Zurab Tsereteli is not a name that’s often bandied around by Western art enthusiasts. It’s odd that his name should not be as well known as old masters like Titian, or modern art celebrities like Damien Hirst or Roy Lichtenstein when his art works – often strikingly huge, monumental sculptures, have been gifted around the world from his home base in Moscow.
Today we’re taking a look at this unjustly undiscussed figure in the history of Russian art, and redressing that balance.
Today, in his 80s, Zurab Tsereteli is the heart of Russia’s artistic community: he’s the president of the Academy of Arts in Moscow, overseeing the training of the young artists who will carry his legacy into the future; he has established his own museum, to demonstrate the best of Russia’s modern art and artists and also serves as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, continuing his lifelong commitment to using art to further links between nations. But how did he end up in this prime position, the most renowned of Russia’s artists?
Born in Georgia, and coming to adulthood during the age of the USSR and the Iron Curtain, Tsereteli’s first big project, that laid the foundations of his career to come, doesn’t sound very inspiring on the face of it: to design some bus shelters. It was in fact the thing that would lead directly to an artistic career that would intertwine him with the Russian establishment into it’s open, independent future.
This was a government project: to bring art to the people through redesigning the most mundane infrastructure: the shelters where they waited for the bus to work. Tsereteli’s project took him to the Abkhazia region, on the shores of the Black Sea. He was inspired by the landscape, creating surreally large, marine structures, and people found themselves waiting for buses inside shells or fish.
It was held to be so successful, it inaugurated a career of bold, giant sculptures, which were frequently gifted to other countries to help create or affirm cultural or diplomatic bonds.
The Golden Age
Tsereteli’s period of primacy came in the 1990s and 2000s, as original work followed original work. Break the Wall of Mistrust was gifted to the City of London only months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, helping to create links across the rapidly fraying Iron Curtain. ‘To the Struggle Against World Terrorism’ is a commemorative piece dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks in America that helped to demonstrate the sympathy and solidarity the Russian people had with Americans at that difficult time, and The Birth of a New World is a stunningly huge statue gifted to Arecibo to celebrate the discovery of the Americas by Europeans.