(I apologise for the temporary lack of photos. Turns out I renamed the folder they were in and confused the internet.)
The Orthodox Church put a chapel in it after 1991, just to ‘consecrate’ it i.e. celebrate the final defeat of the movement that had attacked its privileges. That’s the pre-revolutionary Cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of the city:
After the Aurora, we found a Russian cafe, where I ordered what I thought might be a quiche and turned out to be something eggy covering a big piece of fish. So it’s official: I’m a pescatarian for the duration of this trip. It’s just impossible to find vegetarian food – even the vegetarian restaurant we went to was heavy on egg and cheese. Unless I want to live on salad (and there’s no guarantee that doesn’t have meat in it), or vastly improve my Russian enough to bother waiters with special requests, I’m ordering fish in lieu of ending up with something meatier. It’s validating, at least in making me realize that I don’t particularly like meat – I’m not regretting the last 19 years of vegetarianism. Fish is kind of bland so far, it’s like cooking an animal removes the need to use any spices. But I don’t have much of a choice.
We marched through heavy rain across the Neva to the State Museum for Russian Art, and I’ve prepared a photo-tour with commentary. But I only have a half-hour left on my battery so you good people will be spared the full experience, at least until I can find an outlet. But here’s a precis. I stuck with the 20th century, as that’s all I figured I had energy for – and I didn’t even have energy for all of that. The 20th century took up the entire upper floor of the building, which itself twisted and turned with no apparent reason or floor plan. When we eventually left, M. and I had to retrace our path to get out.
I wanted to see the progression of Soviet art to Stalinism, and I wasn’t disappointed: from the giddy experimentation of suprematism, art movements quickly became representational and, if not glorifying the regime, glorifying the idealized denizens of Soviet Russia. That’s not all bad: it’s great to see workers being treated with dignity, even heroism compared to being ignored or ridiculed in the west. However, elevating workers to religious icons is not the point of socialism: the Revolution was to begin transforming workers to whole human beings, not to celebrate their status as cogs. Trotsky said (trust me on this one, I think it’s in Literature and Revolution) that ‘we can’t make socialist art yet because we have yet to create the new human being’ i.e. the USSR is still a class society. Stalinist dogma turned that from a necessity to a virtue. Compare Kazimir Malevich’s Peasant Woman from the early 1930s, which has the approved subject matter but at least has some formal ingenuity…
As technically beautiful as it is, and as much as I’d like to have people that enthusiastic at my union meetings, there’s no subtext, no formal conventions at all (not surprising, since formalism was a crime). It’s the artistic equivalent of Microsoft Word: What You See Is What You Get.
My battery is down to five minutes, so that’s all the art lecture you get. For now.