Petre Otskheli Eternally Modern


Veriko Anjaparidze and Petre Otskheli
The 105th anniversary of the birth of Petre Otskheli is being celebrated by the National Museum of Georgia and Dimitri Shevardnadze National Gallery with a retrospective of the works of the influential young artist who was put to death in 1937 by Soviet police.

The exhibition features almost the entire artistic legacy of the modernist scenographer – sketches, paintings and two costumes designed for the acclaimed performance of Uriel Acosta staged by legendary director Kote Marjanishvili in Tbilisi in 1929. The artworks are exhibited on loan from private collections and the State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography, as well as from the museum of the Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre. The retrospective was made possible with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia.

The works of Petre Otskheli are distinguished for their subtlety and, at the same time, monumentality. His precision and artistic suitability never cease to amaze. All of his artwork is characterized by an enduring brilliance that transcended the unemotional influences of Constructivism and other aesthetic trends of the first half of the Twentieth Century.

The tragic fate which Petre Otskheli experienced as an individual is expressively conveyed through his work as an artist. His sketches of scenic design are complete monumental works of art while his costumes convey distinct and lasting “images” of the historical epoch.

Flying Decorator. 1936
The Kutaisi-born artist’s contribution to the development of Georgian scenography is immeasurable. And it is nothing short of remarkable that this brilliant artistic legacy is that of a thirty-year-old set and costume designer whose professional career lasted a mere nine years.

Petre Otskheli was killed in 1937 by the Bolsheviks during the Stalinist purge. It was not until the late-1960s that articles about the artist first appeared in Soviet mass media and not until 1973 that the first album of his artwork was published. Continued fear of red terror convinced publications at that time to skip over the fact of how the artist died.

The exhibition of the artistic legacy of this extraordinary scenographer, no doubt, marks a significant event in our cultural life. It is therefore disappointing that the organizers failed to secure sufficient funding to present a first-rate exhibition. The manner in which the

Joy Street.1932
artworks are presented fails to pay proper homage to the artist: mismatched, poor-quality frames used to exhibit sketches designed for one and the same performance; curators of sponsoring museums displaying works according to personal preferences rather than accepted modern museum standards for a single exhibition.

Despite those shortcomings, it was gratifying to see the exhibited documentary film and biographical materials reveal the true story of the tragic life of this exceptional artist.


This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 113, published 10 September 2012.



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