Art Show in Palo Alto, California in December 2010 and January 2011.

Here are some videos from the opening:

Here is the text of Boris Bernstein's speech at the opening:

Alexander Yanushkevich is a Moscow painter with strong ties to the Bay Area. For some time, he lived in the area. Many of his paintings are located here, from the early ones to the most recent – this made possible a representative exhibit of his works, open now at the gallery Bon vivánt in Palo Alto.

This is not the first Yanushkevich’s exhibit in these parts. First time I have seen his art 12-13 years ago, at Stanford. Then, it was not hard to determine the origins of his aesthetic principles: artist was inspired by the still lifes of the prominent Italian painter Giorgio Morandi; at the same time, he resonated with the ideas of the French purists of the 1920s, Amédée Ozenfan and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, this last one better known to the world as the great architect Le Corbusier. From Morandi Yanushkevich took, besides his affection to still life, the high and exquisite finesse of his art, from the purists – their constructiveness, logic, rational discipline, and art of building hierarchical order.

Yanushkevich graduated from “1905” Moscow Art Institute in the mid-seventies, and soon began to exhibit his works. At the time, Socialist Realism was becoming senile, but still its field of influence created polarization: at one extreme, the anemic socialist-realistic mythmaking was on its last legs, whereas at the other, underground one, there flourished modernist flippancies and biting parodies of Sots Art. Astoundingly, the then young artist didn’t seem to have noticed either one or the other. He had to possess strong convictions, creative independence and inner freedom, in order to find and affirm his place outside of both official and anti-official – as if they didn’t exist at all.

Having first seen the paintings of this artist, who has carved himself such a well-defined creative niche, I have not only appreciated his freedom of expression, but also, out of professional inclination, have hastily moved to “classify” him. Yanushkevich was defined and appraised as an inventive and skillful follower of above-mentioned traditions, capable of both following their chosen forms, as well as distancing himself from them, enriching his own interpretation with playful, effervescent source.

Admittedly, I was somewhat mistaken, just then. I have underestimated the push of creative energy that behooved the artist to abruptly change direction of his quest, and the extent of artistic freedom that allowed him to boldly discard the mastered and the conquered for the sake of new ideas.

All this is well, albeit partially, demonstrated at the Palo Alto exhibition. Almost the entire wall is dedicated to the works of the “purist” period – still lifes, where common objects, abstracted into silhouetted preforms, conjugated and rhymed together, glimmer mysteriously in suppositive, multi-layered space of the painting.

It is difficult to conceive a sharper turning than the one Yanushkevich has allowed himself to execute, having segued from refined, aristocratically stylized forms to naturalism, naïve, at first blush, to the art of so called trompe-l’œil, or, as we call it, “trick-paint” – the art of creating optical illusions.

Today, not many people remember that for long centuries the formulae “just like life”, “like reality” were considered the highest praise for an artist, because the miracle of likeness is a true source of the visual arts. Artistic revolutions of the XX century made likeness to reality dispensable for the art of painting – the main currents of avant-garde have consistently drifted away from resembling apparent reality. Yanushkevich’s “trick-paintings”, not realistic at all, but rather illusive, looked newly fresh against this backdrop. Executed with masterful ease, they are, however, far from mechanical imitations of the semblance of things: the very choice of objects, guiding the created associations, leads the imagination out of the limits of proper objective world. Old letters, child’s comb, torn picture, reading glasses, house key, naïve paper clippings – life, memories condensed in objects, enduing them with live warmth and human sense.

However sharp this turn was, Yanushkevich remained true to himself in principle - idea of rationally aligned order, inherited from the purists, maintained its hold even here: free elements of reality, transformed into circumspective and harmonic organization of the painting plane, seeming naïveté of the “trick” turned into distinct, even classical aesthetics of building the artistic whole.

Seemingly, at this stage Yanushkevich has re-discovered himself. Some other artists, having been in his place, would vary these brilliant “tricks” for the rest of their careers, all the more so because they can satisfy any taste, albeit in a different fashion – from primitive ones, being content with trick likeness, to the most refined. But spirited and restless Yanushkevich is not such an artist: soon he would shift away from the “tricks”, and in characteristic paradox would begin to create new artistic worlds, having little to do with visual “reflection of reality”. These are series of paintings, each series unified by a common variation of color, and all of them by the principle of creation of some new reality; artist himself prefers to call this new reality “metaphysical”. If one recalls the literal meaning of the word “metaphysics”: “beyond” or “after physics”, then Yanushkevich is right in his own fashion. After directly observable “physics” of his “tricks” he introduces us into the world of physically impossible events and states. Their self-sufficient, mysterious existence possesses a truly magical allure. At the Palo Alto exhibit, the “Gray series” is represented most completely. In it, the gray element dominates completely: all-begetting gray color substance, coagulating to objective density, brings forth from itself unexpected and irreconcilable objects – fragment of Ionic capital, tennis ball, paper plane, fancy seashells, goat skull, materializing in front of our eyes, semi-transparent bubbles, fragment of ancient statue… Some objects are at rest on the plane, others are freely soaring in space, some submit to gravity, others know nothing about it, some cast shadows, and others do not. We know that sometimes unclean spirits cast no shadow, but in Yanushkevich’s world there is no “clean” or “unclean”: he doesn’t concern himself with moral judgments, tells nothing of good or evil; his paintings are always plays of visuality, concertos for the eye.

And further… In his metamorphoses Yanushkevich is very much true to himself: the next phase is an antithesis to the previous one.

Everything he produced up until now possessed a strict discipline of the brush, so one forgets that illusions, after all, are made of paint dough. And then the moment came when the brush rebelled; all his past technique was contra posed by the tempestuous, temperamental brushwork, self-declaration of the artistic source. Impatience, held back diligently for years, broke free at last in spontaneous motions, leaving manifest, powerful traces on the plane of the canvas. These are yet mostly still lifes, and traditional Yanushkevich’s everyday objects are still recognizable, but – in contrast with objects from previous series, appearing before our eyes by condensation of color matter, - these objects dissolve before our eyes in sweeping whirls of relief colorful brushstrokes.

Some paintings of this cycle stand on the verge of objectlessness, but never cross it. Moreover, behind the seeming spontaneity of brushwork there hides the quality that never leaves Yanushkevich – his discipline of constructive formation of the whole, inherited in his youth from the purists and serving as an internal commandment, that holds true through all stylistic metamorphoses.

Finally, one more sharp turn – and the circle completes. In recent years the artist again turns to articulate, cold forms, resembling his earlier output, but on a higher level. Here, every object remembers its geometric projection, usual bottles, jugs, quaint vessels are grouped into precisely calculated, crystal clear order, inside which flat silhouettes engage in mysterious – between objects! – argument with volumes, transparent surfaces – with opaque ones, lightness with heaviness; physical objects having metaphysical talks…

The newest phase of Yanushkevich’s art could not be demonstrated at the exhibit, but it certainly deserves mention. It is a kind of continuation of his past principles, but with polyphonic increase of the means of artistic expression: painting proper is augmented by jewelry. Old complex of icons and precious frames was an early example of such complicated composition. Yanushkevich’s paintings are combined here with relief frames, adorned with rich metal carvings with lavish inlays of various materials. This style was developed in collaboration with artist S. A. Kondratov, and the artist has named it “art-en-jolie-visme”, which may be translated as “art of adornment”. One may hope to see his artenjolievist works in the Bay Area some day.