Konstantin Simun

I have made this Page for my friend, Konstantin Simun, with his permission, of course. I would like to have his voice heard in America,. He does not have e-mail, but if you would like to Write to Him, I'll be happy to print your messages and forward them.

Andy Zimm's Page
DeCordova Sculpture Park
Art Encyclopedia
Igor Fokin Sculpture Project

Recent Events in Kostya's Life

In August of 1998, he was issued a ticket for $300 by the town of Brookline, MA where he works at his home for having more than one square yard of trash in his back yard. He wrote a letter to the appropriate address given to him by the authorities stating that if a man has a leaky hose which he decides to repair, he cannot be required to throw it away just because his neighbor would have thrown the same hose away. He said he was using this material every day for his work, that it therefore was not refuse, and that the ticket therefore was not valid, since it explicitly mentioned refuse. Furthermore, his sculpture at the DeCordoba museum made of similar materials had often been advertized as a statement against pollution, and here he was fined $300 for polluting. He was not granted a hearing, but was rather fined an additional $300 within the week, and then another $300 a few days after that again. He mentioned his desperate straits to one of his friends, who took the 'make lemonade' approach to life and told him she would gladly pay thousands for the honor of having been issued such tickets. She called the local television station who came out and interviewed him on the theme 'Trash or Treasure': 10/1/98, 11:00 pm, channel 5 news, Boston!

The summer of 1999, he was invited to participate in a travelling exhibit "Russia in World War II". He contributed a version of his Zhukov sculpture pictured below. The sculpture offended one of the Russian generals who apparently revered Commander Zhukov, and the general personally removed Kostya's sculpture from the exhibit. Appeals to the American financier of the exhibit were to no avail. He was reimbursed for travel, food and lodgings, but not for anything else.

He has been commissioned as primary sculptor for Russia's Arts Center being built in commemoration of the 3rd millennium ­ the New Aurora.

In 2001 he was commissioned to do a piece in honor of Igor Fokin, who passed away and who ran a well-loved puppet theater on Harvard Square. The work is of one of his puppets, a little elephant in bronze playing his snout like a horn and sitting on one of the granite columns on Harvard Square.

Konstantin is one of Russia's foremost sculptors. He has works on permanent exhibit in places like the Russian Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery.

When asked why he became an artist: I heard Churchill said that every man should be either a politician or an artist... And I'm a little weak on the politics, so...

I'm a sculptor. I specialize in proportions.

He was also commissioned to do the official memorial to the Leningrad Blockade, 'The Broken Ring', which now stands on the shores of lake Ladoga. Konstantin himself was in St. Petersburg as a young boy during most of the Blockade.

Broken Ring

On putting to rest my fears about making a living: I never saw anyone starve to death. Have you? But then I was in Leningrad only during part of the Blockade...

He was born in St. Petersburg in 1934 and lives now in the Boston area. One of his best known American works, 'Totem America' stands on exhibit at the DeCordoba Museum in Lincoln, MA.

Totem America

Konstantin: That lady said my work wasn't aesthetic. I wanted to tell her the story of David.
Margaret: What do you mean?
Konstantin: Well, when King David got back from the war, there was dancing in the streets, and he stripped down and started to dance naked with the people. His wife saw him from the window... you know the one he stole... and she didn't like it. She said it wasn't becoming of a king. And he said, "I'm not dancing for the people. I'm dancing before my God."

On Sculptures Made from Trash: The thing that amazes me most about these sculptures is that they're made from nothing. Do you understand? Not just from nothing, but from Nothing.

You can see that even the ancient Greek urns live in them. All of history lives in them. And they are American. When you do the same thing with Japanese bottles they come out different. The faces are Japanese.

I used to think granite was the most eternal material. Now I think it's polyethylene.

Konstantin reached some acclaim already in his teens. So in spite of being a Jew under the Stalin regime, he was accepted to The Academy of Arts in St. Petersbug, Russia's finest.

You know, I'm a Jew, and Jews aren't allowed to do sculpture. But I didn't do these bottles. They just are there. And that's true of any real sculpture. It just is there. So the prohibition on graven images just means that you must listen always, and write the words you hear rather than your own.

Eating a ham sandwich: I'm not strictly kosher, but I try not to eat pork.

The tundra is full of Jews. I'm the only one who went South. But I'm going to go back to the tundra soon, because that's where they pay you... not much, but thay pay.

But he was thrown out before he graduated for 'consistently refusing to fulfill the (Socialist Realist) course requirements'.


Konstantin (again concerning my fears of making a living):
You'll be taken care of. You'll be fine. When I was little, my mother worked and my father worked every day. They brought in some measley little checks that paid for the heat and the potatoes. That's what I was used to. And then I was thrown out of the institute. And I didn't know where my money for the month would come from. Such terror overcame me. That happened in a place where everybody knew where their next paycheck was coming from. Everyone knew except for me. It wasn't like America where your neighbor invested in real estate, and your cousin opened a business... And then I gradually got used to it.

After he left the Institute, he lost three of his fingers in an accident:


Margaret (during a divorce): I just don't quite see how the future can be... 'Today's Tuesday. You can't see your children.'
Konstantin: When I was young, I wanted to be a sculptor. I wish you could imagine how I wanted this. And then my fingers got cut off. And I thought, 'What now? How can I be a sculptor with no fingers?' But there are no mistakes. God has an idea with all things.

But he continued working as a sculptor and eventually became very well known and respected in his homeland. However, his son, who had emigrated to the States died suddenly, and he was forced to leave his life behind and move here to raise his granddaughter, whose mother was not in a position to care for her. In the process he went from riches to rags. He could no longer afford the marble, bronze or granite that he used to work with, so he started sculpting with whatever he could find on the street. I share some of his thoughts on his new homeland:

Margaret (Looking at his car... an old Cadillac heap): You didn't buy a car. You bought a sculpture.
Konstantin: Yes, America had a dream. Does it still have a dream?

I went out to get my car, and realized that it was blocked into the parking spot, and that the cars blocking it would be double parked there for awhile, because a church service across the street was just beginning. So I decided to go to church. Everyone there was black. But they came up and greeted me so warmly. Do you want to go to church with me?

Looking from a bridge down onto a freeway: American rivers flow in two directions.

Americans battle the natural life so hard, it's astounding... they even have natural food.

Konstantin: Have you heard about this thing with O.J. Simpson that was on the news yesterday?
Margaret: No. I don't listen to the news. He's a famous white quarterback.
Konstantin: Is that right?
Margaret: Yeah...
Konstantin: Oh... I see. Well, I have a very bad television. His statement is, "I am completely innocent." It's interesting to watch the form crucifixion takes in my new homeland. No matter how his wife died, we're all completely innocent.

In Boston's Anderson Park he pointed out a Japanese garden that had been done with great attention, but was now completely neglected and overgrown.
Konstantin: Do you see the intention behind it? So much love.
Margaret (Starting to pick up the trash): It makes me want to restore it.
Konstantin: See, there's the Puritan in you again. Do you doubt God? Do nothing.

I came out of a liquor store and there was a policeman standing on the corner. I was a little drunk. I walked up to him and said, "I'm so afraid of policemen." He held me very kindly, almost tenderly, by the shoulder and said, "Never be afraid again."

Some more English I like is "keep going". They came to shore, got off the ship and said, "Keep going." Then they went out under the pine trees to eat hamburgers.

And on the right relationship to children:

Walking home from a picnic, Rachel (my daughter) told Konstantin to put her on his shoulders, and all the way home she bounced up and down saying "Faster, Horsie. Faster."
Margaret: You can just put her down.
Konstantin: No I can't. She's stronger than I am.

I don't know why anybody thinks they have a right to tell children what to do. They're already fully mature. We should just change their diapers and pay attention.

All unbringing is negative.

One afternoon in the fall, he was lying on his back under the sun, and Rachel piled lots of leaves all over him. She later told me that it was the best day in her life. I told this to Konstantin.
Konstantin: Really! The best day in her life? Children say everything so unqualifiedly. It's more accurate. Tell her it was the best day in my life too.

Konstantin (As I'm strapping my son into the car): You don't need to put a seat belt on him. It doesn't protect his body. His mind protects his body... what you need to protect is his mind. It confuses his mind.
Margaret: But it's against the law.
Konstantin: I think there is no law but God's.

Konstantin: I have a very serious relationship with Rachel. I don't know what to do... probably I have to travel to Australia or something to deal with my passion.

And on the right relationship to work:

I worked on that sculpture every day for a year and a half. Sculpture in stone goes slowly. And I saw some truth walk out of the stone. I was in an ecstatic state for the entire year and a half. Do you understand? I didn't even think about women.

There's work and there's Work. God created us for Work.

I'm a sculptor, like a tailor.

Perhaps one day I will return to my earlier life and ask you to sit for me. But I am afraid of this. Because I know very well how to draw from nature, and I never lie. I always tell the truth when I draw. Otherwise I sometimes lie... no, even when it seems like I lie I don't lie.

Concerning Doubts about my Work: If you need to do it, then God has a purpose for it. And thinking that no one needs it is arrogance of such unbelievable proportions...

I think it was Cézanne who said that anyone who puts part of himself into his work puts in his own insignificance.

Margaret: I can't work. I've been lying on my back all day and staring out the window. It's not that I don't know what to do. I just can't do anything.
Konstantin: You just have to lie there. There's nothing to be done about those periods. In Leningrad I would some days go into the studio and not even enter the main room, just lie there on the couch.
Margaret: I feel like I just drank a glass of vodka. Maybe I should really drink a glass of vodka?
Konstantin: No, it's not your culture. I can drink a glass of vodka like a glass of water. But take a shot or two of vodka or cognac... better cognac. Under no circumstances take beer or wine.

I sat in the Jacuzzi and drank two beers. I guess I'm just a Jewish boy. I always need to work. That is to say, I was bored.

I was in one of those old folks homes, and saw those withered, insane people. There was a man there who assisted voluntarily. I think he is a saint, or perhaps one of God's angels. I could never have done it. I would have felt bored almost immediately.

Margaret: If you had a class in sculpture, how would you teach it?
Konstantin: I had a class in art once.
Margaret: What did you do?
Konstantin: I passed out paper and materials and told them to draw something. Actually, I regret I even told them that.

Konstantin: You live like Jonah. Before you know it, the waves will come, you'll have to jump ship, and you'll find yourself in the belly of a whale..... I had a huge project I was commissioned for. I spent every day on it for 7 years. It was a masterpiece... by far my biggest work. It took up the entire studio. And it was totally destroyed. Every last bit of it. It makes me feel strange even to think about it.
Margaret: It wasn't completely destroyed.
Konstantin: Dear friend... I know you say it because you know. Indeed it's not lost.
Margaret: What happened?
Konstantin: I can't talk about it.

Genius is just a word, like a smoke screen behind which you hide so you can do whatever you want. And as soon as you do whatever you want, finally, it is indeed genius, because you don't do it. Do you know what I'm referring to?

Genius is what you call other people to avoid the responsibility yourself.

An Elderly Gentleman in the Art Institute (shyly): I always worked with computers. This is my first sculpture. I'm a beginner.
Konstantin: I'm a beginner too, and this is my first sculpture...
Margaret (later): What do you mean this is your first sculpture?
Konstantin: You're either a beginner or you're dead. It's either your first sculpture or it's not sculpture at all.

And some thoughts on art:

Ball of Yarn

Margaret (On a picture of a chick my daughter, Rachel, drew him for his birthday): I had tried to draw a chick like hers and couldn't do it
Konstantin: Are you an idiot? Of course you can't do it.
Margaret: Can you?
Konstantin: Not in a hundred years, but I'm not stupid enough to try. There's a period of genius in early childhood and then it passes. We teach them how to draw badly.
Konstantin(Much Later): Dear friend... Not everyone is like you. Not everyone would try to draw a chick.

Rachel (eating an apple): "I want to make sculptures like you."
Konstantin: You just did make a sculpture.
Rachel: What do you mean?
Konstantin: Your apple.
Rachel: No, I mean a real sculpture.
Konstantin: That is a real sculpture. Being a sculptor means seeing the sculpture, not making it.

I've heard it said that all art is temperament.

Lord Byron said that poetry is morality.

Another very important realization I had by making sculptures is that form cannot fail to reflect content. This is very important. It's impossible to lie.

It's a mistake to say you like this sculpture but not that one. You can only either accept or reject, and it's more correct, of course, to accept.

Konstantin: You don't understand the difference between art and decoration.
Margaret: What's the difference?
Konstantin: A work of art is one Thing. And everything in the work has a very specific intention and is oriented toward this one Thing. Decoration is a bunch of little things all over.

Looking at the interior of an old Spanish church in a museum
What do you think?
Margaret: Jesus has sort of a stupid face.
Konstantin: So even you can be distracted by a stupid face. You must learn to look at the line, the combination of colors, the general intent.

Art is distinguished by the presence of air.

Margaret: I finally bought a car yesterday. But you wouldn't like it. It has no poetry.
Konstantin: What kind of car?
Margaret: A new Subaru station wagon.
Konstantin: What color?
Margaret: Red
Konstantin: Are you sure it has no poetry? Everything has poetry... So when will you visit me in your fire engine?

He often listens to classical music while he works, mostly Bach. He tells me there was a period when he listened all day every day to Casals playing the cello suites. Then it was the St. Matthew Passion.

Konstantin: ***!!!***!
Margaret: What?
Konstantin: There's no way around it.
Margaret: Around what?
Konstantin: I like German music.

Listen to this! All my life I've listened to Bach. But now I listen to Michael Jackson.

Why do we become tyrants? To drag energy and attention to ourselves. So Mozart was among the greatest of tyrants. He's still tyrannizing hundreds of years after his death.

She told me that she believed in fidelity in marriage, and I said, 'Well, surely if Mozart wanted to sleep with you, you wouldn't turn him down?' And she hesitated. This I can't understand.

And like a number of gentlemen I know, he has a soft spot for the fair sex:

Margaret: What was she like?
Konstantin: She had a high brow, eyes set fairly far apart. Hair pulled back. Her legs were fairly long in proportion to her body. Fine hands. She was perhaps bent over more than usual for her age. And she had good furniture.

Yes, I know that type of girl. She's intelligent, beautiful, graceful. She plays the violin beautifully, I have no doubt. Every man's dream is to get in bed with her. But she hasn't been destabilized by Cézanne in her life. I'm an old man. I've seen almost everything.

Margaret: She's a very beautiful woman...
Konstantin: (Interrupting) What woman isn't beautiful, I'd like to know? Have you ever seen one? If you do, rush over here to me and point her out carefully, because I've never seen a woman that isn't beautiful in all my 60 years. And I've been looking carefully, with a trained eye.

They made these models walk out naked, looked them over, and then they chose some of them for the class and asked others to leave. I'm against capital punishment, but they should have been shot for this.

Konstantin: I saw one of those American porno films.
Margaret: What did you think?
Konstantin: The whole thing was wrapped in celophane.

As she was leaving, he smacked a girl from a neighboring studio on the lips.
Konstantin: I'm afraid I offended her. You're American. Can you tell me what happened? Does it have to do with feminism?
Margaret: Maybe. But you feel it as well as I do.
Konstantin: In Russia it would be offensive not to let her know that I noticed she was a woman. She probably thinks I've not shown her respect?
Margaret: Perhaps.
Konstantin: I've never kissed a woman without meaning it, even when I was very drunk. I've never confused a woman with a washing machine.
Konstantin (later): She came by my studio today and asked me to come out in the courtyard with her. Snow had drifted over a large spool for wire and had formed a beautiful sculpture. I think she has forgiven me.

Margaret: You always walk two extra blocks to the other liquor store. Do they have a better selection?
Konstantin: (Giggling) There's a young black girl who works behind the counter there who told me I have beautiful eyes.

Konstantin: I hope your friend didn't mind me lifting her skirt to see what was there?
Margaret: She gave me the distinct impression that she was very glad to meet you.
Konstantin: I just didn't want her to forget her trip to America.
Margaret: Sometimes I think you test me to see how I'll react.
Konstantin: Maybe.

Thinking that woman and man are equal is the same as thinking one is better than the other. The point is that woman Is and man Is.

Margaret: When I was little, I used to think that girls started being pretty only in my generation, because everybody who was older didn't look so pretty.
Konstantin (Laughing): No, they were pretty then too.

And like a number of Russians I know, he has a soft spot for vodka:

Let's not talk about what I like in you. That's boring. Let's talk about what I don't like. I don't like in you the presence of the foreigner. For example, you don't drink vodka. And when you do, you don't do it right.

You should learn to drink. It's an ancient tradition. Do you understand Dionysces?

Bach drank.

Margaret: His mother died a few years ago.
Konstantin: Really. Of what?
Margaret: From drinking.
Konstantin: Really! That speaks very well for him. I had no idea.

I visited my mother in the hospital. She's barely living in the world. My sister was there. She said, "Mama, Kopa drinks vodka." Mama said, "Let him drink." My sister said, "Well, maybe he should drink less." Mama replied, "Let him drink as much as he wants."

Do you have any weaknesses? Oh, yes. You eat chocolate. I'll buy you some chocolate. One has to give in to one's weaknesses.

Everybody is always hiding the vodka bottle from me. I may be 60 years old, but I'm still in day care.

Who's to compare? You can't compare your son or Beethoven or the stars that shine. But you can compare beer.

And I conclude with some of his general thoughts on life:

I consent. I consent to life. I've laid down almost all my weapons. God could come any day.

Margaret: What are your plans?
Konstantin: Plans? I grew up surrounded by plans. The five-year plan, the two year plan... there were plans for the day also. Now I've come to the world of schedules and life insurance. I have grown up in the midst of two great empires. Apparently little kingdoms won't do for me. I need an empire from sea to shining sea.

Margaret: He told me to take the acknowledgements out of my paper and preferably burn them.
Konstantin: I think he felt nakedness. He wants to put on his tie and drive to work every day in a reasonably good car and return home and eat a warm meal. He doesn't like anything that reminds him of anything.
Margaret: It's really like that?
Konstantin: You just have to keep walking. I heard of a man who was once exiled to Siberia. In those days you had to walk there when you were exiled. And his wife accompanied him. At some point she said, "Husband, husband... How far are you going to walk?" And he said, "Until the very end."

Margaret: What time is it?
Konstantin: I don't think even God knows. And I certainly don't.

You say such good things about me. And they're true. I guess I'm human... And to think that God remembers even better than you.

Do you know how it's sometimes hard to tell what is and what isn't? Like that chair... Is it or isn't it?

I was walking along the water in Leningrad, and I realized that there are no mistakes. It's impossible that there be any mistakes. This was a very important realization for me.

Everything is ability to feel. There is nothing else.

You know how Achilles told Agamemnon to go to hell with his women and his gold. The Iliad really begins when a man says "no", when a man turns down something that he wants.

Konstantin: You're really going to post your Web Page?
Margaret: It's not my Web Page. The words are yours.
Konstantin: Well, what does it mean to be mine or yours anyway? What I mean is that you didn't make the grasses and reeds in that vase there. But you've brought them into your space and not something else.

Konstantin (over the phone to a friend): There's no other life, so I guess you just have to say this one is marvellous... Yeah, but when your shoe gives you blisters, you can just throw it out... Actually I've started washing my own socks lately. You have to wash them inside and out, and then you can go on living for 3 more days... Yeah, nice meeting you in the ether.

I do hope God knows what He's doing.

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