Recently, the halls of the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow hosted a large solo exhibition of the famous contemporary sculptor Vadim Kosmachyov. Exactly 40 years ago, he emigrated from the USSR to Austria and became a successful artist there, the author of numerous sculptures from the metal of a “living” organic form that can change depending on climate change, energy source and audience reactions. His house-workshop in the foothills of the Alps is surrounded by a park, turned into a personal open-air museum.
Kinetic sculpture became the main theme of the work of Kosmachyov, which is fully represented in the big album, published on the eve of the Moscow opening day in two separate volumes in Russian and English. The main work of this master, created by him in Ashgabat in 1975, occupies a central place both at the exhibition and in the book. This is a twenty-meter metal composition located in the very center of the Turkmen capital, in the complex of the building where the State Library of Turkmenistan used to be located.
All Ashgabat people are well aware of this unusual sculpture, and the attitude towards it, frankly, has always been ambiguous. Similarly ambiguous was and remains the perception of any work of avant-garde art, whether it is Pablo Picasso’s painting or Henry Moore’s sculpture plastic – two of the greatest masters of the twentieth century, who discovered new expressive means and artistic methods of shaping to show the complexity and contradictions of their time.
Abstract, or, in other words, non-figurative art, unlike realism, does not depict objects with photographic accuracy, but serves as an expression of emotions and feelings at a deeper level of impact on our consciousness.
Such was primitive art, which for many millennia played the most important role in the spiritual life of people. Just look at the small statues found by archeologists from Altyn Depe, Yylgynly Depe, ancient Margiana and other foci of the world’s first agricultural civilizations.
The sculptors of the distant past are very conditional, sometimes they only hinted at transmitting images of their gods, cult animals and plants, but everyone understood what we can only guess today, looking at archaic sculptures or rock art of unimaginable antiquity. Compared with the abstractionism of the Stone and Bronze Ages, naturalism, which arose about four thousand years ago and reached its apogee in ancient times, was, paradoxically, a product of simpler, rectilinear thinking. Having learned to accurately copy the external forms of objects, people stopped seeing their hidden essence.
It took many more centuries for this inner vision, the so-called sixth sense, in addition to the five basic ones, to return to art. That is why in the twentieth century abstraction became such a powerful wave in culture – it was an expression of the maturity of modern society, which learned to appreciate not only the masterpieces of the Greco-Roman classics and everything that grew out of it, but also to understand the beauty of certain color combinations and geometric shapes.
But here is another paradox: in the 30s, the new artistic language did not find support exactly where it originated – in Italy, Russia and Germany. Under Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler, this trend in art was declared “anti-people” and lost its right to exist, therefore many avant-garde artists were forced to abandon their principles or emigrate. As a result, advanced centers of fine art and architecture moved primarily to the United States.
Already after World War II, a new flow of “op art” emerged, using optical illusions of the perception of flat and three-dimensional objects, and kinetic art was another direction in the development of geometric abstraction. It beats the effects of real movement of the whole work or its individual elements. It was in this style that the Ashgabat creation of Vadim Kosmachyov was made.
Of course, it is still static in comparison with its subsequent mobile sculptures, but already here a powerful expression of forms conveys the dynamism of movement, and in windy weather even the whisper of a melody of stretched strings and pipes is heard. The appearance of such a work at such a time and in such a place can be called a miracle, a happy coincidence. Moreover, for the author first of all.
Kosmachev prefers to call his brainchild the unusual word “construct.” This jargon arose in conversations with the author of the plan – the architect Abdula Ahmedov and the workers-welders who were assistants to Kosmachyov in the process of assembling the sculpture. The word remained in their circle, and the name “Tree of Life” became more comprehensible and acceptable to the public, as Ernst Neizvestny, another famous sculptor who took part in the decoration of the Ashgabat library, immediately called the “construct”.
In those years, he himself finished his most important work with the same name. In his version of The Tree, the motifs of the tree crown, the human heart and the Mobius strip, symbolizing the creative union of art and science, are fancifully combined. After many years, Ernst Neizvestny’s bronze model of the “Tree” was installed in the UN building in New York, and his Ashgabat counterpart still adorns the stalls in front of the library’s facade.
If you look at the intensely pathetic sculpture of Kosmachev, which seems to grow out of a circular light courtyard of a cafe connected to the basement of the library, the association with the tree suggests itself. We see three trunks of ferrous metal, topped with a complex crown of elements of different shapes. They are interconnected by means of cable-stayed steel cables that are stretched on rigid supports and hold heavy curly blades of sixteen-millimeter steel and iron pipes of different diameters in suspension, forming a very complex, but surprisingly harmonious composition. This is an extremely durable cable construction, which, according to the author, is relevant specifically for Ashgabat, located in a high seismic zone. It symbolizes the idea of sustainability and rapid revival of the city, which survived the tragedy of 1948.
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that the sculptor’s early childhood was connected with Ashgabat: in the first months of the war, he and his mother were evacuated here, finding a nurturing shelter in the house of his uncle Mikhail Kolachev, a teacher of botany in Ashgabat Pedagogical Institute.
Thirty years later, fate again threw him into this city so that he could create a work that is the cornerstone for his work. According to Vadim Kosmachyov, thanks to the library, he gained experience in designing and implementing facilities for the urbanized environment of the modern city. “My artistic career in the West did not start from a white sheet,” says the master. “And now in this list you can see a long list of cities in Europe where relatives of the Ashgabat Constructs live.”
A few years ago, at the initiative of the Vienna Center for Architecture (AZ Wien), who, wanting to fill empty pages in the history of architecture of the twentieth century, together with a number of independent curators of Austria and other countries, first opened in Vienna and then in Istanbul the exhibition “Soviet Modernism 1960-1990 years. The dominant for the version on the shores of the Bosphorus was chosen by a fragment with the “Tree of Life” model with texts, photos and film materials of that time attached.
“In the minutes of discovery,” recalls Kosmachev, “I kind of saw my friend, master Abdula again, surrounded by wonderful people involved in the Ashgabat Parthenon project, as we used to call the library building itself. All were young, excited and listened to the words of recognition that sounded in the hall with me. ”
The era of modernism has long passed, but in almost all developed countries of the world its monuments remain, which now one after another acquire the status of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
They are also in Ashgabat, because besides the Tree of Life there are also monumental reliefs of Ernst Unknown on the facade of the Mekan Palace and in the interior of the library. And, of course, the presence of works by Kosmachyov and Neizvestny in the cultural space of the capital of Turkmenistan not only enriches the beautiful city of Ashgabat, but also makes it especially attractive for many foreign tourists – connoisseurs of the great art of the last century.