The current exhibit of contemporary Russian art at the Jewish Community Center is a great disappointment, and one needs a little background on this failure.
Alexandre Gertsman, a recent immigrant from Russia, has formed a foundation to promote the works of contemporary artists from the former Soviet Union. He curated a challenging exhibit last January at Baltimore's Evergreen House, and another of his exhibits, called "Meaning as a Second Language: A Contemporary Russian Initiative," debuted this summer at the Jewish Community Center of West Hartford, Conn.
That show has come to the JCC here, but judging by the show's catalog, it has been greatly reduced in numbers of works, and much of the best work from the Hartford show did not make it to Baltimore.
Mr. Gertsman says the JCC wouldn't pay to have works shipped to Baltimore, so his foundation had to foot the bill and could afford only a limited number. Claudine Davison, JCC arts coordinator, says Mr. Gertsman understood all along that the JCC has no budget for such expenses.
Without taking sides, it's possible to say that from the works here that one gets an awfully watered-down impression of this art and these artists.
Leonid Lamm is represented by a print of a dollar sign made of hammers and sickles. This satirical look at what the Soviet dream has led to cannot compete for interest with Lamm's much more significant surrealist work.
Vitaliy Dlugy is represented by four paintings, which look much less original than the works shown in Hartford. Natalya Nesterova is represented by two works, one a painting and one a monotype, whereas in Hartford there were at least four paintings.
The team of Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin is represented by only one of the three works in the Hartford catalog. But it's a good one. "Heaven/Hell" is a photograph of a young woman with the two words written on her face in such a way as to suggest not only that we have good and evil in us, but that there is good in evil and vice versa.
The show has four works by Sots Art (akin to our pop art) figure Alexander Kosolapov, including "Molotov Cocktail." It's an image a worker's arm and hand holding a Coca-Cola bottle with a lighted fuse sticking out of it, in front of a poster of Stalin's foreign minister Molotov.
It suggests that all the violence done in the name of the Soviet dream has only fueled the overthrow of communism and the embracing of Western commercial values. Unfortunately, Kosolapov's other three works here are too much like this one.
Four rather wan metal-and-glass sculptures by Olga Ast make little impression, and other artists, represented by one work each, don't get a chance. I'm not sure this exhibit helps the cause of contemporary Russian art. There are a few thought-provoking works, but a viewer who has never before been exposed to this art might well think, "What's the big deal?"
What: "Meaning as a Second Language"
Where: The Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, noon to 2:30 p.m. Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 23
Call: (410) 542-4900