Natalia Goncharova review

4 out of 5 stars
Natalia Goncharova review
© The State Tretyakov Gallery

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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For many artists, painting is the act of capturing a single, still moment. For Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), it was the opposite. Long before the Russian artist painted bicycles in motion or factory machines mid click-clack, her images rejected the point-and-click freeze frame approach in favour of an explosion of life, noise and animation.

This retrospective is the first ever held in the UK, despite her being a prolific, brilliant and innovative member of the Russian and Parisian art scenes of the early twentieth century. Along with frenetic, juicily-coloured paintings, Goncharova created scenery and costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, fashion and textiles, lithographs, stencil prints, illustrated books, interior design commissions… and so on. In fact, her output was so wide-reaching a term was coined for it: ‘everythingism’. What more must an artist do to be included in the annals of art history, you ask? Ah yes, not have a vagina.

The point of this exhibition is to reinstate Goncharova in the collective art consciousness. But it does so in a slightly frustrating way. There’s a lot of emphasis on situating her work within existing traditions: modernism, neo-primitivism, futurism, etc. At one early point there’s even a random (albeit nice) Picasso portrait included, as if we need ol’ Pablo here to get what Goncharova was all about.

Along with embracing abstraction and other recognisable bits of European/American practice, Goncharova brought distinctly Russian and personal aspects to her art. Her love of the Russian countryside and its folk traditions manifests itself in paintings of everyday scenes (hay-cutting, apple-collecting, gardening) that flash with non-naturalistic colours, the sky dyed synthetic pink, the trees turned navy blue. At a glance, the colour patterns echo the woven, heavily embroidered outfits of the peasant women she admired.

It’s the final room dedicated to her work for the stage, though, that really gives a sense of the pure energy characterising her art. Through costumes, set designs and videos of a ballet being performed, you start to appreciate how Goncharova’s art was part of a living, breathing, performing world. Which is perhaps why the static, white-walled environment of an art gallery inevitably seems slightly at odds with it. Go see it, then head out and let it permeate your thoughts in the real world.

By: Rosemary Waugh


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