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Newly acquired children's book illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky now on view at Zimmerli
Vladimir Radunsky, "Friday Afternoon" (Grandma and crossing guard), illustration from the book Because..., published 2007. Gouache illustrations, Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund. Image Courtesy Eugenia Radunsky.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.- For more than 30 years, artist Vladimir Radunsky created children’s books, combining creative narration, innovative design, and pervasive wit. The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers spotlights his career in A Celebration of the Children’s Books of Vladimir Radunsky, on view through March 8, 2020. With support from the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, the exhibition features recently acquired artwork for two of the books, Because . . . and Discovery; while illustrations from The Mighty Asparagus and Mother Goose of Pudding Lane are on loan from the collection of Eugenia Radunsky, the artist’s wife. More than 50 original gouache, photo collage, and paper collage illustrations are on public view for the first time and include bilingual labels, in English and Spanish. On November 23, Chris Raschka reads from and discusses the creation of Mother Goose of Pudding Lane, which he authored and Radunsky illustrated. Additional programs for early 2020 will be announced.

“Radunsky’s work provides a bridge that connects the Zimmerli’s diverse holdings,” said Nicole Simpson, the Zimmerli’s Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized the exhibition, with Julia Tulovsky, Curator of Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art. “His work enriches and complements not only our existing collection of illustrations for children’s literature, but also the George Riabov Collection of Russian Art and the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union.”

Raised in Moscow, where he attended the Moscow School of Architecture and also studied art and design, Vladimir Radunsky (1954–2018) moved to New York in 1982 and began his career as a book designer. He soon discovered the world of children's publishing and launched his career as an illustrator for books both self-authored and in collaboration with notable figures, designing every visual detail from cover to cover. The four books on view demonstrate the incredible breadth of Radunsky’s talents, which includes more than 30 publications, with inspiring stories that encourage readers to reflect on the past, while imagining the possibilities of their own futures.

With his own writings, Radunsky invented new stories and drew upon favorites from his childhood. The Mighty Asparagus (2004) is a reimagining of a famous Russian folktale, combined with the culture of his adopted homeland, Italy, where he moved in 2001. In this retelling of a story about finding help from unexpected partners, Radunsky mischievously adapted famous Italian paintings. He transformed historical figures into humorous characters to amuse children, while introducing them to the wonders of Renaissance art.

For two of his collaborations, he joined with friends who also had left the Soviet Union to pursue creative interests and became major figures in the Russian expatriate community. An ode to the United States, Discovery (1999) features Radunsky’s expressionist forms, which allow for a sense of visual discovery, complementing Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky’s text that encourages young readers to seek out their own American experience. In Because . . . (2007), world-renowned dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov tells a story of radical self-acceptance that encourages all of us to share our unique talents with the world. Zimmerli director Thomas Sokolowski added, “Radunsky’s joyful portraits show us how: people and animals dance, soar, and glide effortlessly across the pages.”

Radunsky’s longest creative partnership was with two-time Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka. Their final book, Mother Goose of Pudding Lane, published in September of 2019 (a year after Radusnky’s passing), is a testament to their shared devotion to children’s literature through a unique look into the life of this beloved figure. Raschka reveals the story of Elizabeth Foster, whose nursery rhymes and riddles were first published during the 17th century at Pudding Lane in Boston. Radunsky’s portraits of Foster, her husband Isaac Goose, and their many children, as well as Mother Goose characters, are placed against brightly colored backgrounds, bringing the whimsical personalities of these figures to life for readers.

In addition to the exhibition, copies of his books are available in the family-oriented Duvoisin Gallery for visitors to read, along with hands-on activities. The space is named in honor of Roger Duvoisin, the acclaimed illustrator of more than 140 books, who lived and worked in New Jersey for nearly five decades. Showcasing original children’s book illustrations, exhibitions in the Duvoisin Gallery provide not only memorable and delightful pictures of childhood, but also educate audiences about the craft of book illustration and emphasize the important, early exposure to visual literacy that children gain through picture books.

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