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A Little Touch of Moscow in Seattle

Arts festival - a spinoff of the Goodwill Games - offers a potpourri of Soviet and other cultures

By Catherine FosterStaff writer of the Christian Science Monitor / July 13, 1990


WALKING through ``Moscow: Treasures and Traditions'' is like discovering a new country. This major art exhibition at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center - a part of the 1990 Goodwill Arts Festival - reveals that the Soviet Union has its own Impressionists, Cubists, and Photorealists. But they never became widely known in the West. There is a shock of finding these familiar styles filled with new subjects. And that's a main thrust of the Goodwill Arts Festival - to reveal the Soviet Union through its culture to the rest of the world, as it passes through the Seattle area this summer.

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The festival, held in conjunction with the Goodwill Games being held here July 20 through Aug. 5., is a potpourri of film, visual arts, theater, music, opera, and dance. Some 1,300 artists and 200 performances and exhibitions come from such countries as the Soviet Union, Canada, several Arab nations, Japan, and others.

While the festival draws artists from all over the globe, the focus is on Soviet arts, because of the festival's original aim. Planning for the event started four years ago, when the political climate was much different. The impetus then was to try to open up lines of communication between the two nations. But with the rapidly changing political climate, this year's festival has turned into more of a celebration.

The Bolshoi Ballet kicked off the festival July 2 with an unfortunately flat-footed production of Yuri Grigorovich's ``Ivan the Terrible,'' to music by Prokofiev. It was long on spectacle, short on fiery dancing.

But if that disappointed, ``Moscow: Treasures and Traditions'' at the Convention & Trade Center through Sept. 30., was a delight. A sumptuous exhibition that takes the viewer through 500 years of art from this city, it tweaks many long-held stereotypes about Russian culture as heavy and somber. Lightness and delicacy are found in many of the paintings, textiles, icons, and jeweled pieces. Colors are vivid; paintings glow. Many of the items have never been out of the USSR before.

The presentation is marvelous. In helping design this installation, Michael McCafferty, the Seattle Art Museum's exhibit designer, took color swatches to Russian museums and residences and has re-created the colors here so the paintings look right at home. The gallery walls behind the icons, for example, are a deep forest green, and the walls get imperceptibly lighter as you move through the exhibition. By the time the viewer reaches the modernart section, the walls are neutral.

Sure, there are sturdy monuments to the Soviet worker, but there are also delightful Norman Rockwell-esque slices of family life. One Soviet favorite that pleases Americans is ``Poor Grades Again,'' a 1952 painting by Fedor Pavlovich Reshetnikov depicting the reactions of family members to this sorry news.

This exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian Institution's Traveling Exhibition Service and the USSR Ministry of Culture. Its treasures, unlike the other touring exhibits and performances, will return directly to Moscow after the showing here.

This show, together with three other Soviet art exhibitions, forms the centerpiece for the festival, says Jarlath Humes, vice-president of community relations for the Goodwill Games.

Seen in succession, they give an extraordinary look into the culture and lives of the Soviets. Works in the four shows run the gamut from a jewel-encrusted cross that Ivan the Terrible gave to a monastery, to theater set designs from the Russian Constructivism period after the Revolution, to a 1987 surrealist painting of a wedding.

``The goal is to provide insights for Americans into the Soviet Union through art,'' says Mr. Humes. ``Combining the four principal exhibitions accomplishes that in a way that has not been done in the US.''