Day 14: Moscow Drum Roll: Market and Modern Art

Dorogomilovsky Market early in the morning was Gee Kin’s pick today, followed by mine–the Tretyakovskaya Modern Art “Gallery”. We managed to take the subway three stops to our first destination without getting lost. The subway had a dizzying amount of subway names–all in Cyrillic–so you have to master the alphabet or you are “TOCT”. Gee Kin showed rapid improvement from his initial blundering, “What’s that alphabet called–Acrylic?”. I’m including the subway station menu, that requires good eyesight in addition to calisthenic tongue skills.

As a “wrailwray” kinda gal, I love cracking the system. We stepped into the huge escalator tubes of travelers, stretching endless miles deep down into the bowels of the Moscow River and beyond. These were the longest escalators we have seen anywhere–they felt like at least 3 to 5 times any of the deepest tube station in London. The Russian engineers liked doing things bigger and better, and this was another showcase opportunity. We sliced and diced the station names like a Benihana master chef would, and deconstructed each one letter by letter. We followed every sign religiously. We even avoided going down one-way streams and didn’t make elbow contact with anyone.

The cars were spotless, not a crumb or grungy morning coffee spill in sight. Like all good citizens, the Moscovites rushed swiftly, politely and silently. Gee Kin noticed that commuters zoned out with fewer hand-held devices and opted more for books and magazines than their Beijing or San Francisco counterparts.

As expected, the market was also a bustle of activity, with carts being swung and navigated every which way down aisles beyond safe speed limits. You can see our fascination with an array of some familiar but also new sights: furry rabbit’s feet good luck charms, Korean kimchee specialties (a note about that later), racks of lamb and carcasses, 8 piglets without blankets, bottled and pickled everything (including grass mushrooms Gee Kin loves), and on and on. It reminded me of the bigger but less varied market in Tashkent from last year.

Next, our day was traumatized by a trip to the Modern Art “Gallery”–along the Moscow River. That was the only bearing point for the humongous site. The monumental museum (and I mean MONUMENTAL…the size of an Olympic stadium…was so big and dwarfed human context so much that it became a nightmarish experience. We dragged and slogged our way though miles of artwork. Despite the noble effort to catalogue modern art in the Soviet Union from pre-Bolshevik days to today, the museum and its fascinating history was lost and unappreciated due to the vastness and lack of selectivity of the material. Its attempt to show “everything in the warehouse” (purportedly 170,000 pieces) made it mind-numbing and exhausting.

This frustration may have been caused by sensory overload from the earlier market visit. Just getting to the building from street to front door was a chore. The gallery literally looked like a stadium complex. We weren’t quite prepared for this mental and physical workout. If you go there, be sure to dedicate one entire day for a visit. Better yet, a week. Bring your camp stove and tent but don’t get caught.

Don’t misunderstand my message. I did love the artwork. I was inspired by the sculpture more than the paintings, though. They all cried for attention. Because there were fewer pieces of sculpture, you could focus on them more easily. I found the predominance of woman’s bodies depicted in real, human ways very moving. They weren’t idealized as Venuses. They were reflections of real women, of mothers, sisters, workers. I even found a few that looked like me! Their bodies “hung out”, but their faces spoke volumes.

I couldn’t help but think about the stunning ballet performance by the prima donna from the night before. She could perform so flawlessly, and so dramatically. Her face and body spelled all the agony and torture of the dying Violetta. The sculpture of woman and child spoke to me in the same way, as did the other pieces that were chiseled and sparked to life from stone.

Aside from a few Chagall pieces that I could detect, it was difficult to find any recognizable names. We were on the lookout for a cache of Matisses, but these were all Russian artists (Chagall was a Belorus-born French artist). The French Impressionists are elsewhere in Moscow, not here, in this national repository.

And of course, near and dear to my heart, design. See my favorite pieces of artwork in the entire stadium: calligraphy on beautifully crafted plates.

Note regarding Korean community in Moscow: some came here before WWII. They were later purged to Uzbekistan, and a small population still lives there.

2 thoughts on “Day 14: Moscow Drum Roll: Market and Modern Art”

  1. Vickie, I love all your posts and pictures, particularly this one. I find subways fascinating as well because this is the hub of the local population as they move around in their city. Perfect place to people watch. The athleticism of the Russian women are so impressive–ballet dancers, gymnasts, tennis players, not only physical but the mental discipline. Glad you are enjoying Moscow! Look forward to your posts! I get a chuckle from your humorous quips, crazy lady!

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    1. Interesting comment about Russian women. They are strikingly beautiful and dress extremely well, with short skirts and pencil dresses to show off their slim bodies. I can’t help but think about Anna Netrebko whenever I hear opera mentioned. She scrubbed floors of the opera house when she was training, hoping to sing one day on stage! She is now the prima opera diva of the world! I can see the dedication and endurance in both men and women here, and they are definitely to be admired. I always wanted to be a comedy writer but didn’t have any real experience, except real ones. I am crazy so I’m glad I can at least entertain you while I’m at it.

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