Zurab Tsereteli: Larger than life. Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London (review)

Georgian-Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli is best-known for his monumental sculptures and public monuments, which are scattered around the world. The artist himself prefers paintings to other art forms, and it is easy to see why. His paintings are much more intimate and private, not to mention bursting with colour, a feature noticeably absent from metal sculptures. The exhibition at the Saatchi is spread across the whole floor, but there is no need to view the rooms in any particular order.

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Zurab Tsereteli: Larger than Life exhibition, general view (photo: Ground Impressions)

There are his earlier paintings where the face of his late wife appears throughout the room in touching testament to the love of his life. Hints at some private family drama might be lurking in the portrait entitled Inessa among Her Children (1987), as the couple has only one daughter, Elena. The selection of his most recent works include predominantly still-life paintings and portraits, while the enamel room features fantastic 3D works created using a painstaking enamelling technique.

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Zurab Tsereteli – Inessa among Her Children (1987) (photo: Ground Impressions)
IMG_6547 (2) Zurab Tsereteli enamels
enamel works by Zurab Tsereteli (photo: Ground Impressions)

Near the entrance a large biography with key dates from the artist’s life offers a quick glimpse into his impressively long career. Born in 1934 in Georgia, he has lived in Russia for many years and travelled widely, delivering art projects all over the world. Since 1997 Tsereteli has been the President of The Russian Academy of Arts, founded museums and galleries, such as the MMOMA (Moscow Museum of Modern Art, established in 1999), his own gallery (Tsereteli Gallery, Moscow, opened in 2001), and the Museum of Modern Art in Tbilisi, Georgia (opened in 2012). He is also a member of several institutions in Russia and abroad, and yet this artist-workaholic finds the time to paint every day.

If it was not for the documentary film displayed in one of the rooms, the visitor might leave the exhibition with the impression that Tsereteli specialises in light-hearted and colourful art. Although slightly dated in appearance, the documentary offers a tour around the artist’s own gallery in Moscow, chocked full of his artworks and features many of his public sculptures in several countries. Some of the most impressive monuments include: To the Struggle Against World Terrorism (2006), known as Teardrop Monument is in New Jersey, commemorating the lives lost during 9/11, Good Defeats Evil (1990) a large sculpture of St George fighting the dragon is located outside the UNESCO headquarters, and in in Tsereteli Gallery visitors can enter inside the monumental bronze apple sculpture, which references the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

Tsereteli’s rapid painting technique is probably the reason why the artist is able to produce large canvasses in relatively short time. Bright and colourful still-life paintings filled with sunshine encapsulate the nostalgia after the country of his youth. On view there are also selected works from his Old Tiflis series featuring lively characters inspired by folk art, but they also reminded me of animated films produced by the Soyuzmultfilm Animation Studio.

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Zurab Tsereteli paintings from Old Tiflis series and Zurab II on the right (photo: Ground Impressions)

A fledgling artist during the 1960s Tsereteli met Picasso and Chagall in Paris, where he was also exposed to various European modernist art movements: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Expressionism. These artistic encounters proved to have a lasting influence on his work. Over the years Tsereteli developed his own approach as he concentrates on lively portraits and still-life painting featuring flower compositions.

His art is not without its critics, but at 85 this extremely successful artist can afford not to care about negative voices. In interviews he often states that he considers negative criticism as means of advertisement of his work. There is some truth in that, many of his public monuments were met mixed responses from the public. There were calls to relocate Tsereteli’s Peter the Great monument from Moscow where it was installed 2010, but the gigantic monument stayed and have since became a tourist attraction.

The exhibition is free of charge at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Love it or hate it, it is definitely worth a visit. The enamel works are phenomenal, and seeing so many colourful and light-hearted paintings and sculptures in one place is surely an uplifting experience.


Zurab Tsereteli: Larger than Life exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery 23 Jan – 17 Feb 2019.


Read more:

Artist’s biography https://zurabtsereteli.com/profile/zurab-tsereteli-biography/

Exhibition website https://www.saatchigallery.com/art/zurab_tsereteli.php


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