The idea of the project "The Fantastic City" was motivated by several points: first, we intended to find and catalogue the early 20 century Georgian works of art kept in Georgian and foreign collections - the pieces that were produced in the highly remarkable period for Georgian culture, when the country joined in the Russian and European system of artistic values, and Tbilisi, "the fantastic city", became the center of the Caucasian avant-garde art; secondly, we were moved by the desire to trace the contacts that shaped the image of Georgian art in that period, and as the information on these works may become inaccessible if they are removed from the collection, are damaged, lost or sold, we set ourselves an objective to collect the data on the pieces kept in private collection - even more so that most of them are eligible to be qualified as museum exhibits. In these circumstances, the record of their whereabouts as well as their cataloging and photographing are indispensable for the studies of Georgian cultural heritage; we also wished to present to the general public unknown artworks that reflect the starting stage of modern Georgian art - the period from the outset of the 20th century till the 1930s - which, despite the relentless pressure of the soviet realism throughout 50 years, still succeeded to have an impact on Georgian art - i.e. being under a ban and labeled as formalism, the tendencies that marked that very stage, transformed into an intrinsic impulse, the implicit information, the valuable experience that stimulated the development of Georgian painting and are conveyed as the deep and invisible stream in each and every progressive artistic event.
The period - the outset of the 20th century - is the most multi-structural in the history of modern Georgian art; stylistically, it is altogether charged, kaleidoscopically changeful, and even eclectic at a time. It is the period that rendered the categories such as "style" extremely inconvenient to operate with, which is another sign of the epoch and points to the global moves in world perception - to "sdvigologia" transformations (sdvig - shift) that gripped the whole world. It penetrated Georgia as well - however, not as the result and impact but as a simultaneous process that conveyed cultural and social innovations.
The "orchestral" property of painting and poetry (A. Kruchionikh, I.Zdanevich), i.e. the synthesis of different styles and manners within one cultural space of a particular work of art is also a sign of the new art. In that period, Georgia took the road to Europe, and Tbilisi became "the fantastic city" where the categories that varied chronologically, socially and culturally - the Caucasian lifestyle, oriental traditions and the strong European stream - co-existed in an odd harmony. "The tram plunged into Europe from Meydan …" (I. Terentiev, "Tiflis"); it was the period when Georgia, "a particle off the East", found itself in the milieu of European culture, and started "to thoroughly make up Georgian oriental advancements with European technology" (Gr. Robakidze). In fact, the theme proved popular as the Moscow 1913 avant-garde exposition called "Mishen" (The Target) hosted the debates on "The East, Nationality and the West". Among its organizers was Ilia Zdanevich - Iliazd, a resident of Georgia and the legendary representative of Georgian, Russian and European avant-garde, who, together with his brother Kiril Zdanevich and artist Mikhail Le-Dantu, was the first to discover Pirosmani's works, present them at the exhibition and afterwards promote them in Georgia as well as abroad. Later, the concept of the exhibition turned into a regular program for different avant-garde trends including oriental symbolism and European stylistics, and the na?ve painting became the property of the epoch: "Eat, khudogi, the Rubens beef, and go on to the Cezanne bun!" (A. Kruchionikh, S. Valishevski, K. Zdanevich "Learn the Lesson, Khudogi!" - khudogi refers to painters in the Futurist slang).
In this poem, S. Valishevski identifies Cubism with Cezanne, and Rubens with the land and nature, combines them with Futurist boldness and presents the avant-garde program with naturalistic sharpness. The admiration for the na?ve art and primitivism is also common for European, Russian and Georgian cultures. African sculpture became the motif for Picasso's works, Tahiti inspired Gauguin, and folk art - Larionov and Goncharova. Na?ve painting - Henri Russo's primeval world and Niko Pirosmani's Georgia - express the primordial essence of nature through different formal means but with the same ingeniousness. Each of the pieces invites back to the original image of the world, to its archetype and represents the repercussion of various cultures. That is why Pirosmani's"Black Lyon" and "Giraffe" are associated with Asyrian relief pieces, and the scenes of the Feast remind us of Byzantine "Last Supper" (K. Zdanevich).
From 1917, Georgia was turned into "a culture oasis". In that period, the political situation in the country was comparatively tense. Georgian people enjoyed visits of Russian and foreign artists, poets and prose-writers. Tbilisi became the venue for the well-known modernist and avant-garde celebrities (Alexei Kruchioikh, Igor Terentiev, Natalia Goncharova, Olga Rozanova, Ilia Zdanevich, Mikhail Le-Dantu, Sergei Sudeykin, Sizigmund Valishevski and Velimir Khlebnikov, David Burliuk, Joseph Sharlemagne, Eugene Lancere, Vasili Kamenski and others). Traditional realistic painting, Symbolism, Futurism and Cubism - all co-existed in Tbilisi; the general artistic picture was motley and multinational, charged with the passion for changes and transformation, with dynamism, expressiveness, admiration for the technological advancements of the epoch, with protest "(Pushkin off the modernity ship"), sometimes with the aggressiveness towards the past values ("shut the museums"), with defiant social activities ("a slap in the face to the conventional taste"), with wild poetic flows, bold sways from one artistic domain to another - from literature to painting, from poetry to dance and shows. Georgia, like the whole world, experienced synthesis of different cultural systems. The main avant-garde trends of the period - Cubism, Futurism and Dadaism - tended to expand from the artistic field to the universal sphere of ideology which came to integrate literature, politics, social behavior, etc.
Tbilisi Futurist groups included "Poets Workshop", "Futurist Syndicate", "Fantastic Tavern", "410"," Alpha-Lyre" and others; Georgian symbolists formed the society called "Tsisperkantselebi" (The Poets of the Blue Horn Wine-Vessel); the national association of artists called "Promoters of the Caucasian Decorative Art" was set up; painters united under the "Small Circle"; the artistic community in Tbilisi haunted literary salons - "The Peacock Tail" and "Copper Cauldron" and artistic cafes - "Chimerioni "and "Argonaut's Boat"; the University, the Conservatoire and the Academy of Art opened, a large number of literary and artistic journals were published, cursive and printed Futurist literature were issued in small editions; a ballet-studio was set up, cafes were painted. A small time span was altogether filled with the magnificent process of unceasing activities, shows, speech-making, scientific discoveries, etc. The period was dominated with the desire "To turn life into a show" and to start up a literary carnival before the impending revolutionary catastrophe; with the Futurist sense of temporal and spatial categories, with the spirit of the absurd and "Zaum"(futurist meta-language), and the want for the "aesthetic feast at the time of social scourge" - "Myrskontsa" (The world from the end); with the accelerated process of cultural development - as if they sensed the forthcoming end to the start, the approach of "the red madness and the pink deceased" (A. Kruchionikh).
The bold desire to be in the vanguard was demonstrated in their works as well as in their provoking activities. The name "410" implies a symbolic meaning - Tbilisi, analogically to a number of large cities worldwide (Madrid, Naples, Constantinople, New York, Peking), is located at "410"; Christ and Zoroaster came out of the desert on the 41st day, after 40 days of seclusion; "410" is the maximum temperature for the human body; artists invaded poets' territories and vice versa. The inner optics for the world outlook was altered; this involved a shift in the forms of expression: the semiotic model human - world was restructured to the superhuman misticism which presented the creator as the Promethean Titan, the Transformer of the world - "I am the one who holds the whole globe on the little finger of my right hand" (V. Khlebnikov). That is why the Futurist composition "The Sun" to the poem "Iron and Concrete" by V. Kamenski - the synthesis of graphic and verbal arts - resembles a starry map where the crescent moon stands for the Futurism, the star for Vasili Kamenski, and the full moon is encircled with the inscription - Khlebnikov, Maiakovski, Burliuk.
From the 1920s, a large number of Russian and European artists left Georgia. The political situations became increasingly tense; and finally, Georgia was forced to become Soviet. However, the processes that marked the 1910s still went on. They were intensified by tireless activities of the artists group back from Paris including David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Helene Akhvlediani and Ketevan Magalashvili; Shalva Kikodze and Mikheil Bilanishvili were unable to come back; Felix Varlamishvili and Vera Paghava would not be back. The formal capacities of painting remained avant-guarde - David Kakabadze's Cubism and optical objects, Peter Otskheli's scenographic constructivism, Irakli Gamrekeli's Cubofuturist phantasmagorias, Lado Gudiashvili's stylized expressionism, Kiril Zdanevich's "orchestral" painting, Modernist artworks by Valerian Sidamon-Eristavi and Dimitri Shevardnadze, and so on. Thus, three intellectual models - Neo-Traditionalism, Avant-Garde and Soc Realism - worked in Georgia from the start of the 20th century till the 1930s.
They were represented with three respective discourses: Neo-Traditionalism - with the discourse of commitment, Avant-Garde - with freedom, and Soc Realism - with violance. These three paradigms determined the image of the early 20th century culture. However, their borders were loose - e.g. an avant-garde shape could unpredictably rush into a social-realistic piece, or an expressionist could use a traditional image - such evidence indicates that, despite the revolution, the aesthetic inersion still went on till the 1930s when the discourse of violance ultimately won, and the ideological machine took relentless measures towards its opponents: Peter Otskheli and Dimitri Shevardnadze were executed, Kiril Zdanevich was exiled, David Kakabadze was accused of Formalism and was persecuted throughout his lifetime - anyway, that is the theme for another exhibition.
And finally, let us consider the title of the exposition. The City is the leading concept in the literary-mythological system of Futurism - the trend that became the landmark of the period presented in the project. The Futurist city is the center of energetic forces, the pattern of universal dynamism, the place for changes, metamorphoses and phantasmagorias, the micro-image of the "psychic model" (K.Malevich) of the world. The 20th century painters saw Tbilisi with all these properties, and therefore, its image is rendered in every single exhibit - not through physical shapes but through emotions and feelings. Baia Tsikoridze