Gala of art

The AZ Museum does not display a permanent exhibition. Every three or four months it closes the premises and redesigns the entire three floors to create the proper setting for the works in the next show. “Setting” is not just the placement of temporary exhibition walls. The museum is transformed with newly painted walls; specially designed cases, backdrops and frames; special lighting that often changes several times an hour to change perception of the works; films played over walls; unique films and animation; and music and sounds played in the background.

This show is no exception. The 250 works on display — about a fifth of the museum’s collection of works by Zverev — include portraits, landscapes, drawings, doodles, illustrations and an animated film based on the illustrations by Mikhail Aldashin.

That’s a lot of works in a small space, but the design and lighting by Anatoly Golyshev keep it from being overwhelming. Walls of bold color, spaces of light and darkness and sets of paintings and drawings in screens like iconostases let you contemplate groups of works apart from the rest. In the background, music from the 1960s is played in a loop, adding subliminally to the upbeat mood of the show.

‘The greatest Russian draftsman’

The first floor of the show is dedicated to Zverev’s portraits and self-portraits. Over the years, he asked dozens of women to pose for him with the line: “Sit down, kiddo and let me make you immortal.” And so he did. His portraits of his women friends young and old are among his most famous and beloved works. He was also a constant chronicler of himself, producing hundreds of self-portraits in drawings and paintings.

The second floor has even more portraits of women, as well as drawings and sketches of faces and nudes. You see why Pablo Picasso, who saw his works in Paris in 1965 show, reportedly called him “the best draftsman in Russia.” Here, too, are landscapes of churches, pine forests and rivers, painted with the same emotion as his portraits to create complex images of beauty, decay and suffering.

The third floor exhibits some of Zverev’s early “supremacist” drawings and paintings from the 1950s, where the abstract and geometrical themes of the early 20th century Russian avant-garde are textured and richly colored. From the same period (1955) are the illustration’s for Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” from the collection of Dmitris Apadidis, exhibited for the first time, and the charming film by Aldashin.

At the end of the exhibition you leave with an appreciation for the extraordinary talent and scope of Anatoly Zverev. But perhaps more importantly, you leave with a sense of enormous pleasure in life and joy. And that is Zverev’s greatest gift.

AZ Museum. 20-22 2nd Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ulitsa. Metro Mayakovskaya. Until Jan. 20, 2019