- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Two very different exhibits of Russian and Soviet art have opened at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Lee Gray, curator of the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Museum of Art, says the confrontation between Russian-backed separatists and the government of Ukraine may draw interest in the exhibit, but she’s not expecting the tensions to spark political debates.

“I don’t think people will come here looking for some political conversation,” she said.

Gray said the museum has been developing the exhibits for about two years.

“Finding Freedom in Russian Art, 1961-2014: Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation and the Collection of Dr. Wayne F. Yakes, MD,” runs through Dec. 6. “Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photographs, War and the Holocaust” runs through Dec. 13.

“I am very interested in showing international works. … It’s a way to show people what’s happening that we don’t necessarily hear about,” Gray said.

“Through Soviet Jewish Eyes” was created at the University of Colorado. It’s based on a book with the same title by David Shneer, a professor of history and religious studies and director of the program in Jewish studies there. A second copy of the traveling exhibition is showing through Oct. 27 at the Holocaust Museum in Houston.

“It’s very topical in bringing up issues of photographing war and social media and things that are going on currently with imagery of war. I think that aspect of it will be really important to discuss,” Gray said.

Shneer wrote, “I start by looking at how Jews came to be the country’s photographers and how they built the field of Soviet photojournalism. At its core, this book is about how these photographers visually told the story of a war that targeted all of them as Soviet citizens and as members of the ‘Jewish race.’”

An image taken at the Auschwitz death camp by Vladimir Yudin shows a pile of eyeglasses. Behind that heap, a survivor tries on a pair. Curators Shneer and Lisa Tamiris Becker note in their comments that it can be viewed on many levels, Gray said.

“The first thing somebody wants to do is reclaim their sight,” Gray paraphrased. “Then there are the metaphors that could go along with that - you have to remember to have clear vision. Our memories have to be clear.”

The other show, of nonconformist art, was created by guest curator Natalia Kolodzei from a collection begun in the 1960s by her mother and now owned by the Kolodzei Art Foundation in Highland Park, New Jersey, and the collection Yakes, a Colorado surgeon.

“The works … highlight the evolution of non-conformist and independent art in Russian from a time of rigid censorship to the new democratic Russia,” according to the foundation’s website.

They include paintings, sculptures and photographs, mostly from the 1970s and ‘80s, Gray said.

“Elvis With Lenin,” by Leonid Sokov in 1984, is a blocky wood carving of Lenin leaning back in an armchair, one hand next to his face. Gray said it’s left to the viewer to interpret whether Lenin is trying to shield himself from the young Elvis Presley - apparently cut out from a black-and-white photograph mounted on wood - or straining to hear the King of Rock ‘n Roll.

Gray said the 2007 installation by Igor Novikov, titled “Big Brother,” shows rubble-strewn images of Moscow with a dark, chaotic sky and red figures - some standing with their arms up and others crawling in front of them.

“I’m not sure what it means,” Gray said. “The point is that artists are now able to speak freely. They felt they could make things that were political in nature.”



Hilliard museum: https://museum.louisiana.edu/



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