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An interview with Z. K. Tsereteli

The principal task of an artist is to create museum exhibits

The Russian Academy of Arts is one of the oldest art institutions in Russia. In 2017 it will celebrate its 260th anniversary. Back in 1757, the famous Russian scientist M. V. Lomonosov took an active part in its foundation. Now the academy is located in a former residence of the famous collector and manufacturer Ivan Morozov. The building is situated in Prechistenka ― one of the most beautiful streets of Moscow. The Russian Academy of Arts is the heart of the entire national artistic life. Since 1997 it has been headed by the People’s Artist of the USSR and Russia Zurab Konstantinovich Tsereteli.

We enter Zurab’s enormous study. It is filled with a plethora of papers, books, works of art and photographs depicting the President of the Academy together with heads of different nations, artistic personalities and celebrities. The walls are decorated with vibrant enamel panels. The maestro looks vigorous despite the tiring meeting he has just attended. He welcomes us with a smile. A bright red tie makes his image even more energetic. A Golden Star, the attribute of the Hero of Socialist Labor ― the high title granted to him in 1990 for personal contribution to the development of visual arts ― shines from a lapel of Zurab’s suit. The President of the Russian Academy of Arts has many awards from all over the globe, including the French Legion of Honor Order and the Spanish Order of Civil Merit.

Zurab Tsereteli people's Artiste of the USSR and Russia, President of the Russian Academy of ArtsZurab Tsereteli people's Artiste of the USSR and Russia, President of the Russian Academy of Arts, foto © Julia Ilina

- Zurab Konstantinovich, you have witnessed several historical periods. For instance, now we can see the rising interest towards 1960-s. There is an ongoing exhibition “Ottepel” [Thawing] on Krymski Val street in Moscow ― it also features some of your works. What do you think about it? 

- This period is not so important for me. The main thing is to be able to wake up in the morning, take a brush or some modelling clay and start creating. The creative process is both a great pleasure and a daily job. We, artists, always depict things which touch us, which energize us. I believe that one of the artist’s principal tasks is to create museum exhibits. Thus, any historical period will be able to appreciate his works. Therefore, it is very important for me, the President of the Academy, that Russia preserves visual arts traditions, that artists create exhibits, which will remain in national museums. It has always been prioritized in Russian cultural life, and that is why our museum depositories are so abundant with high-quality and valuable works of art. Our aim is to keep cultivating this attitude among the younger generations. 

Zurab Tsereteli conducts a master class for childrenZurab Tsereteli conducts a master class for children, photo © The Russian Academy of Arts

- You give numerous masterclasses for children, you train young artists. You can see how the next generation is growing up and you convey the Russian artistic ideals, which you ― as the President of the Academy ― represent…

- I’m glad that I still have time to do something useful for the next generation, so I give masterclasses every week and work a lot with people from Russian regions. People arrive to the Academy from other cities: for instance, soon I’m going to give a masterclass for children from Saratov. I would like to teach the new generation to perceive objects individually. We all dress differently, the stores don’t sell identical clothes ― the variety is vast, suitable for any taste. The main thing is to be different from others, and I’m nurturing individuality in my students. My most important responsibilities include supporting artistic ambitions and revealing creative individuality in people.

Зураб Константинович Церетели рассказывает о новой скульптуре «Рождение Нового Света» журналистам VLV-mag и российско-швейцарскому художнику Алексу Доллю, фото © Ильина ЮлияZurab Tsereteli talks about the new sculpture "Birth of the New World" to journalists VLV-mag and Russian-Swiss artist Alex Dolle, photo © Julia Ilina

The new sculptural composition of Z. K. Tsereteli "The Birth of the New World" is installed in Puerto Rico

The new sculptural composition of Z. K. Tsereteli "The Birth of the New World" is installed in Puerto Rico, photo © The Russian Academy of Arts

Your sculpture project dedicated to Christopher Columbus “The Birth of a New Man” is expanding, isn’t it?

- Yes, “The Birth of the New World” monumental ensemble in Puerto Rico is currently under construction, the works will be completed soon. It is the second part of the art project dedicated to the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Its first part, a 45-meter-tall ensemble “The Birth of a New Man”, was installed in 1995 in the Spanish city of Seville ― the place, which had been a starting point of the seafarer’s lengthy voyage. The height of the new monument ― 126 meters ― was determined by the surrounding mountainous landscape and the vast ocean expanses.

Z.K. Tsereteli loves working in enamel techniqueZ.K. Tsereteli loves working in enamel technique, photo © Julia Ilina

Zurab Konstantinovich, you have so many enamel panels in your study…

- I like enamel art very much; I’ve been studying its history and techniques for 12 years already. I work with technologies involving temperatures of 1200 Celsius. Just imagine ― no one has ever performed glazing at such temperatures. My dream is to create a large round enamel sculpture. For now, I keep experimenting and I’ve only managed to create a 1-meter composition. I plan for an 8-meter sculpture ― like my bronze works ― if it is technically possible, of course. I would like vivid enamel compositions to decorate city streets, because ancient sculptures were colored; for example, Ancient Greeks painted their sculptures. I’m carrying out such experiments and my first work in this direction should be a sculpture of Adam and Eve ― the ultimate beginning!

Julia Ilina, Russia, Moscow