David Goberman (1912—2003), outstanding artist and remarkable art critic, was the youngest son in the great family of the Russian avant-garde. His biography is almost a “classic” one. He studied in a cheder and at the Academy of Arts. A student of Nikolay Tyrsa, a friend of Natan Altman and Anatoliy Kaplan, Goberman spiritually belonged to the early 1930s, when Russian art was still trying to remain a part of All-European art life.

Since his student years Goberman became interested in vernacular art that formed part of his teachers’ creed. But he took it up professionally only in the late 1940s, when the official Soviet art forbid, destroyed and trampled upon everything that was true and alive. At that time vernacular art became for artists what literary translation became for poets. Goberman collected, studied, published and popularized vernacular art and architecture of Moldova and the Ukrainian Carpathians. Suffice it to say that he was the first one to thoroughly study and popularize the Kosiv ceramics, a true gem of the Ukrainian vernacular art.

Since the 1950s David Goberman photographed carved tombstones on the old Jewish cemeteries while travelling across Ukraine and Moldova. He captured thousands of monuments most of which were later destroyed. That’s how he described it:

“While studying vernacular art of Ukraine and Moldova, I found myself in an area with high concentration of remarkable monuments of Jewish art. Enthusiastically I captured in sketches and photographs these reliefs and their unique plasticity of forms. Thus I have obtained extremely valuable material on tombstones which had withstood the war but later were barbarously destroyed by the regime possessed with hatred towards human religious and moral sense. I grew fond of these cemeteries. Equipped with camera, I dodged between tombstones. I was watching the sun movement, patiently waiting for its vivifying ray to touch a relief or rushing to already lit carved images. It seemed that each of them was coming out of non-existence and that aroused excitement of a discovery”.(D. Goberman. Artist on himself. St. Petersburg, Litera, 1998.)

Goberman is standing at the beginnings of studies on Jewish carved tombstones. But his perception of these monuments was first of all an artist’s perception. He never stopped rejoicing at vernacular masters’ works. For him tombstones were subject not only to scientific, but also to artistic cognition. In this sense, Goberman inherited traditions of N. Altman, L. Lissitzky, I.-D. Rybak, S. Yudovin. Among his graphic works based on tombstone reliefs there’s a special group dedicated to carved tombstones from old cemeteries.

Goberman’s photographs are not merely photographic recordings of monuments, most of which nowadays are gone, but original and important pieces of art. Goberman not only printed, but also retouched every single picture he made. Essentially, it is an original print that should be considered a finished one. Nowadays, Goberman’s photo archive dedicated to Jewish tombstones is located at the Centre “Petersburg Judaica”. It holds several thousands of photographs from the 1950s and 1960s.

Tombstone photographs were published in four albums. In 2000 a large exhibition of Goberman’s works named Carved Memories was presented at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Nevertheless, St. Petersburg audience is yet not well acquainted with this kind of vernacular art as well as with the artist that captured it.

In 2012 the Centre “Petersburg Judaica” held a series of exhibitions dedicated to the artist’s 100th anniversary, which cover different aspects of David Goberman’s artistic heritage. An exhibition presented at ROSPHOTO is an important part of this programme.

Valeriy Dymshits

Venue: House of Cinema. Karavannaya str., 12