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Mikhail K. Anikushin’s Sky

by Armando Verdiglione

At ten o’clock one fine day in May 1992, I arrived in front of the gate of the Smolny Institute. I greeted the diplomat awaiting me for our appointment with the officers of the City Council and Tauride Palace. Suddenly the diplomat went over to a very elegant man with a cheerful, rosy, rather angelic face. A sculptor. A very great sculptor. How can such a young-looking man be seventy-five years old? ”Italian! I’m delighted you’re Italian. I’ve been to Italy!” He hands me his visiting card, written in Cyrillic. Mikhail Kostantinovich Anikushin. Very well known. Even to someone who happened to be passing by on their way into the City Hall.

The next day I went to visit him in his studio. Big trees and few houses. The taxi arrived in front of the studio. Beautiful flowers of different kinds, a little path leads up to the front door. A dog, large and hairy, barks inside. The door opens wide. A hug, as if I were an old friend. “Bellissimo!” he says to me in Italian to start off our new meeting. Anikushin is a very welcoming host. First we go into a room where, beside his desk, he shows me records from his meetings with artists from other countries, pausing over the Italian ones; photographs of monumental works, drawings that accompanied or preceded his sculptures, distributed over roughly forty-five years.

Each of the fifty small bronze sculptures, placed here and there along the very high-ceilinged room, is momentous, with his commentary. A miracle, each time. Rays of sunlight enter from the high windows. They light up a part of the very fine sculptures, which, with their attention to detail, constitute a story, a life, a unique intellectual and artistic itinerary in the direction of quality, his own. Quality of the itinerary. Quality of the enterprise of art and invention. Play. Marvel. Course.

We go into another room. Enormous. Very light. Works of various sizes. Some in bronze. Others gigantic in plaster. The basis of what is exhibited in Russia, in central and western Europe, in Japan. In the museums. In the squares. In the streets or in an oasis among the trees. Sculptures of the sky. Vertical. Beautiful. Different. Varied. Thanks to Anikushin, he and I are in this other life, created by him, in this other time, in which the event takes effect in each sculpture. A real meeting. A question of tone. A question of pleasure. A question of truth. Effectual truth.

We go into another room again. Another style. Another structure of large statues, of luminous and tranquil faces. These are the works of Maria, his wife. Many are exhibited in museums. Many have been shown in exhibitions. Some alongside her husband’s too. Maria arrives. An extraordinary joviality. A simplicity both old and new. Maria enunciates an essential trace of Russia, which we cannot lose in any corner of the globe. The image is very serene. Another sign of Anikushin’s internationalism. A supplement of light. Of that light in his sculptures that is affected by infinity. And paradise. We will not let the paradise fabricated by Anikushin pass us by.

I met Mikhail again at the opening of the congress. A month later. In the delightful hall of the Tauride Palace. Europe’s Sky. I invited him to inaugurate the congress. I did so every day. At the start of the day’s proceedings. Silent attention. Listening. Anikushin brings a note of his tranquillity, his talent and his ingenuity. Intelligence. He apologizes for an “electrical problem”, which blocks the simultaneous interpreting system in the morning. Anikushin: the index of Europe’s sky. The index of aperture. The index also, therefore, of another exchange, another debate, another way. No passion. No pathos. No affliction.

On the third day, Anikushin watched the recent production of “virtual reality” on video. Then he showed me the drawings next to the pages of notes in his writing book. And he said to me, laughing: “Here is the virtual reality!”

The day before the congress I had gone to his studio with my very good friends Pia and Carmine Benincasa. A visit that had been announced. I had already spoken to him about them, of my regard for them. Anikushin was very happy. An actor without acting. And without ceremony. Authentic and generous. An actor in an enterprise of quality. And again, at the beginning of July, another visit to his studio. An interview for the film. The recounting of his artistic life. Without emotion. The story flows into the enterprise. Audacity and betting. Without heroism. Without escalades or sacrifices. Without rivalry. And Maria: the index of the immeasurable split of the curtain, of the introduction to joy and happiness.

Every now and then, Anikushin says a few words in Italian. With excellent pronunciation. He repeats the names of monuments of several Italian cities. Our meeting inaugurates an old friendship..

His very first trip to Italy in 1956 marked another era in Anikushin’s itinerary: drawings, notes, annotations, comparisons at that time. A season already heralded by the essential quality of what preceded it, and persisting in subsequent dawns. A long meditation. Another intensity. Traits and portraits. Reason, temporal. Pragmatic reason. Happenings and their effects, events. Each time for the other writing. And for its accomplishment.

Now Anikushin comes to Italy with joy. Almost for another dawn. Very well known by this time in every corner of the planet. And not only in so-called artistic circles. No marginalism. Anikushin goes towards that light that allows one to understand. Sublime Anikushin. He comes to Italy when Communism does not appear triumphant in Europe. He comes for the game of art and culture. Are we, hearers and readers of his sculptures and his drawings, able to join in the game? Anikushin helps us to join in. Anikushin, the unrepresentable host.

Persecuted? Not directly. He lived and lives with what is indispensable for inventing, for doing art, for playing. For taking an interest in the pictorial experiments of his grand-daughter and for understanding some youth with a dramatically destructive urge, even comparing him with himself as a young man. Circumstances, even difficult and distressful ones, turn out to be to favourable for him. He makes them functional. He makes them propitious to what he does and has to do.

As Leonardo writes, it is the work that remains, not the commissioner. Anikushin’s commission is a happy one for the excellent result we are satisfied with. Anikushin, a true sculptor of the sky.

An academic, decorated for his work as an artist, Anikushin shows no sign of complacency. In fact his works have nothing of the Baroque. His works: artifice in its elegance, its intelligence, its sobriety. Artifice to the point of simplicity. Anikushin does not need to flaunt his prowess or to add artifice to artifice. He does not need to show off or to ornament his art. And what art! Art of St. Petersburg in the second Renaissance. Art of the sky and of its other face, paradise. Art of the invisible, of the inaudible. Solemn and simple art. Art of exception, of excellence and of time. Art of the aperture and of the slit. Another civilization.

Anikushin integrates new elements with the tradition of St. Petersburg in the specific of an inventive and artistic enterprise. A modernity still to be explored, to be read, to be understood in its quality. In the quality we are heading for.

A great number of drawings, sketches, figurines in various materials of Pushkin, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, of the painter Levitan. Monuments for the composer Glier, for the actor Cherkasov, for the surgeon Kuprianov, for the geographer Voeykov, for the physiologist Bekherev, for Joffe and many others.

With Pushkin, Chekhov and Tchaikhovsky, each time Anikushin studies the works for a long time and researches the person. He looks through and reads what has been done by others, photographs, when they exist, records. He builds the environment in which the person lived. Then he begins. One piece of work can involve long seasons. There are many pretexts for his enterprise: the peasant woman, the actress, the doctor, the victory, the musician, the dancer, the soldiers, the boss, the humble man. A host of people who, by the artistic act, are no longer people but pieces of a never-ending work, life elsewhere, the beautiful gallery of what is to come.

In the drawings, as in the sculptures, different and various times can be distinguished. A trip, an event mark changes, incidences, provide the pretext for scanning the traits of a richness of spirit. Always with that portrait which is the signature of his life.

To make a statue, Anikushin proceeds first of all from drawing, in other words from irony, mode of aperture, mode of the sky.

The series of drawings and sculptures. History and enterprise. The signature and the cipher. The types of the planet. From the tree, just to indicate a bar, a figure of two, to the sheet, to the type, again to the signature. The celebration of life, of the word in its logic and in its cipher. Women? Types of women. Men? Types of men. The videomatic image releases the type. Feast of types of landscape. Celebration of the cultural and artistic memory that becomes the making of invention and of art. Each drawing is an accomplished work. It expresses the context. It keeps to the logic and structure of the word. The drawing carries Anikushin’s cipher. Why remove it from the essential of a life of art and invention?

Some drawings cannot be connected at all with a statue to be done or already done. The architectural drawings, especially, are the accomplishment of music and architecture, a reading to grasp the berthing at quality. Anikushin also does it during his travels in Italy. Never an operation of memory or of nostalgia. Memory is passed on in the message and in the reading.

Anikushin’s drawings inaugurate the essential of research and of what he will do, until the conclusion of the statue or monument. They establish the future, from which work proceeds, with traits, with spurts, with blows. They have the value of hope, therefore the word proceeds in its particularity and in its quality. Let us also try to read a drawing after following its accomplishment in sculpture: this way it looks like the start of an announcement of a “virtual reality” and of a message. Some drawings look like the trace of the project and the bet. Some others look as if they have been compiled after the statue. It is not so much Anikushin as the statue that attributes a value to the drawings. A different value, in any case. Here is a piece of paper from 1944 with four drawings. A cottage among bare trees in a clearly marked landscape.

A man holds a gun in one hand and in the other a long rope, tied to his dog below, on the same relief. A girl with a light-hearted and joyful air, with simple curls forming a sort of crown of flowers and bare arms, is holding an enormous book in her hands. Looking into the distance. A man, with a stiff hat, beard and flowing hair and a long cloak is captured while walking.

Anikushin lives next to the siege, next to the massacre of Leningrad. Later, he builds a momentous and monumental work, in the centre of Victory Square in St. Petersburg, To the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad Who Died During the Siege of the Nazis in the great war. Epic. And a poem. Granite. Bronze. Thirty-three sculptures. On both sides. And two in the centre beneath the obelisk. The city during the Nazi siege. Here are the defenders. Glimpses. Happenings. No hagiography. The monument enunciates the saga, at which the fairy-tale, the recountal, the fabula berth. At the climax of the details and of the writing. The saga. Following the cinema and the theatre. Following music. Following the art of folding. And without tragedy. The saga: accomplishment of a very beautiful narration.

The monuments to civilians who died are variants, of the deposition. No discounted symbolism. Here is the first. Again in a U shape. On the right, a tall soldier, armed with a gun, is just supporting a woman smaller than himself, with her head covered and crying. On the left, a solemn, tall, decisive, prosperous woman holds the body of a child in her arms. In the centre, two women with long hair: one is slightly supporting the other, lying limply. Another edition of the monument varies the figures of the group, almost more sober and less solemn.

The monumental frieze of Victory, twenty-eight metres long, with episodes from 1905, from October and from the struggle of 1920, dates from 1967. Epic without pathos. Lyrical glimpses without fatalism. Happenings without localism. Proceeding from the future of hope, from the way of aperture, rather than of hope in either the positive or the negative things to come.

From the volume Artisti [Artists]