A Soviet immigrant and art importer has opened the first art gallery in the District to trade exclusively in Russian and Lithuanian contemporary art, capitalizing on the new freedom of cultural exchange with Eastern Europe and showcasing revealing glimpses of expression in transition.
Gregory Vinitsky, who moved here 10 years ago, opened the Gregory Gallery in Georgetown near 31st and M streets NW in April, saying "for Americans this work is something new."
In fact, styles in his second major show now on display range from earthy realism to surreal fantasies reminiscent of Picasso and Chagall. Most of the gallery's oils, water colors and ceramic sculptures were created within the last decade, some before perestroika.
Works on exhibit by Anatol Woolf, a Russian artist who moved to the District five months ago, also show considerable humor. Poking fun, for example, at what Vinitsky calls "America's Gorbymania": One painting depicts shoppers in front of a recognizable Georgetown clothier as lifeless mannequins wearing "I Love Gorby" T-shirts.
It's the type of work that never would have made it beyond the Iron Curtain before perestroika, said Vinitsky. Reflections on American life were not permitted and all work had to represent a view of Soviet life that was entirely wholesome and comfortable, he said.
"At The Library," an oil painted in the 1970s by Russian artist J. Olchanetsky, for example, shows Norman Rockwell-like characters checking books out of a homey well-stocked library.
"That's simply not the way it was," Vinitsky said.
American demand for Russian and Lithuanian art has not surprised Vinitsky. An art trader before opening his gallery, he has always found much interest among American collectors, he said. Recent political events have simply intensified demand, he said.
Changes in the Soviet Bloc also have helped with logistics. "We've had a much easier time getting work out of the USSR than we thought," Vinitsky said.