First, I must say that it was called incorrectly, as “vernissage” actually means “private view”. But never mind, this is how it was:
During the Soviet era in Russia only the official artists had the opportunity to exhibit and sell their works. So, when in late 80-s Moscow authorities allocated a little territory in Izmailovo Park in Moscow for artists and crafters to show their work, it was immediately a tremendous success. Literally thousands of people who had been painting without a hope to ever show their work to the public poured to the Vernissage, as it was named. And what an exhibition it was! Years later I can still visualize and feel that very special “buzz” that was there every weekend. And the things you could find there – from huge framed oil paintings to lovely delicate watercolours to wonderful wooden sculptures to portraits and embroidered, hand-crafted clothes and beautiful lace! I have never in my life saw such variety of styles and trends. And it was all genuinely made by people proudly standing next to their work and selling it. By the way, prices were ridiculous. You could buy a beautiful painting for about $5-10 in the beginning. Thousands of people did.
There were no props to exhibit your work, no tables, stands or anything. Everything was virtually on the ground, some artists later brought their own racks.
There was no cover or shelter anywhere, it was all in the open air. In winter it was especially hard. We went there almost every weekend and the temperatures in winter are quite harsh, -15,-20 (if it was lower, we used to miss it :)). Standing in the park all day, when it was so bloody cold, was quite daring. So we tried to warm up as best we could. We were wrapped in countless layers of warm clothes but it didn’t help much. I remember, one particularly cold Saturday someone offered a round of brandy to help to warm up, and I had just a little bit too much and fell in a huge pile of snow behind my little stand… 🙂
But for me, apart for the obvious pleasure of being able to show and sell my work, the most amazing thing was that spirit of camaraderie which was in the air during the first several years of the Vernissage. People were united by the mutual feeling of freedom which was denied to them before, they were drunk with the sense of “everything is possible for us now”… For some – most talented and most fortunate, I suppose, the dream became true, they ended up being well-known, had their personal exhibitions, sold dozens of paintings, etc. For the majority it ended with nothing as, sadly, the once famous art market is now reduced to a kind of boot fair…
When I started going to Izmailovo I got together with a bunch of wonderful guys who were all artists of completely different genre. We became great friends and on of them, late was my daughter’s god father. You can see some
of his work here.
In spite of the fact that our work was so completely different, a small film crew spotted us and invited to take part in a little documentary about our art. By that time we drifted away from the Vernissage which had stared evolving to the market and had our own exhibition in a small art gallery. The film was called “Red Apple on the White Snow”. Unfortunately, it was aired right in the day of the second military Putsch in Moscow, so hardly anybody saw it when there were tanks going towards the Red Square…
Never mind, I still got the tape 🙂
I will always remember the time of first Izmailovo Vernissage with affection. It brought me the unforgettable experiences, gave me good friends for life and it was fun!