The University of Richmond Museums presents Torn from Darkness: Works by Felix Lembersky at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, September 25 through December 2, 2012. The exhibition features twenty paintings and works on paper created from 1942 to 1964 by the Russian-Soviet artist Felix Lembersky (1913-1970). He was an easel painter, theater stage designer, teacher, and cultural leader. Working in Soviet Russia at a distance from Western movements, the artist created a body of work that offers his own vision, a synthesis of Modernism, the Avant-Garde, and Realism through Russia’s historical circumstances and through his own particular conscious awareness of Russian and Eastern spiritual traditions.
Lembersky’s visual context is grounded in Eastern Europe – Poland, where he was born; Ukraine, where he was raised; Leningrad, where he lived; and the small towns of middle Russia and the Urals, where he traveled. He became a refugee at the onset of World War I, he grew up in the crucible of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War, witnessed pogroms, lived through the devastation of World War II, including the murder of his parents by Nazis. In his work he approached many subjects forbidden in his day, such as Christianity, Judaism, the Holocaust, and totalitarianism. Some of his most poignant works are portraits of fellow citizens, including factory workers, children, and victims of Nazi brutality.
Lembersky began his artistic career as a student of the Kultur-Lige in Kiev (1927-1930) and in 1935 he enrolled at the Academy of Arts in Leningrad, defending his thesis in 1941. He developed as an artist under Stalin’s regime shortly after Soviet Socialist Realism was established. Departing from his training and reconnecting with his modernist roots, Lembersky wrote in his autobiographical notes of 1960 that “In my work, I strive not only to show the formal beauty of surrounding objects, but…I attempt to uncover hidden spirituality in nature and to present subject matter metaphorically.”
Highlights of the exhibition are Lembersky’s paintings devoted to World War II including Self-Portrait (1945), a dark and reflective image, created at the end of the war and as a tribute to his people — a sole, ghostly figure of an artist bound to life by his craft. Execution / Babi Yar, (1952), are two paintings in the exhibition created in response to Nazi atrocities. Also on view are Seamstress: The Siege of Leningrad (1963-1964) and A Woman in Recline: The Siege of Leningrad (1964) intimate and modernist representations of humanity’s endurance under siege. The female figures in these paintings are complex and thought-provoking, distinctively revitalized, modernist images. They reflect on the unity and continuity of place and time, refracted through Russian and Jewish religious traditions.
The exhibition is organized by University of Richmond Museums and curated by Joseph Troncale, Associate Professor of Russian, Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures, University of Richmond; and Yelena Lembersky, architect, independent curator, and granddaughter of the artist; with Lourdes Figueroa, ’13, art history and Russian studies double major, University of Richmond. The exhibition is made possible in part with funds from the University’s Cultural Affairs Committee and the National Endowment for the Humanities Fund of the Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures. A fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue, published by the University Museums, with essays by Joseph Troncale, Lourdes Figueroa, Alison Hilton, Wright Family Professor of Art History, and Director, Art and Museum Studies M. A. Program, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and Galina Lembersky, daughter of the artist, is available.
Caption: Felix Lembersky (Russian, born Poland, 1913-1970), Red House, Staraya Ladoga, 1960-1963, oil on board, 20 ¾ x 28 ¾ inches, © Y. Lembersky
Monday, September 24, 2012, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
6:30 p.m., Symposium, Carole Weinstein International Center Commons
“Torn from Darkness: A Symposium on the Art of Felix Lembersky” Yelena Lembersky, architect, independent curator, granddaughter of the artist, and co-curator of the exhibition; Joseph Troncale, Associate Professor of Russian, Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures, University of Richmond, and co-curator of the exhibition; Alison Hilton, Wright Family Professor of Art History, and Director, Art and Museum Studies M. A. Program, Georgetown University, Washington, DC; and Lourdes Figueroa, ’13, art history and Russian studies double major, University of Richmond; moderated by Erling Sjovold, Associate Professor of Art, Department of Art and Art History, University of Richmond
8 to 9 p.m., Reception and preview of the exhibition Torn from Darkness: Works by Felix Lembersky
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University Museums
Co-sponsored by University Museums and the Department of Modern Literatures and Cultures
Friday, September 28, 2012, 2 to 2:30 p.m.
Gallery Talk, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University Museums
“The Works and Artistic Identity of Felix Lembersky” Lourdes Figueroa, ’13, art history and Russian studies double major, University of Richmond