Kasteyev State Arts Museum
Kasteyev State Arts Museum (30A Satpaev st; www.art.nursat.kz; 10.00-18.00 Tue-Sun, last admission 17.30, closed last day of the month)
A few blocks southwest of the Baitursynuly House Museum, at the corner of Satpaev Street and Musrepov Boulevard, just opposite the Hotel Rahat, stands the Kasteyev State Arts Museum. Opened in 1976, this is the most important art museum in Kazakhstan, and was renamed in honour of Kazakh painter Abylkhan Kasteyev in 1984. A statue of Kasteyev, holding a palette and sitting in front of an empty frame, lies in the grounds.
The ground floor of the museum is given over to carpet and handicraft sellers. Up the stairs from the lobby you first reach a hall with a pyramidal roof, often used for temporary exhibitions. On your right is a room dedicated to Kazakh art of the 1930s and 1940s. This features a number of canvases praising industrial progress, like Y Zaitsev's Construction Site in Balkhash by Night (1935), a scene of busy nocturnal labour. The following year he painted a Balkhash building site by day. L Leontiev's Kolkhoz Bazaar (1940) is a lively rural market scene. There are scenes of mines, factories and hard-working labourers, but also softer scenes, such as V Eiferts On the Beach (1938), an impressionistic summerscape of sunbathers and beach umbrellas. This room leads on to a gallery, which runs around a central courtyard. Head anticlockwise around this gallery, itself decorated with modern Kazakh painting, tapestry, ceramics and glasswork, to reach the other rooms on this floor.
The first room off the gallery to the right features Western European art of the 16th to 19th centuries. This is a decidedly mixed bag of works from various European countries, its origins lying in donations in the 1930s to the Kazakh State Art Gallery from the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow to help develop a collection in Kazakhstan. One feels that they did not hand over anything that would be really missed in Moscow or St Petersburg.
The next room off the gallery is a larger hall dedicated to Russian art of the 17th to 20th centuries. This collection was also formed around items arriving from Moscow and St Petersburg in the 1930s. It includes icons, and a line of portraits, busts of tsars, including F Shubins 1771 bust of Catherine the Great, crowned with a laurel wreath. Many of the most prominent Russian artists are represented, albeit often by relatively minor pieces. Ilya Repins Portrait of the Editor V Bitner (1912) depicts its twirly-moustachioed subject, editor of the Bulletin of Knowledge, at jovial ease behind a cluttered desk. Karl Brullov's Portrait of V Samoilov as Hamlet, from the 1840s, depicts the actor, hands on hips, apparently preparing lo deliver a hammed-up performance. Two small canvases by Ilya Shishkin offer highly accurate, almost photographic, renderings of scenes from Russian forests. Vasily Maksimovs Preparations for an Open Air Holiday (1869), depicting village girls putting on their finery, was apparently discovered in the 1950s, languishing in ,i secondhand store in Taraz.
The next room off the gallery is contemporary art. E Vorobeva's sequence of photographs titled A Winter Sublimating Object (2001) gives a sense of this collection. A block of ice shaped like a teapot is placed on a fire and, er, melts. S Atabekovs Super Soldier (2005) depicts a balbal carrying a machine gun. Next up is Kazakh art of the 1960s-80s. This depicts a period of transition. There are still scenes of Soviet achievement, such as Y Yevseev's Shymkent Phosphorous Factory (1969), but a new openness starts to creep in. D Aliev's Rush Hour (1981) shows a scrum of people attempting to get onto a packed bus. And the same painter's Family (1984) is a delightfully intimate painting of parents feeding their two small children in a messy kitchen. A Akanayev's The Poem about Immortality is a full- length portrait of poet and environmental campaigner Olzhas Suleimenov, wearing a white safari suit. Many of the canvases are highly colourful: S Aitbaev's Happiness (1966) for example, in which a proud young Kazakh couple look confidently towards the future.
The next room goes back one step in time to Kazakh art of the 1950s and 1960s, the period in which an identifiable Kazakh school of painting really developed. A Cherkassy's Dina and Zhambyl (1946) portrays musician Dina Nurpeisova playing the dombra while, next to her, the elderly poet Zhambyl Zhabaev strains forward, as if in an attempt to hear her notes more clearly. Kazakh traditions are explored in several of the works. K Telzhanov's Kokpar (1960) is a large, lively canvas, as riders struggle to secure the goat carcass for which they are competing. A Galinbaevas A Cup of Kumiss (1967) depicts both older and younger generations of Kazakh womanhood enjoying the pleasures of mare's milk. Z H Shardenov's 1960 oil painting of the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension is entitled Central Museum of Kazakhstan, reflecting the use to which the building was then put in the atheistic USSR.
Continuing around the gallery, the next room is a long hall devoted to the decorative and applied art of Kazakhstan, with a good selection of carpets, felt rugs, saddles, jewellery and decorated wooden utensils, as well as the long colourful strips and tassels with which yurts were decorated. The last room off the gallery is devoted to the paintings of Abylkhan Kasteyev. The man who gives his name to the gallery was born in 1904 in Zharkent District, into the family of a poor shepherd. He worked as a labourer in Zharkent and on the construction of the TurkSib Railway, but his talent for art was noticed, and he was able to study at the art studio of Russian artist N Khludov in Almaty, and later in Moscow. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern painting in Kazakhstan. The canvases on display feature a series of portraits of some of the heroes of Kazakhstan. Two depict Amangeldy Imanov, leader of the 1916 uprising, and there are portraits too of Kenesary, Zhambyl, an earnest-looking young Abai, and a contemplative Valikhanov. Other canvases portray the successes of Soviet Kazakhstan. There is a scene of celebration in kolkhoz, with singing and dancing beneath a red flag; the arrival of TurkoSib Railway, with the first train cheered on by local peasants; and the hydro-electric station at Kapchagai.
The art continues upstairs. There are two collections here. Works of the Soviet period is basically non-Kazakhstani Soviet art. A Deynekas In Crimea (1956) is a blissfully happy summer scene of holidaymakers munching through ice cream and cake in the sun. This is a far cry from P Nikonovs Our Days (1960), a far from blissful canvas of frozen workers riding on top of a lorry. Oriental art of the 18th to 20th centuries is a disparate collection of ceramics, tapestries and sculpture from China, Japan, Korea, India and Mongolia. A 19th-century Chinese vase with small boys clambering all over it is particularly charming.