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Alexander Benois discovered

BU Grad Curates BPL Exhibition

Anna Winestein shows some work of Alexander Benois in an exhibit at the BPL. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Anna Winestein wasn’t looking for dusty boxes filled with nearly forgotten treasures. But there they were, waiting to be found.

Preparing to write a conference paper on fin-de-siècle Russian artist Valentin Serov in January 2003, Winestein (CAS’04, CFA’04, GRS’05) searched the Boston Public Library’s catalog for information on Alexandre Benois, a respected critic and artist of the same era and origin.

“I typed Benois’s name into the BPL catalog search window,” she recalls, “and it came up with some books. I was just looking through, and then I saw this entry: ‘10 boxes, manuscript materials.’ My jaw dropped.”

Winestein explored the BPL’s Benois collection for more than a year, between preparing and presenting papers and earning dual bachelor’s degrees, in painting and in art history. The collection, acquired in 1985 from the Benois family, represents an extraordinary cross-section of his work.

“Benois is best known for his [costume and set] designs, especially for ballet productions at the Ballets Russes in Paris,” says Winestein. “This collection includes his designs, but also drawings, manuscripts, books from his library with his scribbles in the margins, and his resource files — photographs and things he cut out from magazines — that he used in preparing his designs.”

In May 2004, Winestein suggested to Roberta Zhongi, the BPL’s keeper of rare books, that the library exhibit the works. Zhongi agreed and asked her to be the exhibition’s guest curator. Winestein couldn’t pass up the chance.

About a week later, however, she received another irresistible offer: a Fulbright Foreign Government Grant allowing her to travel to Switzerland that July to spend a year researching cultural economics and museum policy. “I was already planning on attending Oxford in the fall,” she says, to begin a doctorate in art history. Deferring enrollment for a year, she decided to juggle the BPL exhibition and her Fulbright-sponsored studies and hope for the best.

She did as much for the exhibition as she could while still in Boston — planning content, acquiring pieces to round out the BPL’s collection, and securing funding. Once in Zurich, she spent her spare time writing the exhibition’s 100-page catalog, consulting digital representations of Benois’s work. Winestein admits she was overwhelmed, but in the end, she’s pleased with the work she’s done. The result, titled Dreamer and Showman: The Magical Reality of Benois, opens on Monday and runs until February 28, 2006.

Keeping busy is nothing new for Winestein. Her family left the Soviet Union when she was nine. Going to high school at BU Academy, she found a socially inclusive environment peopled by other highly ambitious students, a welcome relief from the alienation she, as an immigrant, had experienced at previous schools. She took classes at the University, had her drawings featured in American Artist magazine, and participated in several juried and solo art shows in New York and Boston. A year after earning her bachelor’s degrees, she received a master’s in economics.

Benois, Winestein says, has inspired her with his own dedication to very different disciplines. “As a scholar and as an artist, I am fascinated by his diversity, by the fact that he did so many different things and all of them very well. He is my role model in that sense.” Through curating the exhibition, she says, “I’ve learned an enormous amount about him, and I’ve really thought through some things I knew before but hadn’t put together to form a whole. It’s a bit like progressing from a preliminary sketch of him to a finished portrait.”