State Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky, Moscow

Before visiting Russia I had heard of only two Russian artists, Kandinsky and Chagall, and until a few days ago I thought Chagall was French (actually born in what is now Belarus).

The Tretyakov is housed in two buildings: the State Tretyakov houses works from the 11th to 20th centuries, and the nearby contemporary gallery on Krymsky houses modern works.

During my visit the contemporary Tretyakov gallery featured an exhibit of mood landscape works by Isaac Levitan. I was not familiar with this guy, but my god was he prolific. He lived for only 40 years (1860-1900) but his work filled nearly an entire floor of a massive gallery. Apparently he finished more than 1,000 works during his lifetime, primarily paintings but also drawings and sketches, etc. His paintings were some of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen. Monet is dull by comparison. Levitan is my new favorite painter.

Another favorite from this museum was the Sots Art (short for Socialist Art, also referred to as Soviet Pop Art). Think of Warhol, but instead of preying upon mass media and advertising, the artists of this movement mimicked and subsequently mocked the aesthetic of official Soviet doctrine. It must have taken extreme courage in the early 1970s to mock Soviet figureheads, certainly more courage than painting soup cans and pinup girls.