St Petersburg’s most unassuming courtyards sometimes hide treasures, at least sights so surprising that the mere shock makes them attractive. The historical centre usually features high-quality art, whilst more DIY forms of creativity tend to be smaller (with some exceptions).
So, turning into a courtyard next to the Summer Garden, I only expected to photograph a bomb shelter. The “mosaic yard” – actually several parts of a large courtyard – stunned me with the amount of tessellated artworks and their sheer out-of-nowhere bombast.
Artist Vladimir Lubenko (Lubo) had a workshop there, and started decorating the yard in 1984, when he was assigned to head a local youth centre under the Russian Museum, Vulkan. It’s since been renamed Junior Academy of Arts.
The courtyard is a cultural institution too, “Interactive open-air museum and monumental plastic arts centre St Petersburg cultural Olympus”. Some of the pieces depict the garden of Paradise, birds’ universe, Atlantes, Aphrodite, Samsara. The Russian phrase “Glory to the heroes of truth and beauty, hello life, one going into love greets you” is built into one of the mosaics, and even the playground slide is decorated. Repairs and upgrades are constant; a fountain was unveiled in late 2016.
Some commentators compared the place to Antoni Gaudí (who also used ceramics), but Gaudí was a devoted Catholic whereas Lubenko’s work reflects his syncretic “System of pivotal truth” based on Russia’s supremacy. I also think it’s a little kitschy (not that it’s a bad thing).