Exuberance of Meaning: The Art Patronage of Catherine the Great will be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art Sept. 21 to Jan. 5. The exhibition features works of decorative art the Russian empress commissioned for her own use or as gifts for courtiers, including a large chalice created by noted goldsmith Iver Winfeldt Buch.
The Buch chalice, which belongs to Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Adorned with precious gems and eight carved cameos, it demonstrates how Catherine combined Byzantine and classical influences to forge a new direction for Russian culture. Other objects in the exhibition establish the background for the empress’s choices or represent major currents in 17th- and 18th-century Russian art.
Asen Kirin, associate professor of art and associate director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art, is curator of this exhibition, which borrows objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chipstone Foundation, the Walters Museum and private collections as well as Hillwood.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, the sole heir to the multimillion-dollar Post Cereal Co., purchased the works that formed Hillwood’s Russian collection. Many of the works she purchased while in Russia in the 1930s are on display in this exhibition. Kirin invites audiences “to contemplate the art collections of two extraordinary women, who lived at different times and could not have come from more dissimilar environments. One is Europe’s Old Regime of absolute hereditary monarchies, the other-the modern, industrialized America of free enterprise.”
The exhibition presents a comparison of dazzling and masterful objects that exemplify both medieval Byzantine culture, of which Russia was the successor and guardian, and the Western, neoclassical style that was the hallmark of the Enlightenment. During her reign, the empress worked to reconcile her contemporary scientific and historical frame of mind with the devotional ways of the Orthodox Church, which had long been sanctified by tradition. The exhibition title, Exuberance of Meaning, refers to the crucial characteristic that distinguishes her endeavors in the arts: she conceived her projects in a manner that allowed for multiple complementary interpretations covering a spectrum of meanings.
The museum will publish a catalog to accompany the exhibition, featuring full-page, full-color illustrations of the objects it includes and scholarly essays on Catherine’s art patronage, the Buch chalice and the empress’s proto-feminist use of vessels to make a statement about gender and power.
This exhibition is sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. James T. Mills Jr., the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.
Events being held in conjunction with the exhibition include films, a Family Day and a two-day symposium scheduled for Nov. 1-2 at the art museum and featuring noted scholars of Russian art.
The art museum’s Collectors group, an upper-level membership group within the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art, will host an opening for the exhibition Sept. 21 in conjunction with a UGA Performing Arts Center’s concert of music the empress favored.