August 15, 2015
So what Sidur feared has happened twenty-nine years after his death. Russian Orthodox vandals have come and desecrated his art. I met Sidur in 1964, and our friendship and collaboration continued until his death. His sculptures were usually made from clay and were fragile. If you remember the conditions in which writers and artists lived then—Khrushchev’s visit to the thirtieth anniversary exhibition of the Moscow Branch of the Union of Artists, the government’s meetings with the creative intelligentsia, the persecution of Pasternak, and so on—it is no wonder that Sidur feared they would come to his studio and destroy everything. So he gradually began to recast the sculptures in more durable material, metal. He had no access to the sculpture plant, and no money for the job, either, so he only managed to have dealings with random casters, and afterwards he would work long and hard to correct the deficiencies of the castings. His primary assistant in this work was his wife, Julia Nelskaya, a high school French teacher. A God-given educator, children doted on her. But she was forced to quit her job at the school and focus all her efforts on helping her husband. Vadim had been seriously wounded in the war, then he had a heart attack at the age of thirty-seven. I saw how hard it was for him physically.
Julia Nelskaya and Vadim Sidur
All of us, his friends, tried to be useful to him for the sake of his magnificent art. The authorities did not think much of him: they gave him no commissions, expelled him from the Party, and deprived him of the opportunity to make money doing book illustrations. But they did not kick him out of his studio, and they did not touch his pieces. Sidur did not have a single solo show in the Soviet Union. It has only been in our time that a museum has been created and a major show of his work has been staged at the Manege, along with that of other worthy artists.
Sidur was sent to the front when he was nineteen years old. He was on the front lines for eleven months as commander of a machine-gun platoon before he was nearly mortally wounded. This wound tormented him for the rest of his life: he suffered several heart attacks and died from it in the prime of his life. But he produced five hundred sculptures and thousands of drawings. And now a sated, well-groomed lad from the God’s [Will] group, which I had never heard of, showed up and set about destroying [Sidur’s works].
Exhibition view of The Sculptures We Do Not See, Moscow Manege, August 14, 2015
I won’t go into the ideology. This is just bullying and should not be ignored. I am certain that the Manege will succeed in defending its rights, and the guilty will be punished. But there is also such a thing as emotional distress. Not only have the feelings of believers been offended (if that is what they think) but also the feelings of non-believers, among whom I count myself. The feelings of all Sidur’s friends, both in our country and the world, have been offended. The feelings of the exhibition’s visitors were offended, and their day was ruined. Let us think about what our reaction to all this should be from a legal point of view. We live in a secular state, and our right to a dignified life in our homeland should certainly be no less than that of “Russian Orthodox activists.”
Eduard Gladkov is a well-known photographer and co-founder (with Yuri Rybchinksy) of The Museum of Photographic Collections.
Photos by Eduard Gladkov. Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade DR for the heads-up.