Arts : Paintings : Mikhail Rityaev
Biography Exposition Exhibitions Criticism Replies

By Jose Alaniz
The Moscow Tribune

Russian history — and pre-history — are the stars of artist Mikhail Rityaev's newly-opened Arrow of Time exhibit at the Oriental Art Museum. Rityaev, who conceived and collaborated with other artists on the project, has tapped into the shared heritage of the Slavic peoples to produce an experience at once primordial and eerily modern.
The epic sweep of events over the last 4,000 years, some well-known, some so obscured by "official" accounts that they've all but vanished from memory, shine anew in a show brimming with a sense of purpose. Its mission: to cast aside the mists of time and ideology, to rescue the very roots of Russia for a new generation.
Heavy-handed, perhaps, but Rityaev's goal finds fruition in the glinting eyes of those attending the exhibit, like pilgrims who have "seen the light" — and for this, the artist is in large part indebted to his wife and chief interpreter of his work, Galina Rityaeva.
Galina's boundless energy and commitment translates into some pretty passionate tours; her enthusiastic explanations of Rityaev's works are not only moving but a welcome aid to deciphering his work. Sure, the canvases and installations (flanked by sculptures and photographs by Rityaev's collaborators) please the eye in and of themselves, but Galina's help makes the show really come alive.
Rityaev, in her words, has written "a chronicle of history without words, in his own new alphabet". His hiero-glyphic-like works, executed in a pseudo-"primitive" style, have the same curious effect as cave paintings; they tap something primeval, instinctive.
The Tower of Babel, an installation piece of wood and canvas, juts up to the ceiling like some Third World construction. In the same room, the painting Information depicts a mushroom cloud of light against a blue background, signifying the destructive effects of misused knowledge.
This theme of responsibility in communication is very close to Rityaev's heart, Galina explains.
"The artist, the communicator, must be very careful with information, with how he disseminates it, because irresponsible dissemination can have grave consequences", she says. "That's what's happened in our country". The idea for the exhibit came to Rityaev from his research into the writings of the controversial Russian historian Lev Gumilyov and Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who worked extensively with mythological symbols. He was also inspired by ancient pagan statues in and around his native Dnepropetrovsk, in the Ukraine.
These Easter-Island-like figures, photographed by Marlen Matus and Alexei Shpak for the show, convinced Rityaev that advanced tribes of Slavic peoples existed 3-4,000 years ago. Dmitry Rityaev, the artist's son, contributes to the show by rendering sculptures and objects in the style of the lost tribes, whose pre-Christian understanding of the world was "passed on genetically" to the Slavs of today. By attending the exhibit, Russians can get back in touch with their ancient heritage despite the "interruptions" of Christianity and Communism, Galina says.
"I am researching the culture of my nation from its very well-springs", Rityaev writes in the show's notes. "Paganism was a gigantic period (in comparison with Christianity) in the formation of the nation's psychology". After portraying the onset of Christianity, the arrival of flight, countless civil upheavals, and other historical highlights in his highly symbolic style, Rityaev closes the exhibit with a dramatic triptych representing the choice before the modern Russian people.
A three-headed dragon (yesterday, today and tomorrow) glares in a sea of red, flanked by two paintings. On the left, an ecological disaster rages, with black clouds spewing snakes of lightning. On the right, a pyramid of light containing acolytes of wisdom shines through the darkness. "And having left the earth, crossed through the maw of the dragon of time, they will depart for their sovereign land anew", reads the inscription.
"Children take to this exhibit very well", Galina says. "After all, if you were to take various children from several different nationalities and give them all a pencil and paper, they would all draw more or less the same thing. That's the commonality that Rityaev celebrates. Children like his works because he is depicting the childhood of history".