Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism (St Petersburg Gallery, London)


The Sphinx of St Petersburg(1909) © St Petersburg Gallery

If every ground-floor window on Cork Street is alive with the lure of artworks, St Petersburg Gallery’s is ablaze with a kaleidoscope of colours and styles. Dazzling variety is indeed one’s first impression of Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné’s work, an impression strengthened by the exhibition’s title, From Cubism to Surrealism.

Indeed, from the realistic style of Mansions (1907), to the Cézannist landscape Red Roof (1910) via the impressionistic touches of Barges on the Dnieper (1907) and the green shadows of Nude (1909), Baranov-Rossiné’s early paintings seem to chronicle the discovery of the French avant-garde in Russia. Influenced by the artistic discoveries of the group ‘World of Art,’ these works seemingly reflect the international climate of turn-of-the-century St Petersburg, where Baranov-Rossiné studied. Yet despite their formative importance, these works are relegated to the gallery’s lower ground floor.

Baranov_Politech Sculpture2

Polytechnical Sculpture (1915) © St Petersburg Gallery

Greater prominence is given to works displayed on the gallery’s ground floor. With one exception, these are all from the period between 1910 and 1915, when, under the alias Daniel Rossiné, the artist was living in Paris among the well-known émigrés of the creative colony La Ruche.

Placed on each side of the entrance, Still Life with a Shell (1910) and Maternity (1910) reveal the impact of post-Impressionism and synthetic Cubism on Branov-Rossiné’s work. Unfortunately, excessive emphasis on these works prevents the viewer from seeing Baranov-Rossiné’s career as a unitary development, eventually presenting him as an eclectic creator without a personal style. On the contrary, sculptures such as Polytechnical Sculpture (1915), Rhythm (1913) and Dance (1914) are original experiments with three-dimensional form and unconventional sculptural materials such as polychrome metal, cardboard and even crushed eggshell.


Counter Relief (1917) © St Petersburg Gallery

The later Counter Relief (1917) manifests the same interest with three-dimensionality, yet employs a very different style. Marking the artist’s return to Russia after the Revolution of 1917 and directly borrowing its title from Tatlin, this work reveals Baranov-Rossiné’s willingness to embrace a new art for a new order. In fact, Baranov-Rossiné gained immediate recognition upon his return to Russia and obtained important official positions such as Head of Painting at the Petrograd Free Studios.

Despite Baranov-Rossiné success in Bolshevik Russia, no other work of this period is included in the show. Lack of information on this period is all the more regrettable for it is in Russia that the artist perfected his Octophonic Piano (1920-1923), a silent instrument which, when played, projected ever-changing coloured patterns through a magic lantern. Yet for all its whimsical appeal, little importance is given in the exhibition to Disk for Colour Music (1921-1922), now but a cracked and inert memorabilia of the artist’s life.

Around the disk, the artist’s earlier and later works are juxtaposed in a synthesis that is often hard to follow. Certainly, the resulting exhibition has striking visual dazzle; but fascination can all too easily turn into disorientation, as the viewer is offered no contextual information to decode this catalogue of heterogeneous styles.

Constanza Beltrami is a third-year BA student at the Courtauld.

Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism is at the St Petersburg Gallery, London until 29 March 2014.


A Response

Research Forum Modern and Contemporary Seminar

One of the aims of this new initiative by the Research Forum is to allow students to respond to research events in diverse ways, placing new, perhaps abstract lenses on the information presented. I have chosen to respond to this discussion with a note on Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. As a true admirer of his work I couldn’t help but see two distinct, if somewhat trivial, aesthetic similarities with a photograph by Elżbieta Tejchman in the presentation (Fig. 1), and two of his images. The first related to the use of a solitary figure within a bleak, monochrome landscape, seen here in Nostalgia (Fig. 2), as a strong visual motif in Tarkovsky’s films. The second is the form of the sculpture in Fig. 1, Antoni Starczewski’s ‘spatial form‘ created for the Biennale, and the Polish poster for Solaris (1972), designed by Andrzej Bertrandt (Fig. 3).

These two aspects pick up on the tension of artistic forces in the notion of ‘Photography and Temporality’, there is first the sculpture for the Biennale itself, and then the photographer documenting the event for future observation. Yet when these photographs adopt distinct aesthetic and compositional choices, the artwork it has originally depicted takes on a new meaning within the photographic context. This was one of the themes that Sylwia Serafinowicz discussed in her seminar, analysing the photographs themselves more than the artworks they depict.

I found it quite bizarre that these two separate elements (the sculpture and Solaris, and the photograph and Nostalgia) came together in such a way as to highlight the political dimension, another key theme in Sylwia’s talk. This is because both Tarkovsky’s films and The First Biennale of Spatial Forms work against the current pressures of artists to conform to the socialist realist style of the soviet state, which was extremely difficult to oppose. Particularly for Tarkovsky in Russia, who found it increasingly difficult to make films in his home country, his last two (Nostalgia and The Sacrifice) having to be filmed elsewhere.

Sylwia suggested that in Tejchman’s photographs, the domination of the landscape and deserted streets speak of a void caused by the destruction of the old town of Elblag, under Nazi and then Soviet rule. Considering this now in terms of my Tarkovsky-esque reading, perhaps if we take the photograph out of the context of the Biennale, this is a structure that would not be so out of place as a strange piece of abandoned industrial machinery somewhere in ‘The Zone’, the surreal wasteland setting of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979).

I decided to make this first blog post a ‘response’ on a very basic level, and as such these comments barely scratch the surface of the depth of Sylwia’s discussion into the complex elements of both the Biennale and the accompanying photographs. Although my observations rely solely on what was essentially a gut reaction to an aesthetic and compositional mood shared by these images, this can be one way to play around with ideas, which can sometimes extend broader angles for research.

Fig. 1: Elżbieta Tejchman, Untitled (Antoni Starczewski's 'spatial form'), Gelatin silver print, 1965

Fig. 1: Elżbieta Tejchman, Untitled (Antoni Starczewski’s ‘spatial form’), Gelatin silver print, 1965

Fig. 2: Andrei Tarkovsky, Still from Stalker, 1979

Fig. 2: Andrei Tarkovsky, Still from Stalker, 1979

Fig. 3: Andrzej Bertrandt, Polish promotional poster for Solaris, 1972

Fig. 3: Andrzej Bertrandt, Polish promotional poster for Solaris, 1972