On Oct. 5, 2009, the Grand Antiques Salon launched an exhibit of monumental sculpture provided by the world-famous Valsuani Foundry. The exhibit features Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker, as well as his Eternal Spring, The Kiss, Adam, and The Burghers of Calais. Another big name is Salvador Dali with his Venus with Drawers, The Minotaur, and Hysterical Surrealistic Woman.
Also on display are the works by Francois Pompon, Richard Guino and Aleksandra Ekster, an ethnic Ukrainian and a forerunner of European avant-garde.
It was not easy for the Ukrainian Home to organize this truly grand exhibit. The director Natalia Zabolotna said that negotiations with the French took a very long time and cost a thousand of phone calls per day. Nonetheless, Rodin, Dali, Pompon, and Ekster are in Kyiv, and for this we should thank the Ukrainian Home and Ihor Voronov, a businessman, collector, and donor who has covered the transportation and insurance costs.
The unique artistic treasure – 20 sculptures weighing nearly 10.5 tons with the insured value of €18 million – belongs to the Valsuani Foundry. The Valsuani seal can bee seen on exhibit items and entire collections that are on display in world-famous artistic institutions. It founded the works of such outstanding artists as Rodin, Dali, Pompon, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Gauguin, Ossip Zadkine, Henri Matisse, and Arman during their lifetime. Among the contemporary sculptors who are collaborating with the Valsuani Foundry are the Catalan sculptor Antoni Clave, extravagant Marc Quinn, Michel Guino (Guino Jr.), and the well-known Russian sculptor Mihail Chemiakin.
However, it is not so easy for an artist to be included in this stellar company. Leonardo Benatov, owner of the Valsuani Foundry, president of the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, and a sculptor of some renown, has come to Kyiv with his collection. He says that he prefers to purchase the legal rights to the works of deceased artists and found their work on his own, without having to deal with the complexities of artists’ personalities.
The Valsuani seal has quite an interesting story. Leonardo Benatov Sr. bought it from his friend Daniel Windelsteim, who had purchased it to help out the Valsuani family. At the time, the works of nearly all famous early-20th-century sculptors were founded in their foundry, including Renoir, Aristide Maillol, Charles Despiau, and Pablo Picasso. Together with the seal, Benatov obtained Valsuani’s entire legacy, including the plaster forms by Degas, Rodin, Modigliani, Pompon, and many others. Today the Valsuani seal can be seen on the majority of Rodin’s works. The foundry has in its possession 50 plaster forms by Rodin, which are actually used to found bronzes. In view of this, it is not surprising that in the early 20th century the Valsuani Foundry became a kind of headquarters for the above sculptors, including Ekster, who met and interacted there.
Benatov Jr. was a friend of Dali and received from him the right to founder what Dali considered to be his best works: The Rhinoceros Dressed on Lace, Venus with Drawers, Bust with Drawers, The Minotaur, and others. Reminiscing about this about this genius of surrealism, Benatov Jr. said: “He never wanted to be like others. He was a genius, an absolutely unique person. Creating unique things that were not similar to anything else was, so to say, his artistic creed… He was a 100-percent artist and was not knowledgeable about anything that did not pertain to his artistic pursuits.”
Zabolotna told The Day that Benatov is soon bringing to Kyiv another large exhibit of Dali’s works, as well as photos and other materials about him. Benatov Jr. is also a fairly well-known European sculptor. This is only natural if we consider the highly-intensive artistic environment in which he matured as a person. He was unlikely to opt for another, more pragmatic path in life. His works – Emigrants and Perseus – are also on display in the Ukrainian Home.
AN ARTISTIC BRIDGE BETWEEN UKRAINE AND EUROPE
At first sight, the exhibit of folk icons from Central Ukraine, part of Mykola Babak’s collection, is not commensurate with the main exposition of the Antiques Salon. However, on second thought, these icons are as brilliant as Dali’s and Rodin’s sculptures. Furthermore, folk Ukrainian icons and the Valsuani Foundry also have a special link – it is the artist Aleksandra Ekster. Her plaster bar-reliefs in the avant-garde style and Valsuani-founded bronze sculptures are especially valuable for Ukrainian esthetic perception. Their avant-garde and European character miraculously merges with the Ukrainian folk art with which Ekster was inextricably associated even in the far-away France. Jean Chauvelin, a Parisian expert on her oeuvre, transferred the rights to her works to the Valsuani Foundry. When Benatov obtained her papier-mache works, he decided to reproduce them in a ceramic form in order to keep them from deteriorating. These are, in fact, the bas-reliefs that are also part of the exposition in the Ukrainian Home.
“Ekster joins such artists as Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Larionov, and Natalia Goncharova in representing the avant-garde style that used the so-called primitive (archaic) folk art as its starting point,” said Oleksandr Soloviov, curator of the PinchukArtCentre. “Despite emigration, these artists were still part of the Slavic world in which icons have traditionally occupied a prominent place. This is one of the conditional types of art that is much closer to abstraction and modern art than, say, 19th-century landscapes, even though the 19th century is much closer to us chronologically. One can trace the characteristic imagery, laconic forms, open colors, and generalized lines in these works. What was important to folk artists was creating an experiential image and underscoring the sacral and spiritual sources rather than producing a presence effect. So the parallels are obvious here. It is not accidental that Malevich’s Black Square is called the icon of the 20th century.”
It is a rare delight to use one’s own esthetic perception and imagination in an effort to find the fine and nearly imperceptible cords that stretch though time linking Ukrainian folk art and the masterpieces of world avant-garde. We invite you to join and relish this artistic undertaking.
The Grand Antiques Salon will be open until October 17, 10a.m. – 8p.m. Admission fee is 50 hryvnias.