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Culture news, 21.07.2006 16:30

Soviet summer

soviet_epoch By Andrei Vorobei

Staff Writer

This is the most Soviet summer in the city since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in more ways than one.

A remarkable exhibition of Soviet art is showing at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts Museum which follows other such shows that are already running at various venues of the State Russian Museum. “The Soviet Epoch of the 1920s-50s” is drawn from the museum’s holdings and the private collection of the Italian cultural attachÎ in St Petersburg, Francesco Begacci, and many of the exhibits are on display for the first time.

The new show, unlike the Russian Museum’s “Times of Change: Soviet Art 1960-85” the “Essence of Life / Essence of Art” show that was dedicated to the Eastern European underground and post-Soviet art and a newly-opened retrospective of the outstanding Russian-Soviet avant-garde artist Pavel Filonov, offers a comprehensive review of the visual legacy of the Soviet era.

“The Soviet Epoch of the 1920s-50s” is comprised of largely unseen diploma works by students of the Academy of Arts and covers the time of the transition from the Russian avant-garde to Socialist Realism, and how these movements shaped the educational paradigm within the institution. As a measure of the epoch, the Academy of Arts changed its name and principles seven times between 1918 and 1934.

In the Raphael Hall, one of the two chronologically divided exhibition spaces, students’ works from the 1920s share the modernist language of the time, and the main point of interest is work by students of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, a prominent avant-garde artist and theorist.

In the Titian Hall, there is work that has nothing in common with such formal searching and experiments; there are only works following the healthy and clear principles of state-mandated Socialist Realism, of which the prevalent visual motif is the “teacher and his pupils,” whether it is at a school or a factory. This is derived from the sole prototype of Stalin and the Soviet people.

Numerous prosperous and happy kolkhozniki (collective farm workers), stakhanovzi (Stakhanovites), udarniki (shock workers), and carefree pioneers, attending all sorts of unanimous meetings and festive orgies in sunny environments naively compete with another mythology — the painted and sculptured ancient heroes and gods from the rich permanent collection of the oldest educational art institution in Russia.

The artist Isaac Brodsky (1883-1939) is the second key character in the show. The favored pupil of Ilya Repin, key master of the 19th century Russian Realist School, and from 1934 director of the Academy, Brodsky became the paradigmatic figure of Soviet art at its dawn and produced canonical images of Lenin and Stalin. Along with a skilful series of glossy portraits of other top communists, the exhibition features such Soviet visual icons by the artist such as “Lenin at Smolny” or “Shock Worker from the Hydro-Electric Power Plant.” Brodsky is also behind the rarest work in the exhibition — “The Grand Opening of the Second Comintern Congress,” which took place in Moscow in 1920. Presented in the exhibition as a reduced color lithograph, it features hundreds of Leftist peoples, most of whom looked forward to certain benefits from the fire of world revolution.

“The Soviet Epoch of the 1920s-50s” runs through July 30 at the Academy of Arts Museum.

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(c) 2000