Beyond the Canvas
Flashback no. 8: Aleksey Sundukov at Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg (19 September 2018)
The museums I have visited in Russia (Moscow and Saint Petersburg this far) have made a lasting impression on me. If we exclude the legendary Hermitage, which is for all intents and purposes like the Louvre, I found in their extraordinary collections a (quick and superficial) way to gain some understanding of Russian history through the development of its art. The State Russian Museum houses the world's biggest collection of Russian art, so really there is no better place to start.
As I was going through the pics on my phone, this one stood out and oddly resonated with the current zeitgeist. Queueing is something we do a lot of in England, almost like a sacred daily ritual. These days we still queue, but far apart from one another. It's a new kind of queueing where the usual boredom and impatience have been replaced by fear and anxiety.
But I digress, this is not what Sundukov's painting is about. Made in 1986, 5 years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union during the early perestroika days, this picture casts a scathing look at the reality of everyday life for millions of people. Faceless men and women patiently standing in line, a line that doesn't seem to have an end, perhaps symbolising the normality and perpetuity of this occurrence. As our eyes follow the queue towards the right, people no longer look like people. They could be houses, blocks of wood, their humanity taken away in this collective portrayal of the hardships of Soviet life.
The drabness of the colour palette conveys a sense of haziness and resignation. Everything looks beige and feels hopeless, even the sky. So overall, not the happiest of paintings I will admit. But like I said, I felt it resonated with today's general climate. Like the people in the picture, today we still queue hoping for better days.
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Aleksey Sundukov, Queue (1986)
The State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg