Аннотация: Published by The Moscow Tribune. March 23, 1995
A current exhibition at the Architectural Gallery documenting "The Art of Holiday", is not about just any family's home-made holiday decorations. It displays the holiday-inspired art of a husband-wife team of Russian artists of the end of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century - painter-turned puppeteer Nina Simonovich-Yefimova and her husband Ivan Yefimov.
A collection of amusing yet beautiful carnival masks created by Elena Korovai, a painter and contemporary of the Yefimovs', is also included.
Born in St. Petersburg in 1877, Nina Yakovlevna Simonovich studied in Paris at the painting studios of Kalarossi and Delaclouse and at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. From 1909 to 1911 she lived in France and took lessons at Matisse's studio.
While she concentrated mainly on landscape painting during that period, after the Оctober Revolution of 1917, when artists became much more limited in artistic scope, Nina organised the N. and I. Yefimov Theatre of Puppets and Silhouettes. The Yefimovs' theatre was in fact the first Soviet puppet theatre, the forerunner of Sergei Obraztsov's famous puppet theatre on the Garden Ring. The showcases in the foye of Obraztsov's famous puppet theatre still display puppets created by the imaginative pair for their performances based on the tales and plays of Pushkin, Krylov, Andersen, Boccaccio and Shakespeare.
The Yefimovs' puppet theatre forms the focus of one part of the exhibition, which includes sketches for sets and costumes as well as photos and books pertaining to the theatre. Nina Simonovich's puppet theatre was not born wholly of the egigencies of the Soviet era, however, growing rather out of the shadow puppet theatre, which she and her husband started in their home at the end of the 19th century. For this shadow puppet theatre, Ivan and Nina would cut out silhouettes and Nina's love of the puppet shadow theatre gradually grew into a passion of silhouettes as well.
"Althoug silhouettes have nothing to do with the 'laugh culture' they are the most appropiated media for some creativity," says artist Ivan Golitsyn, one of the exhibition's organisers and the great-grandson of Nina Simonovich and Ivan Yefimov. "Of course, no one would make a painting for a home holiday, but to cut out a silhouette is a matter of several seconds".
Yet, silhouettes are also a fine art, requiring special delicacy and grasp of form using an artistic language that is simple and laconic and having a contour that is more exact than that of a drawing. "A silhouette is a body, one can't afford making holes in it," says an explanatory table hanging next to Simonovich's silhouettes. And Nina's silhouettes - masterly, delicate and grotesque - are supreme examples of the art.
Other odds and ends on display, which had a place in the Yefimov family holidays, include: a hollow bronze faun (cast by Ivan Yefimov) - during the holidays it served as an outside lamp, flickering in the snow; the Big Petrushka, which would perform tangos with Nina both on the stage and at home parties; a minotaur's head made by Ivan Yefimov's students at the Higher Art Workshop in the 1920s; the head of a cat puppet created by the Yefimovs for the May Day celebration in 1919 (the two-metre cat stood on top of a cabin in rhythm with the orchestra, while the artist sat inside the cabin and operated the cat's movements with the help of bamboo canes).
Ivan Yefimov was also author of over 1, 000 erotic pictures, which before perestroika had been kept in a folder under the sofa for fear of their being discovered and the artist imprisoned.
However, such intracate erotic pictures as The Maid and the Peacock and The Maid and the Ortrich, as well as a series of humorous pictures portraying Karagoz, a character of the Turkish People's Theatre, are now on display.
Another department at the exhibition is a special kind of paper cut-out - invented by the Yefimovs at the beginning of the century. They cut intricately folded sheets of a type of French paper known as Jumeaux-decoupages into angels and skiers - which would even ski down a tilted surface.
Also on display at the exhibition are the family's archives, for example. Notes of a Puppeteer written by Nina about the Soviet puppet theatre and published in 1923 in Russia, then republished in the US in 1935. The cover for the book was designed by Vladimir Favorsky.
True to the spirit of the exhibition, descendants of the artist staged a performance in Pushkin's house at Prechistenka ul. 12 after the opening of the exhibition, featuring the Yefimov's puppets and several of their shadow theatre plays; copies of Elena Korovai's masks; an interlude called Adrian's Arch, in which Adrian Yefimov, the 88 year-old son of Nina and Ivan, simaltaneously played Roman Emperor Adrian and received birthday congratulations; and a dance by Ekaterina Golitsyna with the restored Big Pertushka.
Before World War II, Ivan Yefimov and a group of artists, realtives and friends buit a house in the village of Novogireyevo, and the new house workshop had kept up the old traditions of home holidays. The great-grandson of Nina Simonovich and Ivan Yefimov, artist Ivan Golitsyn, is now the keeper of the family home-workshop museum in the so-called "red house" in Novogireyevo - where home holidays haven't ceased to be art.