The Silver Age Endured: Russian Costume Design at the Mead Art Museum

October 15, 2009
Contact: Karen Cardinal
Accounting, Web and Marketing Manager, Mead Art Museum
413/542-2551


AMHERST, Mass.—On Friday, October 16, AmherstCollege’s MeadArt Museum will raise the curtain on a new exhibition of Russian costume design. The 11 drawings in the show, notable for their imaginative visualization of various characters and for their sophisticated artistic technique, have been drawn from Amherst’s Thomas P. Whitney ’37 Collection of Russian Art.

The explosion of artistic activity in Russia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries has been aptly coined the Silver Age, second only to the nation’s Golden Age led by author Alexander Pushkin less than a century before. Encompassing literature, music, the visual arts and theater, this cultural flowering reacted against the country’s stringent academic system and style. For many artists, the stage served as a playground; not surprisingly, costume designs played a leading role in their art. The energetic and quickly shifting avant-garde movement yielded a broad spectrum of styles, including Symbolism and Style Modern and Constructivism and Suprematism. The first two styles, which are represented in the exhibition, endured throughout the first half of the 20th century, especially in the West, as markers of a typically Russian accomplishment and identity. Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes laid the basis for this fame; some of the artists represented in the Mead’s exhibition, including Mikhail Larionov, Léon Bakst and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, worked for his company.

Most of the Mead’s Russian costume designs date from the 1920s through the 1950s—long after the styles in which they were rendered had been superseded by abstract movements, and the Silver Age had passed. The artists who made these works all traveled beyond Russia’s borders throughout their lives, and spent their final years in Western Europe or the United States. The Russian expatriate experience allowed these artists both to embrace the Western operatic and balletic repertory, and to continue practicing within a well-established tradition of Russian style as embraced by the West. The costume designs displayed at the Mead reflect the grandeur of Old Europe and the lingering shimmer of Russia’s Silver Age.

On Oct. 30, at 8 p.m., the exhibition will serve as the setting for a concert of music by Arthur Vincent Lourié (1891-1966) presented by the AmherstCenter for Russian Culture and the AmherstCollege Department of Music. The concert, organized by Klára Móricz, the Joseph E. and Grace W. Valentine Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Amherst College, is free of charge; no tickets or advance reservations are required. It inaugurates “Arthur Lourié and the Voice of Silver Age Russia,” a public conference that will take place at the AmherstCenter for Russian Culture on Oct. 31 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The exhibition will be open through Jan. 2. To learn more about the Silver Age and its protagonists, visit www.amherst.edu/museums/mead/programs/exhibitions/silverage.

The free exhibition has been made possible with generous support from the Julia A. Whitney Foundation, the Hall and Kate Peterson Fund and the Julia A. Whitney Fund for Russian Art.

The MeadArt Museum houses the art collection of AmherstCollege, totaling more than 16,000 works. An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the Mead participates in museums10, a regional cultural collaboration. During the academic term, the museum is open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to midnight, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site, www.amherst.edu/museums/mead, or call 413/542-2335.

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Contact

Peter Rooney
Director of Public Affairs
(413) 542-2321
prooney@amherst.edu