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American Art on Display in Russia

A large collection of America art went on display in Moscow this week in what is being billed as a landmark cultural event in Russia. The exhibit represents a cooperative effort among American museums and corporate sponsors, as well as the U.S. State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from the Russian capital.

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow is hosting the largest and most comprehensive exhibit ever of American art in Russia. The display, entitled "Art in America: 300 years of Innovation," also commemorates 200 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States.

At the official opening, Mikhail Shvydkoy , director of Russia's Culture and Cinematography Agency, said exhibit visitors will better understand the depth of American art. "We talk a lot about American art and curse it, not understanding as a rule that what we curse is not American, but universal, cosmopolitan mass art - art of the consumer civilization. But there is American art, which reflects the tense spiritual pinnacle of a great nation."

Charles Willson Peale's rendition of George Washington, the commander of American revolutionary forces and the first U.S. president, is displayed near the portrait of an unnamed girl painted in 1835 by Ammi Phillips.

Scenes from American history -- explorer, pioneer and folk hero Daniel Boone leading settlers into what is now the state of Kentucky or cowboys taming the Wild West, are juxtaposed with American scenery -- the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain, the Atlantic coast, or sheaves of corn in the Midwest, and an urban scene of 19th century San Francisco. Also presented are the ethnic and racial diversity of America -- white, black, red, and yellow.

The director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, notes the collection's comprehensive scope. "We have been presented literally with a panorama of American art covering 300 years. It should be said that the exhibit is somewhat didactic, covering art from its first days on the soil of the United States, to our time."

Included is a multimedia canvas created just this year, portraying America's legacy of racism. This theme recurs in other paintings -- Joe Jones' 1933 depiction of a Ku Klux Klan lynching, entitled "White Justice (American Justice)," and Thomas Hart Benton's painting entitled "Slaves." The work is the fourth in a series of five Hart canvases entitled "An American Historical Epic."

America's unique contribution to art, Abstract Expressionism, came after World War Two. American film actor Dennis Hopper, in Moscow for the exhibit's opening, said that this art form emerged during the Cold War, when Russia and the United States did not share cultural influences. Hopper noted, however, that Jackson Pollack and other abstract expressionists owe some of their inspiration to immigrants from Russia.

"Jackson Pollack is the first person to take the canvas off the easel, put it on the floor and use gravity to paint with,” said Hopper. “So these are very important things, and (Arshille) Gorky -- his ancestors were immigrants from Russia."

Arshille Gorky's "Golden Brown Painting" is included in the exhibit. His post-impressionist work stands in contrast to the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein or the colorful realism of Georgia O'Keefe.

In all, the exhibit presents about 100 American works of art, which will be on display at Moscow's Pushkin Museum through September ninth of this year.