Zurab Tsereteli was born in Tbilisi on the 4th of January, 1934. As a child he took a great interest in drawing and painting, encouraged by his uncle – the artist Giorgi Nizharadze. Following this passion, after school, in 1952, he enrolled in the Painting Department of the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, graduating in 1958, the year of his marriage to Inessa Andronikashvili.
In 1960-1963, Tsereteli worked as a staff artist at the Institute of History, Ethnography and Archaeology of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, travelling all over the republic as part of research expeditions, discovering its ancient monuments, its folk-art tradition and its rich material culture. Expanding the range of his creative possibilities, Tsereteli then took a position as a senior master at the industrial combine of the USSR’s Arts Foundation in Tbilisi. There, he began experimenting with such media as bronze, stone, glass, wood and mosaics, working on group commissions for public buildings – in a few years, he became the head of a production facility of this institution.
In 1964, the artist made his first foreign trip, to France, at the invitation of his wife’s uncle and aunt. He stayed in Paris for three months, took creative thinking classes and paid a visit to Pablo Picasso at his studio. That experience was crucial for Tsereteli, as it changed his understanding of what it was to be an artist. He was greatly impressed by Picasso’s working methods: the virtuoso interplay of skill and imagination, and free, unimpeded shifting from painting and drawing to ceramics and bronze sculpture. During a subsequent trip to the city, he would also become acquainted with Marc Chagall, taking inspiration from the child-like immediacy of his poetic dreamscapes in painting and stained-glass.
After his return home, Tsereteli’s career took a new turn when he became the chief designer of Soviet resort complexes on the Black Sea, notably in Pitsunda (1967) and Adler (1972). In these large-scale works he got an opportunity to fulfil his ideas of combining monumental sculpture, architectural scenery and vivid three-dimensional mosaic compositions with natural and symbolic motifs. These works were admired by David Alfaro Siqueiros, who flew from Mexico and visited the artist in 1972-1973. After the project in Pitsunda in 1967, Zurab Tsereteli was awarded the title of the Honored Artist of Georgia.
In the 1970s, the artist continued to carry out numerous important public projects in Tbilisi, Ulyanovsk, Yalta and other cities. Each time, he strived to create an exciting synthesis of media, including mosaics, stained glass, copper and bronze sculpture. Always exploring and looking for innovative ways to treat the material, he developed a unique method of crafting monumental cloisonné enamels, reconceiving this traditionally compact technique as a monumental art form. Significantly, in this period Tsereteli designed several Soviet embassies and consulates all around the world, in Brazil, Portugal, Japan and other countries. While working in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, he became friends with the visionary architect Oscar Niemeyer.
In 1978-1979, Zurab Tsereteli was invited to the United States to teach painting as a visiting professor at the College at Brockport, State University of New York. His stay there is noted by two remarkable public sculptures that he donated to the College on behalf of the people of the USSR: “Prometheus” (“Light and Knowledge to the World”), installed in front of the Allen Administration Building, and “Joy and Happiness to All the Children of the World”, next to the Drake Memorial Library. One of the artist’s most important works in the Western hemisphere, “Joy and Happiness…” was created in collaboration with the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in honor of the Special Olympics, which took place in Brockport in 1979. Zurab Tsereteli is an honorary professor of the College at Brockport.
Back in the USSR, Tsereteli was appointed the chief designer of the XXII Summer Olympic Games in Moscow (1980). The same year, he completed his ambitious copper relief frieze “A Hymn to Man” that crowns the Concert and Cinema hall of the Izmailovo Hotel Complex, constructed especially for the Olympics, and received the Order of the “Friendship of the Peoples”. In 1981, the artist became a professor of his alma mater, the Tbilisi Academy of Arts.
In 1983, he created the large-scale “Friendship Forever” monument on Moscow’s Tishinskaya Square (1983), dedicated to the historical bonds of good fellowship between Russia and Georgia. The architectural part of this monument was designed by the famous poet Andrey Voznesensky, a professional architect by training. In his hometown, Tsereteli initiates work on two important long-term projects: the monument to Saint Nina (1988-1994) – Georgia’s holy patroness – and the “History of Georgia” complex (1985-up to now). The busy decade culminated in two prestigious international commissions. In 1988, the year the artist was elected an Academician of the USSR Academy of Arts, his sculptural composition “Break the Wall of Distrust” was installed in London on Cannon Street. Two years later, the “Good Defeats Evil” sculptural group, which reimagines the feat of Saint George slaying the dragon as an allegory of world peace in the modern age, was unveiled on the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters.
In the new post-Soviet Russia Zurab Tsereteli continued to work on ambitious public commissions in Moscow, collaborating with big creative and technical teams. These projects were diverse in social functions and the artistic challenges they posed. He was the main designer of the War Memorial Complex on Poklonnaya Hill, the construction of which had been launched in the late 1980s and finished in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Victory in the Second World War. He designed the “Okhotny ryad” shopping and recreation center, with its promenade, on Manezhnaya Square next to the Kremlin (1993-1997). He was the chief artist in the rebuilding project of the Christ the Savior Cathedral (1994-1999), the most important house of worship of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1996-1997, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Russian Navy, the artist created the 98-meter-tall monument to Peter the Great on the Moskva River. Also, in the same year, he contributed to the reconstruction of the Moscow Zoo.
In 1995, the 43,5-meter-tall sculptural monument entitled “The Birth of the New Man” was inaugurated in Seville, Spain: it celebrated the European discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. The following year, another Andalusian city – Marbella – received the artist’s public monument, entitled “La Victoria”.
In 1997, Zurab Tsereteli was elected the President of the Russian Academy of Arts. Two years before, he established the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, which would officially open its doors in 1999 as the first state museum in the country entirely dedicated to modern and contemporary art. In autumn 1998, his first solo exhibition opened in Moscow at the New Manege and was dedicated to the memory of his beloved wife Inessa. It was the starting point of numerous travelling shows of his works – paintings, drawings, bronzes, enamels – that would follow in 2000s-2010s in many cities in Russia, and internationally, in Georgia, Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Bulgaria, Turkey, Spain, Italy, France, the USA, Australia, China and Japan.
In 2006, Zurab Tsereteli unveiled his 30-meter-tall sculptural monument “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism”, or “The Tear of Grief”, in Bayonne, New Jersey. It was donated to the United States as an official gift of Russia in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and in solidarity with the American people.
In 2007, the artist became the UNESCO Ambassador of Good Will. In 2009-2010, he was elected a Member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (Austria), honored with a title of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the government of France, and a 1st Rank Order “For Services to Motherland” by the Russian government (in 2014 he became the Full Cavalier of this Order, having been previously awarded all of its ranks). In 2011, he received two awards from the Roman Academy of Fine Arts: the Prize “For Life in Art” and the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award for significant contribution to the arts. In 2014, the artist received the UNESCO Five Continents Medal for his contribution to the world culture. A year later, he was elected a Member of the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts.
For Tsereteli, the period of 2000s-2010s has been very eventful in the sphere of public commissions. In 2000, two of his busts – of Yuri Gagarin and Leo Tolstoy – embellished the squares of Montevideo. His memorial “Holocaust” composition was donated by Russia to Israel and opened in Jerusalem in 2005. Among his sculptural monuments are those of writers Nikolai Gogol in Rome’s Villa Borghese park (2002), Honoré de Balzac in Agde (2003) and Marina Tsvetaeva in St. Gilles Croix De Vie (2012). In the same year, the “Founding Fathers of the European Union” sculptural group was installed in Scy-Chazelles (Lorraine, France). Two years after, the monument to Pope John Paul II was placed next to the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral facing the Seine.
In the Italian town of Morciano di Romagna, Zurab Tsereteli’s sculptural composition “Clowns” was installed in 2014. As an impressive counterpart to the 1995 “Birth of the New Man” in Seville, the 126-meter-tall “Birth of the New World” was completed by the artist in 2016 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Most recently, in 2017-2018, his monuments to Alexander Pushkin, Rudolf Nureyev and Alexander Solzhenitsyn were unveiled in Apatity, Kazan and Kislovodsk.
In 2001, the Gallery of Arts of Zurab Tsereteli was opened in Moscow as part of the Museum and Exhibitions Complex of the Russian Academy of Arts. He founded the Museum of Modern Art in Tbilisi (2012), which organizes regular exhibitions by Georgian and international artists. Zurab Tsereteli continues his active service as the President of the Russian Academy of Arts and the founding Director of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. He works tirelessly, always experimenting as an artist, producing many new works in painting and graphic media, bronze and enamel, tapestry and stained-glass, print and ceramics, while channeling his energies into philanthropy, education and public awareness of the visual arts.