New Tretyekovskaya Gallery and Tula

Near New Tretyekovskaya Gallery. The Peter the Great statue was originally Christopher Columbus and meant to be a gift to America.

Last weekend I visited the New Tretyekovskaya Gallery, one half of Moscow’s main art museum that features art from the 20th century on. Like a lot of people I know, abstract and modern art is not really my thing, so I was a bit skeptical going in.  However, it was amazing! Maybe I’m just super smart and mature… or I finally have a general knowledge of Russian history and took a basic art history class at Holy Cross. I didn’t even get annoyed at the abstract art.

An example of Soviet Socialist Realism. A portrait of cosmonauts.

The government demand for art at the beginning of the Soviet Union meant that the artists had funding, but they also had  to stick to a given message and an approved style. Because of that there are a lot of visually stunning and historically interesting pieces, as well as fewer but equally interesting subversive pieces. Socialist Realism is the most famous artistic style from this period, and was meant to idealize the socialist system.

One artist’s interpretation of a communal kitchen
“The Fraternal Kiss”
Inside the Tula kremlin
The restored kremlin walls

This weekend was a quick overnight trip to Tula, a town of half a million people about 100 miles south of Moscow. In Tula, we toured their beautifully restored kremlin, walked around the town, and ate some pryaniki, the jelly-filled spice cakes they are famous for. The highlight of  the trip was probably touring the incredibly grounds of Yasnaya Polyana, home of Lev Tolstoy. There could not be a more quintessential Russian moment than walking around the estate of the great Russian writer while the snow fell… in sheets… in April. I joke! It truly was fascinating.

The long walk at Yasnaya Polyana

But overall, my favorite aspect of the weekend was the time spent with the friends that came with me, one Russian and one American. We spoke half in Russian and half in English, whichever was more convenient or comfortable for the conversation. It was so exciting to feel so relaxed with a language that I sometimes feel that I am in a battle with. Even though I’m always wishing that my Russian was better, it helped me realize that I am proud of the progress that I have made, and grateful for the friends who have helped me get there.

Russian word: искусство (ee-skoo-stva) art

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