Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Moveable Feast

It took me a while to figure out why my friend Meen sent me a postcard of subway stations when she visited Moscow.  The tiny little stamp-sized photos didn't really do the actual places justice, and with the exception of Gyeongbokgung Station in Seoul (which used to have displays of children's art which delighted me each week on my way to church), the metro has always been a very utilitarian aesthetic experience.  Close space, lit well enough to see, well-marked, but not works of art.  It was only when I began my due diligence for this trip that I figured it out.

Art museums are the vaunted halls of the learned (say that right, please...learn-ed), and there are lots of people, at least in the States, who don't get anything out of them.  They feel uncomfortable there, because we've made them sacred temples...don't talk too loud, don't walk too fast, show reverence to the gods of Elementia and Principalis, and their prophets, daVinci and Van Gogh.  Call me cynical, but I don't see this getting better anytime soon, because we've also managed to fuck up education - and don't even get me started...I'm an art teacher.
The Russians...actually, let's call a spade a spade...the Soviets have entirely different ideas about who art belongs to.  The commie bastards might have fucked up a lot of other things, but their hearts were sort of in the right place.  The people were the ones to put up on a pedestal.  Art should be accessible to all.  Their metro system is designed to reflect this.

After hitting the Kremlin and Red Square, I decided to kill some time on my first day by riding the rails aimlessly, to see what I could find.  I started at Okhotny Riad on the red line, it being the closest to the Kremlin, and went one stop.  I got out, took a look around at Lubyanka Station, and walked to the transfer on the pink line, Kuznetsky Most.  I went another station down the line, to Pushkinskaya, and then walked to its transfer, Chekhovskaya on the grey line.  This time I got daring and decided to go for TWO stops, to Mendeleyevskaya.  Once again, I got off and walked to the transfer station.

Some of the stations I'd been through thus far had opulence reminiscent of the Winter Palace.  There were chandeliers and vaulted ceilings and art deco details.  But I hadn't been blown away until I got to my next transfer, Novoslobodskaya.

Jackpot.  Novoslobodskaya (yeah, the names are a handful, aren't they?) was everything I didn't realize I needed in a subway station.  There was stained glass.  There was a mosaic.  There were gold moldings adding a subtle emphasis to the arches.

I have to admit I found it a little hypocritical, this enshrinement of art for the people, particularly when I noticed authors or artists in the sculptures and stained glass.  Communism and intellectualism aren't exactly friends (if you don't know your history) and although my understanding of that period of human history is not as strong as I would like it to be, I have a feeling that if its leaders had taken better care of their intelligentsia, communism wouldn't have failed quite as direly as it did.  The fact that these professions are depicted at all is a bit surprising to me, since a lot of the art seems pretty propagandistic (if that's not a word, I'm making it one), with the working people...with their children, and their dogs, and their chickens, and their jackhammers, and their guns...showing up a lot.  But I guess it's the thought that counts.

That satisfied most of my interest in the metro system, but there was one more thing I wanted to check out: the Aquarelle train.
In 2007 (Moscow's Year of the Child), the Aquarelle (aka, Watercolor) train came onto the tracks.  It's not just a train - it's an art museum on wheels.  Or at least, that's the idea behind it.  The windows on one side of each car have been blocked out and those panels have framed works of art hanging on them.  In theory, it's a great idea, and I've got to admit, I've been thinking ever since I saw it about how this might look if - theoretically - I could get in touch with one of the bus companies in UB and showcase prints of student work on the bus!  But it didn't really seem to work that well in the Moscow metro.  See, those paintings take up sitting room, and so there were people (some of whom had the sort of - earthy fragrance - not normally associated with fine art) standing in front of them, which sort of took away from the art gallery experience.  Then there's the fact that the doors between cars were locked, so you couldn't move from car to car the way you can on the Seoul Metro, which kind of hindered you from SEEING ALL THE ART!

I spent about 50 minutes waiting for that train this afternoon.  Under other circumstances, I might be a little bitter about wasting my time, but hell, I'm on vacation, and I'd already seen my big 2 things AND found the Krispy Kreme (mmmmm, donuts!)  As an added bonus, the station that I spent all that time waiting in was Ploschad Revolyutsii, and even though it definitely didn't take 50 minutes to check out all the sculptures in the station, I never got tired of watching people interact with them.  Since they were bronze, you could tell where people had touched the sculptures, as the oil in their hands wore off the patina from the metal.  The dogs in the sculptures got the most love, and just about everyone who walked past them patted the dog's nose.  Some of them just reached out in passing, but others actually set down their parcels to take a moment to pet him.

I'm not much of a dog person, but even I thought that was sweet.

No comments:

Post a Comment