Clip from Steinmetz’s interview at the opening of his solo exhibit at the Pushkin state museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2009—January 10, 2010. Broadcast on one of Russian most popular TV channels, culture (Kultura)

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ANCHOR: The artworks of Leon Steinmetz are part of the permanent collections of major museums in New York and Boston. Now, the division of private collections of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts presents his solo exhibit, “Contemplating Gogol.” Our correspondent, Ludmila Solnyshkina, reports:

Lu. S. It seems Leon Steinmetz took upon himself an impossible task—to transform the verbal world of Nikolai Gogol into a visual one. From all of Gogol’s works the artist selected those most appealing to him. He is fascinated and intrigued by the same timeless questions that moved Gogol. Steinmetz finds common ground with Gogol and strives to depict the writer’s phantasmagorical world—life and death, good and evil, and the impenetrable wall that separates the visible and the invisible worlds. Steinmetz believes that for a genius (such as Gogol) both are accessible.

L.S. Gogol was a surrealist a hundred years before the term was even coined, and he was an existentialist long before that term appeared, and he is much more serious and profound than the founders of those modern movements. Thus, he is a quintessential modern, or I should rather say, contemporary writer in the best sense of the word, because he will never be dated, he will always remain contemporary for generation after generation. In short—a genius.

Lu. S. In this exhibit Steinmetz presented only his graphic works. In his opinion, drawing allows the viewer to come very close to the artist, while painting creates a distance.

L.S. Painting, by definition, is separated from you. It’s canvas, oil, it takes time to create it. Then, often it’s covered with varnish—all that presents a sort of a wall between you and the artist. When you look at a drawing, it is as if you were standing right behind the artist, watching his hand move. You feel you are present during the very process of creation, even if that creation took place five hundred years ago.

Lu. S. In Steinmetz’s works there are no characters from Gogol’s stories, novels or plays; these are drawings contemplating philosophical themes and issues. One of his series, “The Portrait: a Fantasy in Twenty-One Sheets,” received The Best Book of the Year Award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. In this exhibit there are other series as well. Their titles speak for themselves: “Commedia Dell’Arte” and “Hades,” “The End of Pompeii,” and “Walpurgis Night.” Steinmetz included these series into his exhibit because Gogol was fascinated with theater, and was in love with Italy and its history—the same as Steinmetz. And there are other connections.

L.S. Series “The temptation of St. Anthony,” for instance, represents Gogol’s apocalyptic visions, especially towards the end of his life, when he became very religious. The series “Insects of the Apocalypse” belongs to the same group.

Lu. S. The series “Poprischin’s Diary” was created by the artist (in collaboration with John W. Cataldo) as a comment on Gogol’s “The Diary of a Madman.” Before beginning to work on that series, Steinmetz studied Gogol’s drawings, but when he attempted to create drawings in a similar style—somewhat figurative—it didn’t work.

L.S. You see, all these dots, lines and splashes on the sheets, both black and in color, along with letters, create the feeling of delirium, of irrationality, of what happens with the diarist, Poprischin. And all that is much better revealed through abstractions than through something more figurative, which imitates or resembles Gogol’s own drawings.

Lu. S. Nikolai Gogol is paradoxical and controversial. In his works one can find everything—merriment and irony, sarcasm and romanticism. Contemplating Gogol, Steinmetz compares the writer’s most famous work “Dead Souls” to Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”. You can “dive” into these works over and over and over again, the artist says.

Ludmila Solnyshkina—TV channel Kultura.