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Past weekend from the “apple-city” (Almaty) I moved to the capital of the Land of Fire – Baku.
My failure to meet Warhol
Baku, the biggest port on Caspian Sea, has gone through several changes in the past few centuries. The commercialization of oil in the late nineteen century enriched the city and its architecture. The effects of the second oil boom of a recently independent country gave a boost to a new level of rebranding. Some of the changes are worth to be proud of while some others are small “genocides” against the city’s cultural heritage and green zone. The city of controversies and vanity, Baku has added a new facet to its image: in the past few years there has been a real boom of contemporary art – an area highly appreciated and supported by the president's family. Some unprecedented international initiatives took place recently one of which was bringing Andy Warhol's 100 works to a newly inaugurated Heydar Aliyev Center – a futuristic creation of the architect Zaha Hadid.
Those who went to Common Ground, a 2012 Architecture Biennale in Venice, probably have seen this building’s model in the section of the exposition dedicated to Zaha Hadid.
Heydar Aliyev Center became another architectural marvel of city's modern look
Live it looks impressive: the “tent’s” ivory curves shine in the sun, the sterile white interior of the entrance area promise franquillity, yet there has to be another time to discover all of its beauties as the building was closed for visits the day I was in Baku! So this unpleasant fact made impossible to see Warhol’s Life, Death and Beauty exhibition. It could have been my second only-Warhol time as in Milan’s 900 museum I have recently seen Bank of America Merrill Lynch collection of the artist’s works which is on until September 8th. The exposition was disappointingly small as I expected something beyond one room exposition, yet informative as a sort of a storyline was created through which evolution of Warhol’s techniques could be traced. In addition a nice designer solution of flavoring the exhibition with explanatory text in pop-art style (fluorescent colors, call boxes, etc.) added funkiness to the visitors’ experience. Also, I have discovered that there were many variations of famous Campbell canned soup and during the first show 32 metal soup cans were exhibited next to the paintings. So despite finding Warhol overrated and not among my favorite artists I still admit he was a marketing genius.
While in Milan the exhibition was crowded, according to those who were luckier than me in recently exploring the center in Baku, the show is really good, but they were the only visitors as probably everyone is now at the seaside or abroad. According to local newspapers 25,000 tickets were sold the first weeks, yet I wonder whether hosting an event like this in the middle of summer was a right pick: Since most of the students are long time ago on holidays and the remaining suffer from the university standardized entry test itch, a big chunk of potential audience is out of reach. Art is still a hobby of a few and summer is a dead season as I have encountered empty rooms also visiting the Museum of Fine Arts and some contemporary art galleries mostly located within the Inner City (a part of Baku surrounded by a medieval wall).
Artistic quest continues…
The museum has been recently renovated but I found the look a bit kitsch. In addition, its three floors vaguely have any organizational structure and navigation as well as lack any printed or descriptive materials except painting titles (this reminded me a comment I write on a slide for a post-storecheck presentation in a category management project I am currently working on!) neither the young girls working there really made an impression of very dedicated and knowledgeable employees. So unless you do your homework and study some art history beforehand/afterwards, your beyond-a-painting-title-curiosity will remain unsatisfied. Ground floor accumulated mixed chronology/theme classical art that included Shishkin, Aivazovsky, Kuindzhi, last floor was dedicated to national art with some remarkable pieces.
Land, 1970s, Rasim Babayev
Land of Fire triptych: Ateshgah Temple,The Caspian Sea Nowadays, The Maiden Tower, 2007, Tahir Salahov
Still life with kelaghayi (a traditional silk scarf), 1973, Sattar Bahlulzade
Second floor had a temporary exposition arranged in a rush to commemorate the death of a renown Azeri artist, Togrul Narimanbeyov, whose lifeless body was a subject of fierce discussions on where to be buried: in the motherland or the city he lived past decades – Paris.
Nizami World, 1980, Togrul Narimanbeyov
...title to be checked..., Togrul Narimanbeyov
An the winner is…
While in Amsterdam my favorite art gallery is Jaski, in Baku it was very easy to make my choice: there are quite a few galleries, some "historical" like Qiz Qalasi and newly opened like Yay! by Yarat Contemporary Art Space. I recalled an accidental discovery of Gazelli Art House on Dover street in London's Mayfair district this January when crossing the gallery’s entrance in Baku. Owned by ex-Sotheby’s employee, the Baku gallery had an exposition of three artists, David Jones, RoryMcCartney, and Hyo Myoung Kim as well as a very passionate about her work, friendly and knowledgeable employee Ayla (in all other Baku galleries the staff is either not present with gallery open for visits or has a basic or no knowledge about the items on exposition).
a view from the gallery's second floor to Rory McCartney's Psycho Boogie, 2011
Among the three, Korean artist Hyo Myoung Kim is my favorite as his works in digital media were both laconic and fascinating by their simplicity. His pixelated images look painted while printed on aluminum panels, especially A Thousand and One night or 1024 colors 100x100 cm Digital Diasec prints. The latter is a collection of the most beautiful and famous fireworks all over the globe – a quintessence of happiness and celebrations. If it had spare €4,5K I would buy this piece without any further doubt!
1024 colors, 100x100 cm Digital Diasec prints, Hyo Myoung Kim
1024 colors, 100x100 cm Digital Diasec prints, Hyo Myoung Kim
This work by David Jones, Implosive Neuro Polymorphism, Polyurethane, Oil and Ink on Alluminium, 108x108 cm reminds me of Asian paysage or calligraphy, maybe because of the meticulous “ink lace”
For his Ultramagnetic 2010 painting Rory McCartney rotated the canvas several times to reach this dripping into different directions effect