The Museum's collection opens with The Rape of Europa, by Valentin Serov. This is a programme work that occupies a special place both in Serov's oeuvre and in the overall history of Russian art. It was painted in 1910, right at the start of the new century, and marks the moment when Russian art turned from realism to modernism.
The basis of the first part consists of masters of what was called the School of Paris, whose members were for the most part Jewish. Marc Chagall, Chaïm Soutine, Ossip Zadkine, Jacques Lipchitz, Sonia Delaunay, Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo were all émigrés from the Russian Empire and, together with their mutual friend Amedeo Modigliani, they all had an immense influence on 20th-century art. Very closely linked to this core of the School of Paris, and aesthetically close to them, were the artists Nathan Altman, Robert Falk, David Shterenberg and Alexander Tyshler, who had lived and worked in Paris but spent most of their lives in the Soviet Union.Works by Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson and Lucian Freud occupy a special place in this first part of the Museum, and any collection of modern art would be incomplete without them.
The second part of MAGMA consists of a quite unique collection of works by artists who were born and shaped in the Soviet Union. Various names are applied to their art: Non-conformism, Underground Art or the Second Russian Avant-garde. The Museum has works by artists who were known as the ‘Sixties’ (from the Soviet 1960s) – Vladimir Weisberg, Oskar Rabin, Vladimir Yakovlev, Eduard Steinberg, Dmitry Lion and Vladimir Yankilevsky – and also by artists of the 1970s: Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Viktor Pivovarov and Grisha Bruskin. It was in particular the efforts of Non-conformist artists that broke down the Iron Curtain, which throughout the entire Soviet period had cut art in Russia off from artistic processes around the world. Of particular note is the Museum’s range of works by Mikhail Shvartsman; it is the most important collection of paintings and drawings by this artist.
Few museums or private collections can boast of such an assembly of Erik Bulatov’s works. His picture Horizon, from 1971, which has become a very important milestone in the history of unofficial Russian art, occupies a place of honour in this collection of rare quality and significance.