DOM publishers have added 2 new titles to their already considerable catalog of books on architecture in the post-Soviet space. Both deal with Tbilisi, a city currently in the international spotlight, and one that never ceases to eat its own history.
With the advent of mass tourism and Tbilisi’s new attitude vis-a-vis foreign passports and foreign investment, the city has entered another new phase in its existence, one that poses new challenges, in the form of gentrification and large-scale bulldozing, as well as opportunities, with a renewed appreciation for the structures and monumental art that give Tbilisi its historic flair.
Art for Architecture Georgia: Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990
Since a few years, Soviet mosaics are in the spotlight: books, websites and photo reportages have started to document the disappearing monumental art of the postwar Soviet Union, and plans are in the works for the first museum of rescued Soviet mosaics in Almaty.
Art for Architecture Georgia: Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990 by Nina Palavandishvili and Lena Prents fits into this trend, by taking a look at the monumental mosaics created by Georgia’s artists, not only in Tbilisi, but across the country, with some of the best-looking examples in unlikely locations such as Ortachala and Zestaponi.
The book is the first attempt to catalogue the wealth of mosaics in Georgia, including Abkhazia’s bus stops, with hundreds of pictures of mosaics in their current state, as well archival images of those that have already disappeared into the dust.
Art for Architecture Georgia starts with an overview of the Soviet system of commissioning wall art for architecture, its rise and demise between the 1960s and 1990s, the different techniques, symbols and iconography used and the artists responsible for Georgia’s most important mosaics. Immediately striking is the enormous weight of Zurab Tsereteli, Georgia’s foremost monumental artist.
The main part of the book consists of pictures of the mosaics, with their location, creator, and a small explainer. The book ends with a lament for all the mosaics that have been lost, and a plea to preserve what is left of this heritage.
Who is it for? Obviously, as the first and only catalogue of mosaics in Georgia, Palavandishvili and Prents have created an indispensable resource for architecture researchers and writers. Anyone with an interest in the work of Tsereteli should pick this up as well.
Published in A5 paperback format, it does not work well as a coffee table book, though. This is a visual catalogue rather than a visual candybar.
Finally, this book will perhaps be most enjoyed by tourists and residents with a penchant for art or Soviet history who enjoy poking around the hidden corners, looking to get to know Georgia beyond the guidebook. With its pocketbook size and multitude of pictures, it is the perfect excuse to finally book a trip to Zestaponi, or wander for hours through Tbilisi’s suburbia, looking for a burst of colour ignored by all passersby.
We know we will be taking this book along on every future trip to Georgia.
Hybrid Tbilisi: Reflections on architecture in Georgia
Hybrid Tbilisi: Reflections on architecture in Georgia, edited by Irina Kurtishvili and Peter Cachola Schmal, combines a number of essays written for the Hybrid Tbilisi exhibition with art photographs from Erik-Jan Ouwekerk.
Like Tbilisi’s architecture itself, Hybrid Tbilisi veers in all directions. It discusses the history of Tbilisi’s urban planning in one essay and modern architectural eye-catchers in another. Interviews with German architects who recently built in Tbilisi are followed by an introduction to the work of the next generation of Georgian architects. Exemplary apartments of different time periods in the city’s history are scrutinized by Irina Kurtishvili.
Both the writing and the photographs conform to the style prevalent in contemporary art, most visibly when Joanna Warsza reflects on the politics of architecture extensions at the Kamikaze Loggia on the Venice Biennale.
What comes forward explicitly from reading the book is urban Tbilisi’s makeshift nature, as well as its continuous renewal as a city that, according to Lasha Bakradze, has been destroyed and burnt to the ground more than 20 times in its 1500-year history.
The current hodgepodge of architectural styles is thus not a bug, but a feature of Tbilisi’s position as a bridgehead for (rather than a crossroads between) different cultures, climates, economies and political systems.
Finally, who is this book for? Architects building in Tbilisi. Museum curators. If you are not specifically engaged with urbanism in Tbilisi, only get this book if you tend to casually drop words like “artificial topography” or “morphological uniformity” into your conversation – in which case you are likely an architect or museum curator anyway.