Carmen Thyssen Museum – 22nd March to 9th September, 2018


Carmen Thyssen Museum – 6th April to 15th July, 2018


Centre Pompidou – 21st March to 24th June, 2018


Centre Pompidou – Ongoing


The Russian Museum – February, 2018 to February, 2019


The Russian Museum – February to September, 2018


The Russian Museum – February to September, 2018


Picasso Museum – 13th February to 13th May, 2018

Reviewed by Jim Burns

The Mediterranean has an obvious attraction for many artists, not least because of the generally fine weather, the light, and the splendid colours that greet the eye. The current exhibition at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Málaga covers the period from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, with work by a selection of French and Spanish artists, among them Picasso, Braque, Signac, Miro, Sorolla, and Maillol.

As the exhibition notes point out: “One of the avenues they explored was a new classicism……classical forms are intermixed with primitivism, geometrisation and abstraction as natural consequences of the modern interpretation of the clarity, balance and moderation of classical art”. The sixty or so works on display very much represent that description. And their vibrancy is highly effective and striking, as if the painters were delighted to be where they were.

Also at the Carmen Thyssen Museum there is an intriguing exhibition of Gustave Doré’s prints relating to a visit he made to Andalucia in the 1860s. Alongside them are photographs from the same period. Doré may be better known to some people for his stark images of the poor and unfortunate in 19th century London and Paris, and while he didn’t exclude beggars and the like from his views of Málaga and elsewhere, they are still “tinged with the spirit of late Romanticism”.

One of the good things about gallery-going in Málaga is that most of them are within easy walking distance of each other. The Centre Pompidou is situated near the port and its Brancusi exhibition is largely built around photographs and short films, with only a few examples of his work. It’s a fascinating show, nonetheless, fully illustrating Brancusi’s working methods and the development of some of his major and most notable constructions, in particular the rhomboids, the long columns reaching towards the sky.

Utopianism is probably not much in vogue these days, and the Centre Pompidou’s Modern Utopias tries to demonstrate how the idea developed or otherwise in the twentieth century and into the current one. People are rightly suspicious of claims for a society in which perfection – of aims and achievements - is held to be the order of the day. Some untidiness may be safer. The Russian Revolution invited artists to participate in the making of a new world: “The Romantic claim to autonomy of the modern artist on the fringe of society, gave way to a civil and political commitment that was particularly strong in an age when the extremely direct relationship between art and power compelled artistic creation to become an instrument of propaganda”.

What happens when “artistic creation” is taken over by “propaganda” can be seen in an extreme form in the Russian Museum’s The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art. Pictures of Stalin appear to crop up on every other wall. There he is, in benign mood as he looks at little children, in stern but just mood as he faces up to a problem, in determined mood as he points to a map and explains what needs to be done. Around him in many of the paintings are groups of workers, soldiers, peasants, and others, all listening closely as the “great leader” instructs them about the road to utopia.

It’s easy to be satirical or cynical about art like this, but perhaps one ought to try to consider how it seemed at the time. It’s probably true that some artists were opportunists and thought a friendly portrait of Stalin might assure them of a place in the new society. Or perhaps just survival as the purges got under way. It isn’t that many of the paintings are bad in themselves. Vasily Yakovlev, G.M. Shegal (his Leader, Teacher and Friend: Joseph Stalin at the Presidium of the Second Congress of Collective Farm Shock Workers in February, 1935, is a story in itself) and Vasily Efanov, were clearly competent-enough painters. It’s the purpose to which the competence was applied that disturbs.  It’s sobering to wonder what happened to many of these artists, most of them unlikely to be known to many non-Russian viewers.

A much more interesting array of Russian paintings is displayed in The Traveller’s Gaze: Russian Artists Around the World. The period covered is wide – through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth – and takes us to Egypt, Tibet. Spain, France, Italy, America, and China. Again, I suspect that many of the artists will not be known to those who haven’t made a speciality of studying Russian art. Tair Salakhov, Alexander Deineka, Konstantin Makovsky and Karl Brullov – hardly familiar names to most of us. But the opportunities to venture outside Russia clearly enabled them to develop, both technically and in terms of their subject-matter.

Mikhail Shvartsman was born in 1926 and died in 1997, so he missed the Stalinist purges, but in the 1960s his work was considered sufficiently provocative enough for it to be looked on unfavourably by the authorities. It wasn’t that it was overtly political, but Shvartsman’s somewhat mystical canvases didn’t suit what was considered acceptable at the time. They offered a view of “a complex and subtle spiritual world expressed in a high style”. Shvartsman himself referred to it as “Grand Architectural Style”. He was something of a loner, disliked conceptual art, and it was only after the collapse of communism that he began to achieve any sort of recognition.

The Russian Museum is not located in Malaga’s central area, and it’s necessary to get there by bus or taxi if you’re not in a car. But it’s well worth making the effort to visit it. The exhibitions provide openings to areas of Russian art that weren’t easily accessible prior to the collapse of communism. 

Finally, Fellini’s dreams of Picasso at the ever-popular Picasso Museum in Málaga, where I often feel that the crowds are dutifully going from room to room whereas they might be happier at one of the other galleries. But Picasso is a name that most people will recognise so the tourists are encouraged to visit the Museum. They just don’t seem very contented with what they’re seeing or convinced that it is major art. It’s simply another experience on the tourist trail.

I have to be honest (and almost heretical) and admit that I’m not a great enthusiast when it comes to a lot of Picasso’s work after his early days in Paris prior to the First World War. Fellini obviously thought the various dreams he had, in which Picasso appeared and spoke to him, were of importance. He was encouraged to write them down by his psychoanalyst and produce drawings of what he had seen when dreaming. He “filled two thick books with an extensive imagery composed of characters and pictures that were the sources of some of the unforgettable scenes in his films”. An interesting and no doubt valuable exhibition for those with a taste for Picasso and Fellini.