Mihail Chemiakin’s Metaphysical Workshop

The Moscow Museum of Modern Art presents a large-scale retrospective exhibition of Mihail Chemiakin, held in celebration of the artist’s 75th anniversary. Including more than 250 works produced in various art forms such as painting, sculpture, graphics, the exhibition covers the key periods of Chemiakin’s creative journey and encompasses all the disciplines the artist has worked in. The show encompasses pieces from both public and private collections including the State Russian Museum, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Mariinsky Theatre, the Mihail Chemiakin Foundation in Saint Petersburg and the artist’s collection in France. The show is curated and designed by the artist Alexey Tregubov. Polyus gold mining company is the partner of the project.

In Mihail Chemiakin’s view, to be an artist means to be a hard worker and to draw inspiration from everything: be it the work of Western artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Chaim Soutine or water splashes on a piece of paper. One can enter into a dialogue with these artists and turn splashes into characters such as a rural teacher or a quaint sphinx, spying on a mermaid or a shoemaker with his wife, and even tell a story about each of them. Chemiakin’s experiments with form, techniques and materials are, first of all, a way to expand his own horizons and discover familiar things from a new perspective.

It is the first exhibition in Moscow in years that represents various facets of the artist. The museum’s several halls are designed as so-called Chemiakin’s laboratories. The artist’s archival materials, sketches and drawings presented in these halls bring viewers in contact with Chemiakin’s creative process, help them to trace the connection between his works and temporal context. Other halls acquaint viewers with the «outcomes» produced during the artist’s work process and include his renowned series «Paris Sidewalks», «Cocoons», «Theater», and «Civil War» as well as meta-busts, which were inspired by «metaphysical synthetism», a concept introduced by Mihail Chemiakin together with the philosopher Vladimir Ivanov. These series’ visual language was developed by Chemiakin and a group of like-minded people back in the mid-1960s. Mixing the cultures of Africa, pre-Columbian America, Egypt, and Oceania with Japanese art and the tradition of Russian icon painting of the 13th-15th centuries, Mihail Chemiakin has articulated particular features of his formal language, the suggestiveness of which is «reminiscent of either a medieval icon or a sign speaking of the beyond.» In addition to this, series of illustrations, «Riddles» and «Dialects», on which Chemiakin has been working for the last few years, will be shown. These works on paper will be included in the books «Riddles of the Russian People» and «Dictionary of Russian Folk Dialects» which are to be published in the future. The artist has been working on them together with the St. Petersburg Institute for the Study of Dialects as part of a multi-year project dedicated to the study and preservation of old Russian words and expressions.

Along with works dedicated to linguistic research, the exhibition includes sketches of theatrical costumes and characters, for example from «The Nutcracker» and the series «Drops» and «Herbarium», which lend the exhibition a fairy-tale effect. A special place in the exhibition is occupied by a puppet stage with puppets and props for the animated feature film «Hoffmaniada» based on the fairy tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The production of the film was carried out by the animation film studio Soyuzmultfilm and took 17 years. The film was released in the fall of 2018.