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Russia publishes first encyclopaedia of its avant-garde

Two volumes are already available in Moscow bookstores and there are talks of a French translation

Russia’s first encyclopaedia of the country's avant-garde has been published in Moscow, compiled by Andrey Sarabyanov and Vasily Rakitin, two of the leading experts on that period of creativity and experimentation.

The first two volumes total 1,250 pages, with entries written by more than 150 authors and illustrated with nearly 3,000 images. Both are already on sale in Moscow bookstores, with the more expensive second volume selling for close to $600 and the first for not much less. A third volume is due to be published in 2014.

Sarabyanov says that the publisher set such a high price not because the volumes are targeted exclusively at rich art collectors, but because of the high production costs, including the large number of expert contributors and the cost of securing the rights to the images. An electronic version is being prepared to make the work more accessible, Sarabyanov says, and negotiations are underway to translate the volumes into French “because one can see that French art had a big influence on the Russian avant-garde”.

Sarabyanov says that documenting a movement that at first flourished, but was then suppressed as the Soviet era moved on, underscored the extent to which the “incredible fates, adventures and tragic deaths” of artists are a “cross-section of the fate of the whole country” in the first half of the 20th century. The encyclopaedia also brings to light nearly forgotten artists, such as members of the Soyuz Molodyozhi (Union of Youth) group that was founded in St Petersburg around 1910. Works by such artists were not known to have survived, but now Sarabyanov expects more to turn up.

“I’m sure that some of their works will be found, maybe in private collections, or among relatives [of the artists] who didn’t consider the works to be important and didn’t know who their ancestors were,” he says.

The first two volumes feature more than 600 biographies of artists and other cultural figures who had an impact on the Russian avant-garde. The third volume, Sarabyanov says, will be about theory and history, exhibitions, disputes and other aspects of the movement.

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