A painterly illustration of four friends seated at a table beneath a tree, drinking coffee and talking.

Ingrid and Ruba: Maira Kalman’s Illustrated Voyage to the Black and Caspian Seas

Maira Kalman’s contribution to the Travelogue series shows an essay can take many forms. Eight paintings and a short text illuminate two weeks of travel and research for the Carnegie International. Kalman was not on the trip, which I took with Ruba Katrib, the talented curator at the SculptureCenter in New York. I invited Ruba to accompany me as a companion and thinking partner to some place new to both of us; Ruba’s interest in the proximity of post-Soviet and Middle Eastern cultures led us to the Caucasus region. Upon our return, we shared with Kalman our accounts and photographs of the many people and places we saw. She now draws us back to studio visits with the Georgian artists Chubika, Gio Sumbadze, and Mamuka Japharidze at his Cloud Library; meetings with curators at the Center of Contemporary Art-Tbilisi, and Institute of Contemporary Art, Yerevan; and a pilgrimage to architect Zaha Hadid’s last building, the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku. As seen through the lens of Kalman’s own powers of observation, however, these encounters have been rendered entirely new.

For instance, I hadn’t met that camel even though I recognize Kalman painted it from the scrapbook Ruba and I saw in an extraordinary daylong exhibition of personal archives and contemporary art. (Read Ruba’s essay about Fest I Nova curated by Mariam Natroshvili and Detu Jintcharadze.) The exhibition culminated in a flea market, where, yes, I bought some fine Soviet cutlery.

Kalman’s Travelogue conjures another meaning of “essay”: to attempt. Inasmuch as all research is an attempt to discover what you don’t know, it’s useful to pick up fellow travelers along the way, to keep expanding the search. When you do happen upon that camel, don’t hesitate to make operative the dictionary usage: “to essay a smile.”

Ingrid Schaffner, Curator
Carnegie Int’l, 57th ed., 2018

Editor’s note: This story is best viewed on tablet, laptop, and desktop devices.

A painterly illustration of a man sitting alone on a chair in an empty room. Text on the image reads as follows: Ingrid and Ruba By Maira Kalman. Ingrid and Ruba took a trip to the Caucasus via Bucharest. They looked at art constantly. Some of it was invisible. Some of it was exhibited in broken down sheds. In glorious and dilapidated palaces. Behind chicken coops and in root cellars.
A painterly illustration of an open field beneath a cloudless sky. A few animals are grazing and several weathered sheds dot the landscape.
A painterly illustration of five men and women looking at objects displayed in vitrines in a small gallery space. Text in the image reads as follows: In institutional edifices, drab but welcoming. In fancy futuristic spacers designed by fabulous architects.
A painterly illustration of Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku.
A painterly illustration of a table at a flea market filled with an eclectic assortment of teapots, dishes, and cutlery. Text in image reads as follows: Once they turned their heads away from the art and went to a flea market. Ingrid bought useful and lovely knives.
A painterly illustration of the shoes that Ruba bought at the flea market. Below the shoes are two painterly renditions of Salomé, daughter of Herod II and Herodias, holding the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Text in image reads as follows: Ruba bought these shoes. And speaking of Salomé. The dark cloud of history (real or imagined) hovers over everything. What does that do to art? One has to have a break and buy knives and shoes no matter how devoted one is to art.
A painterly illustration of a Russian soldier in safari attire sitting atop a camel in the desert. Text in image reads as follows: One has to smile and pose on a camel in the middle of conflict.
A painterly illustration of a woman standing in a warm and inviting living room with a striped couch and vase of flowers on an end table. Text in image reads as follows: Now we return to the now. Artists everywhere. Heroic, determined.
A painterly illustration of an artist’s bed and bedroom, where drawings and paintings hang on the walls and books sit in stacks on the floor and dresser. Text in image reads as follows: Living with the essentials. Books. Boots. A bed. An artist needs a room with a bed to dream in. It is impossible to be an artist without a bed.
A painterly illustration of four friends seated at a table beneath a tree, drinking coffee and talking. Text in image reads as follows: Here is a cup of coffee and a conversation about art under a tree. Which is a salvation in its way. Long live art. Long live beds. Long live coffee. Long live trees. Long live living.

The Travelogue Series of commissioned essays is an initiative of the Carnegie Int’l, 57th ed., 2018 to open up the process of travel and research leading up to the exhibition.


Tam O’Shanter Drawing Session
Walking and Looking and Not Thinking
Hosted by Maira Kalman
May 7, 2017, noon–3 p.m.
$15 ($10 members and students)
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Maira Kalman Book Signing
May 7, 2017, 2–3 p.m.
CMOA Store
Free, museum admission not required
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