New Barbizon
Words
New Barbizon
Anna Lukashevsky
Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi
Natalia Zourabova
Olga Kundina
Maria Pomiansky
N e w
B a r b i z o n
Barbizon

Rhymes with Amazon
Some words of introduction to the New Barbizon group

Why these artists, here, now? One answer is that I went by intuition, feeling that this group’s vibrant and varied sketches and paintings, rendered directly from life, would offer fresh ways to connect to Amsterdam. Like many metropolitan centres today, the city is under rapid development and oftentimes forces out of sight, out of mind, seem to determine the course of its transformation. The ample images produced for the intersecting industries of real estate and tourism dominate the imagination of how (and which) neighbourhoods constitute the idea of Amsterdam. Billboards with photographic nu (now) views and computerized straks (soon) renderings abound.1 So what can felt markers or pens or pencil do on modestly sized paper?

If you are reading these words on this website, you have likely already seen quite a lot of the results of the New Barbizon’s deft work with the basic materials of sketching.2 Last summer (July 27 to August 5, 2019 to be precise) the team of de Appel began preparing to present New Barbizon in the iconic Aula of the Broedplaats Lely, which our institutions has been making into a home.3 The space has phenomenal daylight – great for viewing paintings – brought in through two walls of windows that look onto the Lelylaan area of Amsterdam Nieuw-West. Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi, Anna Lukashevsky, Natalia Zourabova, Olga Kundina and Maria Pomiansky with kids (two unborn) and partners joined us for a ten-day sketching trip en plein air.4 Their method is an uptake of a tradition that first gained momentum around the nineteenth century Barbizon school of painters, famous for their renderings of countryside labour and life; that group took their name from a village near the Forest of Fontainbleau where they gathered to sketch and paint outdoors, and it is unclear if this place or the painters lend their name to the Barbizon Palace, an NH hotel outside Amsterdam Centraal.

As things stand, the artists cannot travel to Amsterdam this summer for their exhibition – the first institutional solo for this group in the Netherlands, and in the EU for that matter. We have taken the decision to present their sketches as the first phase of de Appel’s new website (currently under construction, like Lelylaan and much of Amsterdam). But this is not an online exhibition.5 It is a sketch itself. Likewise, my attempt to introduce these artists is not finished, but hopefully it brings you closer to the hands and heads and hearts behind the views.

[Myth]

The story of the New Barbizon group is becoming the stuff of myth in their adopted home. Sometime between the late nineties and the early naughties the artists Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi, Anna Lukashevsky, Natalia Zourabova, Olga Kundina and Asya Lukin all moved to Israel from the former USSR (as did Maria Pomiansky, who joined New Barbizon last year as Lukin departed).6 The Soviet Socialist system was crumbling when these women were growing up, but the rigorous artist training was pretty much intact during their high school years and they benefitted greatly from hours of life drawing and painting classes and from the access to a broader and deeper history of that varied artistic movement called ‘socialist realism’, which was flatted and stamped as ‘unfreedom’ in the West during the Cold War.7 Their experience taught them how discipline – in artistic work and in self-determination – is the path to true freedom.

Arriving in Israel, they learned of each other online. And when they got together and exchanged life stories and artistic ambitions, they recognized that the conceptual dogma associated with the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem would likely bar them from doing what they loved most and did best. This conceptual artistic paradigm needed a shake-up. Rather than bring down the house rhetorically, they committed to rendering what they observed around them. And their practical and joyful negation of the individualistic artist resulted in the formation of a group. This was and is art getting back to life, back to reality.

Evidence of New Barbizon’s mythic status can be detected in the writings of artist Roee Rosen, whose volume Vladimir’s Night mentions the group in 2014, about four years after the formation of New Barbizon. Written through the allegorical figure of a Russian immigré, Maxim Komar-Myshkin, “one of the most elusive and tragic figures in Israeli-Russian art,” Rosen’s gory revenge fantasy involves many real and surreal post-Soviet newcomers to the Israeli art scene, as well as that notorious former KGB Boss turned President of the Russian Federation. Vladimir (Putin) is believed to have a personal vendetta against Maxim. And while it lampoons Putin, Rosen’s tale also channels the fuller scope of fascination and fear directed towards the large Russian-speaking Jewish population that moved to Israel in the decades following the dissolution of the USSR. Artistic collectivism abounds in the story, from the morbidly titled Buried Alive Group (which Maxim founds), to Birobizhan (named after the Jewish oblast Stalin envisioned8 ) to the self-proclaimed “Yuri Gagarin of Israeli art,” Kollektiv (a curatorial ensemble Maxim distrusts). Amidst these fictions, we are offered a summary of New Barbizon’s genesis:


A different direction was championed by New Barbizon, a group of five women who, as painters, premised their shared agenda on their early, conservative training in Soviet art academies. Like Kollektiv, they stood for an out-and-out dismissal of contemporary art practices, understood by them as “conceptual,” and advocated instead a painting from nature, but using the “urban nature” of Israeli cities to reflect “reality”: “We didn’t want to play with words anymore, which had become a substitute for people’s eyes!”9


All this rings true, but it then ventures into binary oppositions that make for good drama but misleading (art) history. Take the individual vs. the collective: while this may be a paradox in the West, the New Barbizon group is not exactly diminished as individuals within their group. Indeed, they have demonstrated how their work outdoors is easier because they stay together and how their group critiques improve each artist’s works before they are made fully public.

The distrust of collective work that Rosen displaces onto Komar-Myshkin, “with notions of creative individuality flatly denied by the demands of the collective,”10 needs to be questioned. Might the group be a crucible rather than a crusher for individual growth? New Barbizon is proving this so far, though the dynamic is not automatic and it requires discipline and commitment.

Moreover, just as they are becoming ‘mythic’ figures for their fresh approach to age-old methods of picture-making, the members of New Barbizon also dispel certain social and (art) historical myths. One is the myth of the primacy of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Israel. This is real, but it is also complicated and not a clear binary, as demonstrated by the first situation en plein air that the artists organized as New Barbizon at the Central Bus Terminal in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.11

The place is a point of arrival (and departure) for many people from the region, who fall outside the binary designation of Arab and Jew. They come along ancient and new routes that connect to the Levant from the Sahel in the southwest and the Persian Gulf in the east. Often identified as refugees and migrant workers in the news, they wish for a better life like everybody. While many people portrayed at the Central Bus Station (and in other cycles of New Barbizon paintings) were unknown to the artists, there were also some friends and one newcomer who became Zoya Cherkassky’s life partner and the father of her child. Their practice unfolds beyond binary oppositions, which recalls the constructivist aspiration of bringing ‘art into life’.

The individual and the group, discipline and freedom, tradition and the new, images online and in irl – these forces need not be opposed. We can see how they combine to energize New Barbizon’s work and their lives, like an AC/DC current.

To be continued…

– Monika Szewczyk

With sincere thanks to ARTIS for supporting New Barbizon’s plein-air in Amsterdam, July 27 - August 4, 2019 with a residency grant, as well as a grant for the exhibition which will follow. We are equally grateful for additional in kind support by de Ateliers and Rijksakademie, Amsterdam.

1   We might ask how these images and imaginaries foreclose alternative views.
2   It is worth noting that first on their Amsterdam itinerary was a trip to get local supplies or, as Natalia Zourabova points out, to get used to local colors.
3   We were about to refurbish this aula for Patricia Kaersenhout’s exhibition Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Too?, which took place in the Fall.
4   It should be noted that the word plener (plein-air pronounced flatly, with a Slavic rolling arrrr) has been widely used to designate a type of residency where artists get together to make work in a bucolic location. These residencies were formative for many Soviet-era artists that in many ways remain out of focus and out of Western history books today.
5   It is my firm belief that the word exhibition needs to be reserved for the chance to present the work of New Barbizon in de Appel’s main exhibition space – irl.
6   Pomiansky joined New Barbizon after moving from Tel Aviv-Jaffa to Zürich, but knew all the artists during her formative years in Isreal and was inspired to work according to their principles well before 2019.
7   The Encyclopedia Britannica dates the movement to 1932-1988.
8   Sound it out and Birobizhan is a close cousin of Barbizon.
9   Roee Rosen, Vladimir’s Night, Maxim-Komar Myshkin, With annotations by Rosa Chobanova (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014 The quote is taken from Zoya Cherkasky, Anna Lukashevsky, Natalia Zubarova, Olga Kundina and Asya Lukin, “New Barbizon Group,” in Cargo Cult, ed. Max Lomberg.
10   Ibid.
11   Here it should be noted New Barbizon break rather decisively with the rural or downright pastoral protocols of the original Barbizon group, which included Jean-François Millet, Camille Corot, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Joules Oupré, Charles-François Daubigny among others. For those who have access to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Camille Corot’s Lanscape of ca. 1872 (formerly Souvenir de Les Landes – a title that, especially to the English ear, highlights the touristic dimension of images produced by the Barbizon group) is currently on view in Room 1.18 of the museum.