Past Imper­fect: 318 Episodes from the Life of a Russ­ian Artist

Grisha Bruskin; Alice Nakhi­movsky, trans.
  • Review
By – January 26, 2012

Not many painters/​sculptors write mem­oirs, or keep a diary. So each arch­lyti­tled episode” select­ed from Grisha Bruskin’s note­books — a liv­ing, world-renowned Russ­ian artist — keeps its promise of an unusu­al read­ing expe­ri­ence, albeit in translation. 

Bruskin’s 1982 sculp­ture, Step, on the dust jack­et, is pre­scient, reveal­ing his aware­ness of the unknown world (NYC, 1984, age 39) he would be fac­ing — the fig­ure looks straight ahead, garbed as a man of the past. Many entries reflect his Com­mu­nist-raised back­ground; the mem­o­ries include inci­dents and encoun­ters with work­ers and peas­ants; the acco­lades by art crit­ics; strik­ing exam­ples of Sovi­et bureau­cra­cy; and ten­der­ly, his moth­er and fam­i­ly. Bruskin’s impres­sions of the U.S. prove both heart­warm­ing and embarrassing. 

Past Imper­fects 365 pages have a light foot­print, as some con­tain only five lines and none exceeds a full page. (Despite the iden­ti­cal title, it has no con­nec­tion with Ilka Chase’s 1942 auto­bi­og­ra­phy.) Gen­tly told, mem­o­rable, Past Imper­fects read­er­ship touch­es groups not often tar­get­ed in one vol­ume— back to the Stal­in days, cur­rent to 2008. Thought­ful­ly writ­ten, it is wry and inci­sive, express­ing an artist’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, steely resolve. There is anger in his art work. Illus­tra­tions, introduction.
Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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