In June 2019 Tate Modern will present the retrospective of the leading Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova. Her practice was wide-ranging and often controversial. She worked with the wide variety of medium: she paraded the streets of Moscow displaying futurist body art, created monumental religious series, took part in avant-garde cinema, experimented with book designs and designed for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris. Her practice influenced the artists of the period, both in Russia and abroad, and continues to inspire creative professionals today. Tate show will become the first retrospective of Goncharova in the UK and will offer a great opportunity to explore the diversity of her practice featuring a number of the works which have never been seen in this country before. Russian Art and Culture spoke with curator of the show Natalia Sidlina about the forthcoming project.
It is great to see the interest of Tate in Russian and Eastern European art that resulted in a number of wonderful shows in the last few years including the upcoming retrospective of Natalia Goncharova. However, I am very curious to know, why Goncharova? What factors determined this decision?
The Tate is known for the diverse exhibition programme and is committed to representing various voices and perspectives bringing to public attention artists of different genders, from different regions and time periods. This commitment is true both of the permanent displays and the temporary exhibition programme. We hosted many large-scale thoughtful exhibitions of women artists paying particular attention to those of the early decades of the 20 century. While these artists are largely recognised now, in terms of exhibitions they often remain overlooked unlike their male contemporaries. This year Tate is devised a range of such exhibitions: Dorothea Tanningwhich is open until 9 June, followed by Natalia Goncharova retrospective and later in the autumn by the show of works by Dora Maar.
As far as Natalia Goncharova is concerned, the last time any an important body of her work was showcased in this country was in 1961, while the artist was still alive. It was not a monographic show, however. It was an exhibition of both Goncharova and her life and creative partner Mikhail Larionov. The Tate project is the very first retrospective to take place in this country. We all agreed that such show is largely overdue and are please that the retrospective will be showcased here at Tate before traveling to Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and Ateneum in Helsinki later this year..
Another important factor which facilitated our work on this project is the exceptional relationships that we developed with museums in Russia. All the organisation that we worked with are incredibly generous and equally excited about this retrospective. I shall specially acknowledge the support of the State Tretyakov Gallery, the holder of the largest collection of Goncharova’s works in the world. Their cooperation was invaluable as they opened the door to their storage for us. They also gave us access to their archives so we could do some in-depth research. Moreover, the best specialists were made available and helped us with their advice.
Returning to you question about why and how this exhibition was programmed, I can say that it was both the commitment of the Tate to showcasing the female artists from the modernist period and the relationships that we developed with the Russian institutions that led to the creation of the incredible retrospective that is due to open.
It is very inspiring to hear about such a productive collaboration with the Russian institutions. Speaking about the Tretyakov Gallery could you please also comment on the connections between the Tate show and the recent retrospective of Mikhail Larionov in Moscow. I am also very interested to hear you views on the relations between two artists.
Mikhail Larionov exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery opened around the same time as Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future retrospective in fall of the last year. As RA+C readers would remember Kabakovs show was formulated and opened here at Tate. It then travelled first to the State Hermitage in St Petersburg and then to the Tretyakov Gallery. To see both Kabakov and Larionov at the same venue was an incredible experience. Two talants from different periods were in conversation with each other. The chance to notice the common themes and threads in their practices had a great influence on all of us who were lucky to be in Moscow last year and see those exhibitions together.
We were very pleased to support the exhibition by making Larionov’s works from our collection available for the retrospective in Moscow. We started acquiring Larionov and Goncharova’s work in the early 1950s, which made Tate one of the first European museums to purchase the works while the artists were still alive. Tate Gallery’s assistant keeper Marie Chamot conducted an in-depth research of Goncharova’s work and published the first monograph on the artists in French (1972) and English (1979)
As RA+C readers will also remember, Goncharova’s retrospective at the Tretyakov in 2013. That show celebrated after the centenary of her ground-breaking exhibition at Mikhailova Art Salon on Bolshaya Dmitrovka street. The large-scale Larionov exhibition became a very logical continuation of that project.
In regard to the relations between two artists, we are talking about two talents in their own rights. I think it is quite rare that such great artists work alongside each other, that both of them develop their revolutionary ideas as individual artists. And it is this ability that we wanted to highlight in the forthcoming show. We are very proud to showcase Goncharova’s studio practice and acknowledge the great contribution and influence which it had on the later generations of artists. For example, Goncharova was one of the first to transcend the boundaries of one medium. This opened the doors to so many other artists who ventured beyond painting into graphic design, book illustration, theatre, performance and so on.
Goncharova had a very productive and eventful life which I guess is difficult to concise into one, even if a very large, exhibition. Does the show focus in more detail on any particular periods or threads in her work? What elements of her practice do you find the most fascinating?
The first monographic exhibition of Goncharova took place when she was only 32 years old. It showcased over 800 works! She was incredibly prolific artist and she continued to work at a similar pace throughout her creative career. What we wanted to show to our public here is how diverse her studio practice was. We are keen to demonstrate that her talent manifested in so many different forms: from painting to theatre design, from book illustration to performance, from interior design to fashion. Our visitors will be able to see the whole array of the different aspects of her practice.
Can you comment a bit more on the role of female artists in Russian avant-garde and how you see the role and place of female artists on Russian art scene today?
It is incredible that Russian art produced so many talented and revolutionary female artists, be it during the avant-garde or later periods. If we are talking about post-WWII generations and the nonconformist movement, then we also have a great number of outstanding female artists who, similar to Goncharova and Larionov, worked together with their male partners in art and life: think of Lidiya Masterkova, Elena Elagina or Rimma Gerlovina, to name just a few. If we look at the post-soviet art scene, there is an array of incredibly talented female artists. For example, I can mention Sasha Pirogova, who was the first female artist of her generation to take part in Venice Biennale 2 years ago. Goncharova was first – she displayed her paintings in 1920. It took 95 years for a female artists to solely represent Russia in Venice – Irina Nakhova’s ‘Green Pavilion’ project of 2015. Taus Makhacheva work was also on display there and she continues toshowcases very impressive work both internationally and nationally. Another artist I would like to mention isis Irina Korina, who does beautiful sight-specific installations, and works with interactive media. The list could be continued.
Undoubtedly throughout the 20th century female artists played very important role in revolutionising art practice. And they continue doing so today. At this stage we might want to move away from differentiating art by gender to reflect the way artists do or don’t identify themselves. Only recently we held a series of performances by Anne Imhof that deals with fluidity between binaries, such as female and male. This issue is very much a focused of many contemporary art practitioners that aim to focused on creativity rather than the binary gender norms.