THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!
No, this is not a flashback to the hysteria of the Cold War, or some homage to the hilarious film of the same name directed by Norman Jewison and starring Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, and Alan Arkin.
Rather, I am referring to a cocktail reception this last Friday night celebrating the founding of the Russian Round Table, hosted by the FIU European Studies Program in the Wolfsonian’s Dynamo Café. The cocktail venue included a virtual display of Soviet avant-garde and Socialist Realist images on the large flat screen television in the café. All of these images were drawn from our own extensive collection of Russian materials, which you can see for yourself at:
The reception was followed by a special presentation of rare Tsarist and Soviet Russian materials from the library collection displayed by myself and Wolfsonian rare books cataloguer and Eastern European specialist, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi. Twenty to twenty-five enthusiastic members of the Russian Round Table came up to the library for a private viewing and handling of some extremely rare Russian and Soviet materials. A couple of particular favorites were the Aleksandr Pushkin tales, Skazka o zolotom pietushkie [Tale of the Golden Cockerel] and Skazka o tsarie Saltane [The tale of Tsar Saltan], both published in the late Tsarist period and beautifully illustrated by Ivan IAkovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942).
Others in the group were attracted more to the avant-garde aesthetic and designs of Vladimir Evgrafovich Tatlin (1885-1953) and El Lissitzky (1890-1941). The library holds several period pieces documenting Tatlin’s mixed media artwork and his most famous Monument to the Third [Communist] International, and photomontages designed for The USSR in Construction by El Lissitzky, as well as the bold Constructivist images he created to accompany Vladimir Mayakovsky’s book of poetry, Dlia Golosa published in 1923.
Although this was the first visit to the Wolfsonian by many of the members of the Russian Round Table, I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of this group. After discovering this hidden cache of original Russian and Soviet era materials, many vowed that they’d be coming back, scheduling appointments for some future date when they’d have more time to spend with the material.