Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Carol Veldman Rudie Sheds Light on Soviet Era Art in Lecture at the Tweed

Dr. Veldman Rudie provides rewarding insights on Soviet art.
Tuesday evening the Tweed Museum of Art hosted the first of four lectures in conjunction with the current featured exhibition Art In Conflict. This first lectured painted a context for the work as Dr. Marsha Zaviolova outlined the themes and styles in Soviet arts. The period discussed runs from the 1953 death of Stalin till the breakup of the Soviet Union 1991.

Carol Veldman Rudie has been lead docent at the Museum of Russian Art since 2005 where she is also coordinator of outreach education. It's apparent she's been putting her minor in history to good use.

In addition to the insightful lecture, those in attendance had the privilege of meeting the newly installed director of the Tweed, Dr. Anja Chávez who introduced our guest lecturer and welcomed us.

Definitely non-Utopian, post-Stalin. 
For historical context, the Russian Revolution took place in 1917. In 1934 Josef Stalin rose to power and decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable art. That is, the State approved the making of art as log as it was Realist in style and Socialist in content. This was the rigid ruling philosophy through 1953 when Stalin died.

Conventional State-approved art. 
The content of Soviet art included Utopian themes in which the greatness of the nation was portrayed, industrial progress, people being productive, etc. Women, now equal to men, were portrayed in all the various roles of men and even looked manly. Looking feminine was considered a bourgeois value of the West. It was OK to look lovely but be active digging ditches.

The lecture showed how there were competing styles in the art. A painting of a woman ironing, painted in a traditional style, was contrasted with a painting of a woman ironing in a non-literal style, an expressionist manner that was not correct even though the subject matter was the same.

After the Revolution abortion became legal and over time there was a declining population. (Also due to waves of starvation as well.) In response Stalin pushed artists to produce idyllic paintings of family life, with happy children, in an effort to encourage people to think favorably about reproduction.

Rich in symbols and code. Alexandr Gazhur's "Pilgrims" 1989. 
Even landscape artists were nudged to produce paintings with Socialist content. Hence we see a painting of a landscape in conjunction with a hydroelectric plant, landscapes with industrial sites.

After Khrushchev we see the emergence of non-conformist art. Painters like Bulotov and Rabine addressed the degradation taking place or the covering up of Reality by the State. We were shown numerous examples of conformist and non-conformist art. The non-conformists, with paintings like "No Exit" demonstrate irony and confront us with the question of what is really true. (This, at a time when the party line was laid out in Pravda, the official propaganda organ of the State.)

Traditional landscape being obliterated by red stars.
One thing you won't find are paintings of prison life, though one artist who was imprisoned did manage to do drawings and sketches of this dark system of gulags.

The Spiritual was another theme expunged under Lenin and Stalin. The Soviet Union was a Materialist culture. Spirituality was not acknowledged. There were, however, artists who incorporated the spiritual into their work. Artists like Viktor Popkov pushed the boundaries in the arena.

The art of Odessa got away with portraying Jewish life and its ways. (For what it's worth, Bob Dylan's father Abram Zimmerman's parents--Zigman and Anna--were from Odessa, emigrating to the United States during the anti-semitic pogroms of 1905.)

There's plenty to see at the Tweed if you get a chance. And with a little background like that presented last night, you will have an even greater appreciation for this Art In Conflict exhibition.

UPCOMING Lectures in this series:
February 18: Art on the Edges: Non-Conformists and Spirituality
March 24: Women in the Soviet Union: Utopian Dreams, Reality Check
April 21: The People's Papers: The Poster Tradition in the Soviet Context

Related Links
A Farce So Dark It Will Make You Laugh: The Death of Stalin (movie review)
Local Art Seen: Tweed Spotlights the Art of Russia

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