Zurab Tsereteli: the Language of Art Does Not Need a Translation. Interview to RIA Novosti
08/06/2010 RIA Novosti – The President of the Russian Academy of Arts is leaving for the United States – to open his solo show in the halls of the National Arts Club and to receive the Gold Medal of Honor for his significant role in the promotion of art. In various years the winners of this prestigious award were Salvador Dali, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and now it will be presented to Tsereteli for his contribution to the promotion of cultural ties between Russia and the United States. From America Zurab Tsereteli will go to Paris to foster closer relations between Russia and France. On the eve of his visit the sculptor spoke about history, art education, royalties and Andrei Voznesensky with RIA Novosti reporter Ann Shelepova.
- Do you have a nostalgia for the USSR?
For me, as an artist, it has been comfortable to work in all the times. I was lucky to have good friends both in the Soviet period and now. I have never received awards for portraits of leaders and even in the Soviet time the Lenin Prize was awarded to me for the design and decoration of a swimming-pool. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the state commission disappeared. But as an artist, I rely on myself. I never work for a client. You should feel the difference – a craftsman works for a client, an artist works for arts’ sake for all his life.
- Today, the former Soviet Republics sometimes become closer to Russia, sometimes break up with it. What is your opinion of it? Does it have any impact on the work of your Moscow gallery?
The integration must not be only political or economic. It is possible and we should find ways for a dialogue through art. The art has always united and units nations. Its plastic language is understandable to all peoples, it is unbiased and does not need a translation. The best exhibitions in the former Soviet Union were those that involved artists from all the ends of the country – from the Far East to the Baltic Republics. That is why I am for any integration in the post Soviet space. At the same time, the art should be for arts’ sake.
- What kind of exhibitions has the Academy organized in Paris?
Within the framework of the Year of Russia in France we have initiated an exhibition project “Russia-France: Three Centuries of Cultural Ties in the Mirror of the History of the Russian Academy of Arts” that aims to show the history and main development stages of the Academy of Arts in Russia. In several locations in Paris simultaneously one can see paintings, graphic art, bronze sculptures, enamels – works by Russian artists. The masterpieces from the Academy Research Museum in St. Petersburg have already been exhibited during the Russian landmark art show in the Musee du Louvre.
On June 11, will be inaugurated an exhibition “The Russian Academy of Arts: Space of Academic School” in the exhibition halls of the Orangerie of the Senate of France. On June 11, within the framework of the Russian National Exhibition in Grand-Palais I will present my sculptural compositions “Musketeers”, “Great Masters” (Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gough), “Rousseau and Pirosmani”. From June 14 the French Academy of Fine Arts will host our exhibition “The Russian Academy of Arts: History and Nowadays”. On June 21, in the exhibition halls of the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris there will be opened an exposition “Dialogue of Cultures in the Space of Academic School”.
- How would you define your mission as a President of the Russian Academy of Arts?
I would like to preserve a classical art education in Russia, to train a new generation of artists – creators who are rich in spirit. There is no tradition without memory, It is impossible to appreciate today’s achievements without respect for the past.
According to the will of Empress Catherine the Great four words were engraved on the Academy’s building in St. Petersburg: Architecture; Sculpture; Painting; Upbringing. The unique system of the Russian art school will become pointless without upbringing and be destined to disappear. The art school is not only a complex of professional and technical skills, but it also contains such a significant aspect as the upbringing of a personality. It is not accidental, that at the early stages of the Russian art school formation its students were called “alumni”. That was in the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg and in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. The Russian masters and teachers who revived the art education in the first half of the 20th century also spoke about the upbringing of an artist as a personality. The goal of my work with children is, first and foremost, to direct their thinking in the right course. Later, they can become economists, workers, scientists, but they should think through art.
- On the International Children’s Day you in partnership with the Moscow Government unveiled your memorial to children of Beslan. What does it mean personally for you?
What for shall we live if there are no children? What for shall we live, if we can not protect our children? Children are the most precious of what we have, they are life itself! Time has passed, but we continue to keep in our memory the horrendous school hostage siege during the terrorist act in the North Ossetia. The tragedy in Beslan reverberated in the hearts of people not only in Russia, but also throughout the world. I have tried to express my feelings, sympathy and pain in my sculptural composition devoted not only to the children and their parents who were killed, but to all those who lost their lives for their saving. There are toys on the base of the monument as if the children who played with them have just gone and will be back soon. The bronze slabs with outlines of human figures are arising from the base to form a whirlwind crowned with birds.
- You have refused to take the royalties, but you could transfer the money to a charitable foundation for children.
This is a matter of principle for me. Initially, this monument has been conceived by me as a charitable action and I can not take the royalties. In Beslan there was a tragedy, that shocked the world, and how can I take the money for it? Have you seen women weeping at the unveiling ceremony for the monument? I was crying too ... Moreover, my close friend Andrei Voznesensky passed away on that day.
- What are your reminiscences of the poet?
I am taking his death very much to heart. My friend has passed away, with who we have been together for very many years. He was not simply a great poet, he was a saint and in my memory he will remain a crystal pure man. For me, he is a classic both in literature, in thinking and in relations with people.