Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Ransom of Russian Art

McPhee, John. The Ransom of Russian Art (illustrated).
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994

Reviewed by Philip Kintner

The title of this book may be misleading, and the content is certainly different from most of McPhee’s many sorties. However, his approach to the material through a leading figure, a trademark characteristic, is in place here, for the central character is an American obsessed with collecting Russian art, who, like McPhee, was not equipped to determine relative merits of the various artists and their works. But by collecting, at his own expense and with great risk, literally thousands of pieces, large and small, all illegally, and smuggling them out of Russia during the period after World War II when freedom of artistic expression was forbidden, he preserved an otherwise lost world of Russian art. How he did it, and why, are questions explored in this brief but well-written book, which fits elegantly with the current Faulconer Gallery exhibition, “The Space of Freedom” [March 2007]. Many of the “ransomed” (better: “rescued”) art works came from just such secret showings of artists’ work to other artists. Though not without faults, McPhee’s book reveals well the cloak-and-dagger efforts of one determined individual to prevent the destruction of a generation of innovative art.

2nd floor N 6988 .M33 1994

No comments: