BAKU - I arrived in Baku from London late at night with my colleague Mark Poltimore. We were dropped off at the hotel, which turned out to be the wrong one—a rather inauspicious start. Ours was one of the many new multi-story luxury hotels springing up all over the city. It was not until morning that I got my first real sense of Baku, when I opened the blinds of my 16th floor room: giant oil donkeys stood in the Caspian Sea under a cloudless blue sky.
Toghrul Narimanbekov's Gazelle Hunt (from Dede Gorghud Illustrations), 1974.
Suad joined Mark and I in the morning. Our first stop was to the Azerbaijan National Museum of Art on Niyazi Street where we were warmly welcomed by curator Chingiz Farzaliyev, commissioner for the 2011 Venice Biennale Azeri Pavilion. We were shown around a solo exhibition of the works of Azeri artist Javad MirJavadov. The museum also has an impressive collection of Russian art. I particularly enjoyed seeing a panoramic, historical view by Petr Vereschagin of the city in the 1870s, View of Baku from the Sea. Farzaliyev told us about a collection of early Kandinsky’s, dispatched to the museum by the Russians in the Soviet times, which, sadly, were in storage. I made a mental note to see them next time I am in Baku—I like it here already and know I’ll be back.
Tair Salakhov’s D.D.Shotakovich, 1987.
After dinner, we strolled along the boulevard lining the Caspian and then a surprise: our hosts took us on an unexpected visit to Baku’s famous Puppet Theatre. The theatre was originally a casino, opened by a Pole at the beginning of the 20th century until the Soviets converted it. Inside, the walls are covered with frescos of Azeri folk tales painted by Toghrul Narimanbekov, one of the artists in our show.
We spent the next day visiting artist studios in the Old Town, including painter Tair Salakhov’s house, who’s first UK exhibition was held at Sotheby’s New Bond Street in 2010. He was in Moscow, but we were luckily shown around. The walls were covered with his paintings and photographs of official visits and exhibition openings. In the afternoon we drove out of the centre to the Absheron, a rural area popular with artists in the Soviet period, which has kept its bohemian spirit. Artist Mirnadir Zeynalov and his wife welcomed us into their home, which was brightly painted and simple yet crammed with fascinating objects, including a collection of traditional Azeri instruments. His wife served us Napoleon cake, the most delicious I have tasted—it was hard to leave.
At the Crossroads: Contemporary Art from the Caucasus and Central Asia
Sotheby’s London, 4–12 March
Tashkent is a city that is rich with culture.
A politial advertisement.