The exhibition New York – Нью Йорк is comprised of works by two great Russian artists: photographs by Andrey Chezhin and etchings and photographs by Natalia Zarovnaya. Andrey Chezhin has been widely exhibited in the United States and is already a good friend of American art lovers. Natalia Zarovnaya is somewhat less familiar to Americans, but is equally distinguished. Both artists share their vision of New York City with its residents.
New York, for Russians, has always been a city of mystery, consciousness, dreams, and temptation. Even New York’s moniker, the Big Apple, presents for the Russian mind even more mysterious, mythologized, and menacing meanings. New York for citizens of the world is the new Babylon, both multilingual and multicultural. New York is sometimes portrayed as a magnetic pole, a bustling center of demonic and therefore tempting force. In the Soviet Union, when the Iron Curtain came down, a joke emerged among Russians that in fact there is no New York City, that this image was fabricated by Bolshevik propagandists and sent to Russian screens in order to create in people’s minds an actual image of the enemy. When Glasnost came, the mysterious Big Apple that existed only in the minds of the Russian people took real shape, but it did not, however, lose its flavor and seductive mystery.
Natalia Zarovnaya lives in Moscow, and Andrey Chezhin in St. Petersburg, the two largest Russian cities that have historically and currently represent the two cultural poles of Russian life. Moscow and St. Petersburg are Russia’s bifurcated consciousness. The cities are eternally opposed to each other both in emotional and aesthetic terms. The aesthetics of both artists, and their understandings of our great American city, are passed through the prism of their own residence and experiences. Both Chezhin and Zarovnaya chose architecture as the object of their representation, as if it’s the scaffolding of the people, the culture, and the politics. This is not surprising given that architecture is a projection of our social structure and thus could be said to be the most social of all the arts. In the etchings of Natalia Zarovnaya, New York represents the new world, a modernist city She shows us her New York in the form of hard-lined boxes and the windows of buildings, bringing the whole image of the city into a grid, a lattice, and a basic concept of classical modernism. Conversely, Andrey Chezhin shows us a postmodern city, with a multitude of forms and diversity, multilingual and multicultural. He sees the city as a melting pot, and like a medieval alchemist, creates collages from existing forms and gives us new and intriguing images from places we know well.
New York – Нью Йорк demonstrates that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and as such, the question becomes: Do you recognize the great city of New York, as shown to you through the eyes of two very different Russian artists?