Wow! Did you know a work by one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, Fernand Léger, is hanging in an Almaty restaurant? Léger was a French pioneer in monumental art, one of the first to create modernist tapestries, stained glass, and bas-reliefs, who had a major impact on Soviet monumentalists. His glazed ceramic bas-relief “Women with a Parrot” was bought at Christies by the Kazakh businessman and collector Nurlan Smagulov and is currently displayed for the public at Crudo streakhouse at the Mega 2 Restaurant Gallery.
A rotary telephone in embossed metal (chekanka), Alatau village near Almaty
Look closely! If you inspect one of Almaty mosaics, you can find a stamped tile from the 19th century! The “Enlik-Kebek” mosaic on the Hotel Almaty, by Nikolai Tsivchinskiy and Moldakhmet Kenbaev, was assembled from so-called “Tsarist” smalti tiles from St. Petersburg. Look at the boot of the hero Kebek and you’ll find the letter “З (Z). At first I didn't know what to make of it, and then I went to St. Petersburg. In an exhibit at the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, I found an identical tile that revealed the original text: “ИСЗ БОНАФЕДЕ (ISZ Bonafede). The first three letters, ISZ, stand for Императорский Стеклянный Завод (Imperatorskiy Steklyanniy Zavod), or the Imperial Glass Factory. Bonafede refers to the Italian craftsman Leopoldo Bonafede, who was invited from Rome in 1846 by Tsar Nicholas I to revive the Russian mosaic industry. Bonafede's recipes for smalti glass tiles would be used until 1924, when production was discontinued. Next time you're at the Hotel Almaty, look closely for this piece of Russian Imperial history! You can also find tiles stamped with Бонафеде (Bonafede), which is amazing - the name of an Italian mosaic master on a Russian tile in Kazakhstan :)
Some modern monumental art in Astana (ahem, Nur-Sultan): a pointilist portrait of the Qazaq writer and politician Saken Seifullin
We chose not to include tapestries (gobelens) in our project because so few have survived in situ. This one I saw yesterday at the Central State Museum. Where have you seen Soviet-era tapestries?
In Kazakhstan, many mosaicist found work after the collapse of the Soviet Union by decorating mosques. Here is some calligraphy from Almaty’s Central Mosque.
On Tuesday I visited the mosaic workshop of the Russian Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. It was amazing to see this historic studio, set up in Tsarist times, still full of life. To this day they have major orders for monumental mosaics, and they still “cook” the same smalti glass that was used in mosaics around the former USSR.
Visiting the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, I was pleased to see an exhibit displaying the Tsarist-era smalti blocks that were used to make the building’s famous mosaics. The same tiles were used to make the Enlik-Kebek mosaic on Almaty’s Hotel Almaty!
Visiting the mosaic workshop at the St. Elisabeth Monastery in Minsk was a dream come true. Smalti paradise!