Michael wears a beach T-shirt and white socks with sandals. Mor, beside him, is in a pink sweatshirt. Anna, Savva and Liza are carrying their school backpacks, while Zhenia and Mathew are not ashamed of their soft toys, despite being eight, nine or maybe ten or 11 years old. And in the background Savva is once again on his mobile phone, the laces of his left shoe undone and his eyes fixed on the spectator. They are all gazing with more melancholy than toughness, with more resignation than fear in the impressive pieces by Dmitri Gretski that welcome visitors to the Russian Museum Collection which, maybe like these children, has decided to be true to life.
This is the trend to which this branch of the State Museum of Russian Art of St Petersburg, located in the old Tabacalera pavilions, has returned with its new long-term exhibition, which has just opened. Socialist realism was the theme back in 2018 and 2019, and it has returned with a wider range of subjects and more extensive and diverse chronology. From still lifes of the 18th century to the furious contemporaneity in everyday scenes painted only a few months ago, the museum has created a tour which is demanding on legs which have only recently come out of the coronavirus lockdown. It consists of 163 works in a succession of rooms which are a reminder of the size of Tabacalera and the collection at this museum.
This exhibition will be shorter than usual, until April 2021, because the pandemic has meant adjustments had to be made to the calendar.
Along with 'Realism. Past and present. Art and truth', the Russian Museum Collection is completing its phased return after more than two months of being closed due to the health crisis. It is also showing exhibitions about Andrèi Tarkovsky and Russian silent film.
Iconic Russian red
As is usually the case with the annual exhibitions, the first room is painted in iconic red and on this occasion it is dedicated to still lifes. Particularly brilliant are 'Turkey' (1784) by German artist Johann Friedrich Grooth; the journey towards the avant-garde in the early 20th century from Vladimir Lébedev, Semion Pávlov and Aleksandr Osmiorkin before reaching the delicate naturalism of 'Self-portrait in a mirror' (1936) by Aleksandr Shenderov and 'Cherry branch in flower in a vase' (1932) by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
From there, on to the contemporaneity of Serguéi Sologub and Igor Péstov with their 'Theatre of Flesh' (2012) and 'Wind of Change' (2017) several rooms later. Once again, the works are arranged chronologically within each different section, so visitors pass from still life to portraits, from noblemen to peasants, from impressionism to hyper-realism.
The director of the municipal agency which manages the Russian Museum and others, José María Luna, insists that museums are "especially safe and pleasant places" to be in the current health crisis, and although the number of visitors is still far lower than normal, he is convinced it will increase as the summer progresses.