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French Artist Sets Moscow Landmark on Fire

Published: May 26, 2014 (Issue # 1812)



  • A view of the interior of the Melnikov House, a constructivist landmark known for its iconic hexagonal windows.
    Photo: Vladimir Filonov / SPT

  • A model of the Melnikov House was set ablaze by artist Xavier Veilhan.
    Photo: Kevin O’Flynn / For SPT

The Melnikov House burned bright on the warm May evening. Through its iconic hexagonal windows, the flames could be seen growing stronger and stronger. Smoke rose into the sky and as the temperature inside the house soared, the walls began to visibly warp.

Yekaterina Karinskaya, the granddaughter of architect Konstantin Melnikov, who built the avant-garde house in the 1920s, stood close by chewing calmly on some pork that had been cooked with the heat of the burning building.

This was not the actual house consisting of two intersecting cylindrical towers that Melnikov built as a combined home and studio, but a 1.5-meter-high metal model of it created by French artist Xavier Veilhan for a one-off performance.

A small group of people were invited to the garden of the real Melnikov House, located on a small side street off Arbat in central Moscow, to watch the miniature house burn in an event that even Veilhan described as strange.

The immolation was part of his "Architectones" series, which has seen him install specially created art in iconic modern buildings and help them raise money for their restoration or renovation.

The artist has gained access to grand, classic houses in Los Angeles — including the Sheats-Goldstein House, which featured in the movies "The Big Lebowski" and "Charlie's Angels" — as well as to Le Corbusier's modernist Cite Radieuse in Marseille and even to a church, the Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay in Nevers, France.

Burning the Melnikov House in its garden was the most difficult project to bring about, however.

"It was easier to make something in a church than in here," he said.

Karinskaya stood at the gate of her unusual home to greet guests as they arrived for the evening event. Asked what was going to happen, she shrugged with a look of incomprehension on her face.

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A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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