This week: Vasily Grossman, St. Matthew’s Passion, Tintoretto, Art Deco & more from the world of culture.
Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century, by Alexandra Popoff (Yale University Press): The durability and potency of Vasily Grossman’s magnum opus, Life and Fate, an anti-Stalinist masterpiece novel, can be attested to by a telling remark by its principal censor. After a KGB raid of Grossman’s apartment resulted in the seizure of the manuscript, the Politburo’s ideology chief Mikhail Suslov told the author that his work would not be published for two hundred years, asking him why the Party should “add your book to the atomic bombs that our enemies are preparing to launch against us?” Grossman, having lost control of his life’s devotion, died only three years later. It would be nearly thirty years before the work was finally published in the USSR, long after a fugitive copy was smuggled out of the country on microfilm and released in the West to wide acclaim. But though the posthumous publishing history of Life and Fate is both fascinating and gives dark insight into the oppressive forces that remained in the Soviet Union for decades after Stalin’s death, the novel itself was informed predominantly by Grossman’s own experience of totalitarianism and its attendant atrocities. Now, a new biography by Alexandra Popoff investigates Grossman’s career as a war correspondent and fiction writer, considers the personal tragedies that befell him over the course of his fifty-eight-year life, and examines what is sure to be his lasting legacy as a uniquely compelling anti-despotic voice. For more on Life and Fate, refer to Jacob Howland’s penetrating essay from our October 2018 issue. —AS
“Drawing in Tintoretto’s Venice” and “Venetian Prints in the Time of Tintoretto,” at the National Gallery of Art (through June 9): At the National Gallery of Art, it’s a Tintoretto threefer, with three Tintoretto exhibitions, focusing respectively on paintings, drawings, and prints, opening at once. Last week in this space we focused on the painting exhibition, “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice,” brought together by the curatorial team of Robert Echols and Frederick Ilchman. But visitors should also be sure not to miss “Drawing in Tintoretto’s Venice,” organized by John Marciari, and “Venetian Prints in the Time of Tintoretto,” assembled by Jonathan Bober. These two focused exhibitions look to the influences and surroundings of the cinquecento Venetian artist and complement the first-ever large painting retrospective of the artist in America. All three exhibitions now in Washington are must-see. —JP
“J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion,” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Chelsea (March 28 and 29): There’s no better time than that long, dry stretch of mid-Lent to lean on Bach for musical and spiritual uplift. This Thursday and Friday, the early-music ensemble TENET Vocal Artists will perform Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. In the 1727 oratorio, the text of Matthew chapters 26 and 27 is interspersed with arias and chorales, some of which will be familiar from traditional German hymns. TENET’s 2017 performance of Bach’s earlier St. John Passion received rave reviews, and they’re back in a collaboration with the musical ensemble the Sebastians to perform the two-chorus, double-orchestra work. The concert, which has a three-hour run time, promises to be an intense and rewarding musical experience. —HN
“Art Deco from Murray Hill to Gramercy Park: Jazz-Age Architecture in East Midtown,” with Anthony W. Robins (March 31): With the winter behind us and temperatures rising (though not too much), early spring is an ideal time for exploring New York. On Sunday Anthony W. Robins of the Municipal Art Society will lead a walking tour of the east Twenties and Thirties. Highlights will include The Metropolitan Life building and of course the Empire State Building, both living proof that in architecture big doesn’t necessarily mean bad. —BR
From the archive: “Abstraction in America: the first generation,” by Hilton Kramer (October 1999). On Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove.
From the current issue: “Winston’s brush with history,” by Dominic Green. A review of Churchill: The Statesman as Artist, by David Cannadine.