is reasonable to assume that because he loved Japanese art so much that he tried to use some of the elements in his own work. These two were made in the 18thcentury and are very rare. Unfortunately we don’t know the artist but they are very beautiful and we couldn’t resist putting them in the exhibition.
This is a portrait of his daughter from his second marriage with Alexieva. There was a curious incident with her when in 1958 Jean-Paul Satre visited Moscow. Falk and Satre met up in restaurant and they had an amicable meal and Satre mentioned to Falk ‘by the way I know a very good female translator from Russian to French, also called Falk. Are you by any chance related to her’? Falk replied that it was his great pleasure to say that she was in fact his daughter.
This work is very interesting because it was in the collection of a pilot, a hero of the Soviet Union who was very famous in the 1930s for flying over the North Pole to America. He had a great interest in the works of Falk and he often helped Falk out when he needed it with money and even his workplace.
TC: Many of these pictures will be unfamiliar to viewers even if they know Falk’s work well. Where did they come from? Were they lent privately by the family?
IG: Yes works in the exhibition come from many sources, including private collections, by friends who owned his work. They also come from provincial museums from all over Russia and Europe; from the Far East to Dresden in Germany.
TC: I see in addition to Falk’s works you have also displayed a number of his catalogues in this exhibition. Why is that?
IG: Yes. As I mentioned, there hasn’t been a big exhibition in Moscow for a number of years. But you have to keep in mind that other cities have held exhibitions too. All these catalogues are already a rarity by themselves. The first book about Falk was not published in Russia or published in Russian but in Germany. This is why we felt it was so important to produce a new Russian catalogue to coincide with our exhibition.
Interview conducted 6 September 2012. All content ©Russian Art and Culture
Robert Falk, Paintings and Drawings
Galeyev Gallery, Moscow
12 September- 11 November 2012
Адрес: Москва, Б. Козихинский пер., 19/6, строение 1 (вход в арку дома 17 по Б.Козихинскому)
Тел.: (495) 699-98-54