Vladimir Paperny, “Mos-Angeles Two” (Book Review)

Mos-Angeles Two. Vladimir Paperny. Moscow: NLO, 2009. 216 pp.

Vladimir Paperny’s new book Mos-Angeles Two is a retrospective, nostalgic compilation of writings from the author’s recent and distant past. Revealing personal and professional motivations, describing spaces and feelings both imaginary and real, the introspective approach of his book makes for a highly personal project. Paperny was raised and educated in Moscow and then settled in the U.S. with the “third wave.”  A skilled art historian and designer, he emigrated during the political epoch ironically called “the flourishing of the sundown” (rastsvet zakata), with its closed artistic dissident circles in Moscow and Leningrad who were eventually either forced out of the country or willingly left their socialist motherland to live abroad.

This second volume of previously published essays by the author reflects on the tradition of Soviet “kitchen conversations” during the late 1970’s and early 1990’s. It is designed as a postmodern monologue directed at an introverted circle of cosmopolitan Russian intellectuals.  The book represents an eclectic collage of writings in various genres, from Paperny’s early art and architecture critiques (published in Russian magazines, newspapers and catalogs), to unpublished, personal sketches.

Part one opens with the essay “Searching for the Vanished,” a reflective and romantic emanation of Paperny’s youth, his parents and friends. “The End of the Co-Reign” and “How to Save the Rotten Iron,” written in a charismatic key, contain the author’s reminiscences of  the period of sots art and his encounters with Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, including  poems and details of their friendship.

Later on in the book, the essays “Kosolapov Before and After,” “Asarkan,” and “Kabakov: Personalities in Search for an Author,” delve into a world of artistic egos, concepts and conflicting visions. “An American Design” and “The Soviet Interior” resemble sots art games and assess the formation of aesthetic trends in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Other themes include reflections on liberal individualism; eclecticism; and kitsch in architecture and design.

“Memories of Futurology” carves into the terrain of Soviet institutionalized futurology of the 1960s-70s. With forays into its historical beginnings and the captivating (and rather cynical) context of the time, the reconstructed spirit of the place provides the foundation for Paperny’s reading.

“Architecture and Power,” “It Was Fun Till the Money Ran Out,” and “Megastructures” inquire into topics that continue to shape architecture and politics, as well as the environment. The articles stretch through time, from ancient Egypt to the Aztecs, to Italy, Israel, Japan, and modern Russia. Through the eyes of an architectural historian with a special interest in Russia’s relationship with the West, Paperny sees contemporary Russian architecture through the lens of its capital cities, which on occasion can come offas a bit snobbish. The rest of the articles in the first part are arranged as a bridge to the second half, which contains free-hand literary exercises.

The reader is encouraged to make conceptual links amongst fragmented subjects discussed in the book, and to see consistent preoccupations in its different chapters. Paperny shifts his focus from a play between the personal and the public, or art and power, to the continuities of thought and the shelled streams of ideas. Paperny is at his best where his often dramatic rhetoric overlaps with his nostalgic flight over the faint panorama of the past.

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