Monday, January 02, 2006

Dneiper Domes

Happy New Year, chaps, a day late, but suitably rested. Yesterday I wrestled manfully with a gigantic hangover, and loped over to Miriam for dinner. Miriam, strictly speaking, is in the been-there-owned-that category, but the last time I'd visited had been for brunch, and Israeli Baked Eggs and sinister omelette are unlikely to give one a measure of the place.

Miriam had much of Fifth Avenue's restaurant trade to itself, but was a tad short-handed. This was fine, though, they're an eager bunch, and didn't get too upset when we flagged down whoever was going past to get bread and water and whatnot. The cuisine is billed as generic Mediterranean but trends heavily Israeli, as far as I could tell, although all I really have to base this on is the preponderance of artichokes and halumi cheese. I had the short ribs, which had been rendered less savory by the addition of some cinnamon and some currants. Cutesome had the feisty shwarma.

Today it was time to head into the city again, a trip I faced with some trepidation. My last visit had not gone well, a nasty and brutish escapade that ended in headaches.

But, like much of Brighton Beach, we wanted to catch the dying embers of the Guggenheim's Russia exhibition. Oh dear, excuse me, Russia!. The inclusion of the exclamation mark, as Economist notes, might be a shrewd bit of marketing, but it sure is silly. No self-respecting propaganda poster would be without one, but it does seem to emphasise the communist element to the collection at the expense of the wider and more varied fare from earlier centuries.

Indeed, the post modern and socialist realist works, combined with the earlier iconography highlight a theme that runs through the whole exhibition, what I'll call, for want of a better shorthand, the struggle against whimsy. Many of the artists in the later stages (post 1983), and even the late nineteenth century, seemed to take a strange glee in childish juxtapositions (the indignities heaped upon Stalin's memory in particular). Catherine the Great's proteges, who tried to absorb Western influences while creating a recognisably Russian type of painting, often struggled here, frequently falling back on flat folk-influenced subjects.

Still, I'm new to this art criticism business, and I'll grant that the work of curating such a long and tumultuous story will make drawing such generalisations from two hours in a concrete spiral slightly dangerous. Moreover, this urge to celebrate the impish and immature is hardly the burden of the Russians alone. You got nine days left. Visit on a schoolday.


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