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The superbly researched catalogue of an exhibition celebrating the work of the avant-garde Ukranian artist a century after he escaped to Istanbul from the Russian Civil War.
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On July 23, 1919, as the Russian Civil War raged, Alexis Gritchenko, the maverick Ukrainian artist, opinionated lecturer and disputatious art critic, shrugged on a coat, grabbed a bag, padlocked his Moscow studio and, before heading to the station, wrote on the door: “There are no weapons here! Preserve it, please.”
“It” – a body of work of more than 500 canvases – would be impounded and cut up for use by students, “butchered”, as Gritchenko described the abomination two years later when he learnt of it in Paris. “How am I to reconcile myself to the complete disappearance of half of my life, my conscious, concrete, spiritual life?!”
But in that July his only instinct was to flee before a “spiritual trap” closed on him, obedient to an inner voice that urged: “Leave everything before it’s too late.” He seems to have had no clear destination in mind. “People usually jump into one of the raging streams, hoping their good fortune will toss them onto a nice welcoming shore. That was how one day I found myself under the minarets of Istanbul.”
Alexis Gritchenko: The Constantinople Years, an exhibition at Meşher (the Vehbi Koç Foundation’s gallery space on İstiklâl Caddesi), celebrates the artist’s sojourn in Turkey, a time of great trials, but also of some of his most inspired work.
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● ‘Alexis Gritchenko – The Constantinople Years’ is at Meşher, Istanbul (scheduled to reopen September–November), mesher.org
FURTHER READING ● The catalogue, by Ayşenur Güler and Vita Susak (Vehbi Koç Foundation), £20. ● ‘Alexis Gritchenko: Dynamocolor’, by Vita Susak (Rodovid, Kyiv, 2017), £60. Order both books from cornucopia.net
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