Sent to me via the ARLIS-NE email list. Might be fun…
(And the Gallery Talk IS on Veteran’s Day, so no classes either.)
POINT. LINE. FENCE.
Felix Lembersky 1913 – 1970
Paintings and Drawings
November 5 – 23, 2009
Gallery talk: Wednesday, November 11, 3:30 – 4:30pm
Reception and book signing: 5 – 8pm
Newbury College Art Gallery
Academic Center – Library
150 Fisher Avenue
Brookline, MA 02445
T. 617 730 7071
Newbury College Art Gallery is pleased to announce Point. Line. Fence., the first solo exhibition in New England of the late Russian artist Felix Lembersky. The exhibition coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which ended the cultural divide between the West and countries of the Eastern block.
Lembersky was first known in Leningrad during and after World War II as a master portraitist whose penetrating and nuanced work focused on the psychological state of his sitters. Rooted in the classical academic tradition and influenced by Rembrandt and El Greco, he reduced his color palette in this early work to nearly monochrome and employed a dramatic chiaroscuro to heighten the emotional eloquence of his subjects. His rendering of the human body diminished its materiality, suggesting the spiritual struggle of individuals coping with war and its aftermath. A decade later, he led the reform in Soviet art that reintroduced non-representational pictorial devices banned by Stalin in the early 1930s.
Lembersky’s work represents a synthesis of the theoretically antithetical elements of the Russian avant-garde, Socialist Realism, Non-conformism, and European modernism, united to communicate an intensely personal and spiritual vision. He brought together elements of Cubism, Primitivism, Russian icons, folk art, stage design, and faux –children’s drawings. Mining Judeo-Christian themes and symbols, he created compositions that function as metaphors for human experience. He internalized war, terror, and destruction followed by resurrection, a cycle he understood to be inevitably repetitive through history. He gradually dissolved the boundaries between the human body and the landscape, fusing their forms into an integral whole. Through his expressive, non-mimetic color and pulsing shifts of space, contour, and shadow, he created complex pictorial riddles that can be experienced both emotionally and analytically.
The present selection is focused on Lembersky’s portraits of workers and other figures he encountered in his daily life, and the industrial and residential landscapes in which they lived and functioned. The drawings and paintings on view show the way the artist moved from an objective description of the world to an evocation of what he perceived to be the inner forces that give it life. In the townscapes, he used the motif of the fence to position the viewer on the outside while providing controlled access through gates and paths. Perspectival rendering and architectural details suggest the possibility of movement through an actual place, while the smears, contours, and overlays of color on the surface of the canvas offer an alternate, interior reality. The interplay of objectivity and subjectivity holds Lembersky’s works in dynamic tension and gives the eye and mind ample space in which to wander.
The show features four periods of the artist’s oeuvre. The first comprises portraits made during and following World War II. The second includes thematic compositions such as Execution: Babii Yar, named after the site of a massacre of Jews by the Nazis in Kiev, Ukraine, and created during Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign (the Doctor’s Plot), when official rhetoric denied the Holocaust. The third period is represented by landscapes in the Ural Mountains executed during the late 1950s. These images are poetic and romanticized views of the land between Europe and Asia at the Siberian border. Rich in natural resources, this region is the birthplace of Russia’s industrialization. Lembersky showed its natural beauty and fairytale qualities, echoing local legends that depict the mountains as a fire serpent with bones made of iron ore, blood of oil, and scales of malachite and diamonds. At the same time, he described industry as a relentless force in a pristine natural setting. The fourth period is represented by non-mimetic, symbolic compositions of the 1960s.
The show is co-curated by Lucy Flint, an independent art consultant, and architect Yelena Lembersky, the artist’s granddaughter. A short documentary film created by a team of Emerson College students will be screened during the opening. The exhibition is co-sponsored by Newbury College and the Uniterra Foundation, Cambridge, MA.
Lembersky lived through a period of enormous violence. He was born in Poland in 1913. At the outbreak of World War I, his family evacuated to Ukraine. He was five when the communist revolution arrived, soon escalating into civil war. In the 1930s he was witness to the Ukrainian famine in which several million farmers died during a state takeover of their land. When World War II erupted, he was wounded, and lived through the Siege of Leningrad. His parents perished in the Holocaust.
Lembersky’s art education began in the 1920s in Ukraine, where he was exposed to the Russian avant-garde, an important later influence. He moved to Leningrad to study easel painting at the elite Academy of Art in Leningrad in the 1930s. During his lifetime, his work was shown in major exhibitions in Moscow and Leningrad. In recent years, solo exhibitions of his work have been organized in New York, Michigan, and Russia. He is represented in the holdings of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University. In 2009, Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Art was awarded a prize for the exhibition and limited-edition catalogue Feliks Lemberskii: Tvortsi Uzniki Sovesti at Intermuseum–2009, a national museum convention held in Moscow.
The Newbury College exhibition coincides with the publication of Felix Lembersky 1913 – 1970: Paintings and Drawings, a fully illustrated bilingual (English/Russian) monograph resulting from an international collaboration. The book is distributed by the Uniterra Foundation, MIPP International, and East View Information Services, Inc.