Glasnost for the Holidays

One thing must be said for glasnost and perestroika, they've done more for the gift book business than the Cold War ever did. After all, how many copies of I Led Three Lives and I Was A Communist For The FBI can be suitably gift-wrapped for the holidays? No more do those interested in the Soviet Union have to make do with murky photos of boys and their tractors. Now, Russophiles have a whole range of glossy product to chose from.

For those who really long for the good old days, St. Petersburg, Portrait of An Imperial City, by Boris Ometev and John Stuart (The Vendome Press, $45) should do nicely. Over 300 vintage photographs have been lured out of various archives to form a vivid and often unexpected picture of life in a society that never dreamt it was living on borrowed time.

Even more delightfully unexpected, and infinitely more colorful, is Russian Graphic Design, 1880-1917, by Elena Cherevich (Abbeville Press, $39.95). Especially intriguing are pre-Revolutionary advertisements for everything from galoshes to gunpowder.

If we are to judge by Revolutionary Ceramics, Soviet Porcelain, 1917-1927, by Nina Lobanov-Rostovsky (Rizzoli, $40), the first thing everyone did when the Bolsheviks took over was order themselves a brand new set of properly Revolutionary dinnerware. Though having a hammer and sickle or a portrait of Trotsky staring up from your crockery may not be everyone's cup of tea, it certainly made for a change of pace.

Having more of a lasting impact on the world of art were the constructivists, a movement which believed, in the words of one of its founders in, "Not the old, not the new, but the necessary." In Art Into Life: Russian Constructivism, 1914-1932 (Rizzoli/Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, $45 and $32.50) this most vibrant of Soviet art movements is brilliantly brought to life.

More soothingly traditional is Folk Art in the Soviet Union, by Tatyana Razina, Natalia Cherkasova and Alexander Kantsedikas (Harry N. Abrams, $49.50), which features a boggling collection of colorful rugs, quirky pots and elaborate clothing. In the same vein is Moscow, Treasures and Traditions (SITES/University of Washington Press, $50), a fine look at the treasures which make their home in Russia's capital city.

Finally, for those who insist on being up to the minute, there is Contemporary Russian Art, by Matthew Cullerne Bown (Philosophical Library, $34.95). If you need something to make you lonesome for the Czars, this ought to do the trick.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World