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.
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)
Maira Kalman Book Signing
May 7, 2017, 2–3 p.m.
Free, museum admission not required