Ella Kogan, next to "Man in a Red Scarf," at the National Arts Club (Photo: Russian American Foundation)
The New York-based Russian American Foundation last night held an opening reception at the National Arts Club for two exhibits, Ella Kogan: Searching for the Soul and Divertissements: From Anna Pavlova to Svetlana Zakharova, both part of the non-profit organization's 15th annual Russian Heritage Month of events celebrating cultural traditions brought to the U.S. from former Soviet Union countries.
The Kogan exhibit of bronze figures offers a career retrospective of the classically trained pianist and daughter of Russian painter Leonid Kogan who developed an intensely expressionist sculpture style after emigrating to the U.S. when she was 16.
Divertissements showcases photographs of Soviet and Russian ballet stars culled from the archives of Russia's TASS news agency. With a swirling image of the great Maya Plisetskaya as its centerpiece, the exhibit extends from the early 20th century to the present and also features such legends as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Yury Grigorovich, Svetlana Zakharova, Alexei Ratmansky, Ulyana Lopatkina, Nikolay Tsiskaridze and Diana Vishneva.
With a recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker playing in the background, Kogan said that her sculptures "teach many things," "honesty" in particular.
"We can't sustain our life without lies," she said, "not malicious [lies]—but we need to lie to survive. But they're free from that!. They don’t have to lie."
She tied in her figures' representation of honesty with an additional one—freedom, as ironically manifested by her "Man in Strait Jacket" sculpture. She insisted that he—and her other figures—were truly free.
"I'm jealous looking at them and seeing that I can't be like that," she said, thereby introducing her concept of self-acceptance: "They're all restrained by so many things, but I put the restraints on me. Why can't I accept me and be me? Why can't we accept ourselves and love ourselves and love each other and appreciate life?"
Acknowledging that her work is "born in pain," Kogan noted that when she is asked "why there's so much pain in my work," she answers: "No. It is everything. Life is everything—pain, love. To see only pain is to see only what you yourself project in life."
She suggested that attendees of her exhibit open themselves up in order to hear what her figures have to say.
"Each work is a completely different person with a different emotional message," she said, and as for her exhibit's pairing with the TASS ballet photographs, she said, "Life is constant movment. The goal in sculpture is to have constant movement—even if a moment is frozen—and then let the sculpture grow with you: You see it differently tomorrow than you do today."
"Movement, life, beauty," Kogan concluded. "That's what we're here for!"
Divertissements and Ella Kogan will remain on display through July 2.
The Russian American Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 to encourage interest in and understanding of Russian culture in the U.S. and American culture in Russian-speaking countries and communities.