On 18 May, a retrospective exhibition of the works of Davit Kakabadze was opened in the Georgian National Gallery in Tbilisi as part of an event marking International Museum Day.
Cubist and abstract works, compositions in oil paint, watercolors, mixed media, landscapes of Georgia, constructivist and decorative collages – are amongst the works displayed in the halls of the National Gallery, where they are classified thematically to show the diversity of styles.
Davit Kakabadze was one of those Georgian painters from the first half of the 20th century who gained the opportunity to obtain an education abroad and to become acquainted with the cultural heritage of various nations. Seven years spent in Paris allowed the artist and innovator to personally participate in those reforms and processes taking place in the world's center of art. Therefore, Davit Kakabadze is perhaps the most European Georgian painter in the history of Georgian art who, born in the village of Kukhi in the Imereti region, managed to keep pace with the trends of Western art whilst simultaneously maintaining Georgian traditions.Davit Kakabadze's paintings recount the stories he heard and experienced during his travels. The works of the artist include many landscapes. Among the works created during his stay in Paris, one can see the banks of the river Seine, the mansards of Pigalle or clouds over Notre Dame as well as Bretagne sailboats, windmills and houses with chimneys. Georgian landscapes also have a significant place in his work – Svaneti, Tbilisi Kojori... though the theme beloved by Kakabadze was his native Imereti region. His picturesque landscapes of meadows and fields drawn in geometric forms at first glance remind one of Nicolas de Staël's series of Sicily paintings. However, in contrast to sharpness of de Staël's works, which cause excitement among viewers, the palette of colors in Kakabadze's landscapes of Imereti provoke feelings of coziness and quiet.
Having begun working on Imereti landscapes before leaving for Paris, Davit Kakabadze continued that work after his return. One of the most famous paintings from this series, called "Imereti – My Mother," is featured on the 10 lari banknote.
Alike many of his contemporary Soviet artists, Davit Kakabadze had a dramatic life caused first and foremost by the restrictions the Soviet regime imposed on the freedom of expression of artists. Along with his cubist and abstract creations, he had no other choice but to paint industrial landscapes and portraits of Stalin. Nevertheless, the Soviet authority deemed his ideology unacceptable and Kakabadze was dismissed from the Tbilisi Academy of Arts, where he taught painting to students, for failing to share the principles of socialist realism in art. The painter died of a heart attack in 1952.
The current exhibition of Davit Kakabadze's work, the curator of which is Mariam Kakabadze, the artist's descendant and the head of the Davit Kakabadze foundation, has been organized with the support of the Ministry of Culture of Georgia. The exhibition displays works from private as well as state and foreign collections. The exhibition will last until 10 July and also encompasses an educational project – a series of lectures about the artist.
"Georgian researchers will participate in the educational project. Foreign experts and curators of modern art will also arrive on the invitation of the Ministry of Culture," Mariam Kakabadze says. "The exhibition is classified thematically. It is important that this exposition shows the diversity of Davit Kakabadze's talent – he is represented not only as a painter but also as a researcher, theater and cinema designer and photographer. The exposition is displayed in seven halls of the National Gallery and each invited guest will deliver his/her lecture in a space corresponding to the topic of the lecture."
Such lectures are of great importance for those interested in the history of art because the existing literature about Davit Kakabadze and his contemporary painters were predominantly written in Soviet times and, consequently, are not free from the clichés of Soviet-era art criticism. Revisiting and understanding this painter anew today is thus not only interesting but also much needed.
Davit Kakabadze, who never feared experimenting with the trends of the art world of his time, indeed outstripped many of his contemporaries, entering the history of Georgian art as one of the most prolific, interesting and intellectual painters.