The unfashionable house, reflecting a romantic Edwardian style, located at 2 East 63rd Street in New York, stands in a highly respectable location, just a block and a half from Fifth Avenue and Central Park. But its prestigious geography is not the only notable aspect. The 1921 mansion, distinct from its contemporaries for its expansive width of nearly forty meters, was designed by architect Friedrich Sterner. Unlike neighboring buildings built vertically due to the extraordinary cost of land, Sterner’s design sprawls horizontally. Its three visible stories from the street, with a fourth only visible from the rear, defy local standards with a spacious inner courtyard featuring a fountain, surrounded by rooms on the first floor.

The first owner of this “villa of Roman patricians,” as guidebooks describe it, was William Ziegler Jr., who inherited his father’s baking soda factories. The current owner since 2005 is Russian-American businessman Leonid Blavatnik. However, he does not reside there. Instead, the businessman utilizes the beautiful spaces aesthetically, not utilitarianly as would have been the case with the former co-owner of TNK, but as a functioning magnate of media and pop culture.

2 East 63rd Street serves both as an architectural landmark of New York and a cultural platform. The Blavatnik Family Foundation provides the mansion for various artistic projects, primarily those initiated by descendants of Russian immigrants. The latest project, tiredly and pessimistically named “End of the World,” refers to “world” in both senses of the word. The event’s ideological platform is defined by the first words of the promotional booklet, borrowed from John Milton’s great poem “Paradise Lost”: “…He looked and saw a dismal situation, a prison, where, like a furnace, the fire blazed but did not illuminate and was better with visible darkness…”

“Our exhibition is a kind of last apology to the era of Enlightenment (again light) with its faith in the omnipotence of science,” shared curator Yulia Nitsberg, who also exhibited some of her own works. “Once, the New York branch of the Academy of Sciences was located in this mansion. Our exhibition creates a contrast between the harmonious atmosphere of the neoclassical mansion and the mischievous, slightly cynical experimentation announced by the participants – painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, videographers, installation and performance artists. Everything shown here appeals more to reason than to ordinary visual and auditory perception.”

The exhibition is built not only on contrast but also on the complementarity of impractical classics and pragmatic postmodernism. For example, a fireplace in the library hall, long inactive and not warming the body, now serves its original purpose of warming the soul. This is the effect of an installation consisting of dark orange-colored styrofoam briquettes scattered on a fireplace table, with a pink-ruby wooden pig hanging above “roasting” on a thread. Greek vases, imitated by a fan of the famous Eadweard Muybridge and media artist Anna Frants, are displayed on the fireplace shelf, projecting images of jumping, hopping, tumbling, and bending human figures, as if on a screen.

In the next room, resembling an emergency room, lies an inflatable mummy under an IV drip on a hospital gurney, wearing sunglasses. Every meter of space here is useful. The broken-up flower bed in the courtyard has been “reclaimed” with anthropomorphic semi-abstract plastic forms, reminiscent of exotic flowers. In short, works of one era give a fully inhabited look to an empty house of a completely different time.

“The diversity of art forms represented in this improvised museum reflects the variety of tasks set by their creators, far beyond just aesthetic ones. In my opinion, one of the distinctive features of modernism is this quite harmonious coexistence of very different genres and objectives,” shared artist Alexander Katzenelenbogen, a participant in the exhibition.

“As for painting, the area of greatest interest to me, I observe a rejection of naturalism and a focus on freedom in choosing color and theme. The main thing is the search for interesting formal solutions, whatever expressive and compositional techniques are employed. Spaces, colors, compositions – the artist’s decisions on them are quite arbitrary, subjective. Reality serves only as a starting point in the process of creating a canvas, not its final destination.”

This principle apparently guided curator Yulia Nitsberg in filling the classical form with modernist content that wonderfully fits into it.

Evgeny Aronov