Fresh Momentum for Moscow Art despite Shortages of Supplies and Government Funding, Russian Artists Find That the Home Market Has Potential

Article excerpt

IN Ivan Akimov's studio, politics has at long last taken a back seat to personal interests.

Stashed away in a corner, almost hidden from view in the high-ceilinged, characteristically messy work area, are modernistic paintings that mock the former Soviet Communist Party bosses Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev. These days Mr. Akimov is more interested in displaying recently completed canvasses of frolicking Russian peasants in traditional felt boots.

Akimov isn't the only artist who has all but abandoned painting works with anti-communist motifs, a style known in Russia as Sotsart. The current trend emphasizes a return to traditional themes, art experts and gallery operators in Moscow say.

"Sotsart is gone," says Akimov. "Six years ago, with the start of perestroika, there was aggressive criticism of communism.

"Now it's settling down," he continues. "People have cursed communism for so long that they're tired of it and are moving on to something more conceptual and traditional."

Correspondingly, there appears to be a growing appetite for art in Russia. Up until a few months ago, a Russian artist had to depend on foreign buyers if he or she hoped for commercial success.

But now, for the first time, Russian artists are finding that a home market exists, albeit a limited one. That development could keep many young and talented artists from moving to the West, thus providing a tremendous boost to the Russian art scene, says Leonid Bajanov, director of the Contemporary Art Center here.

"The process of commercialization is just beginning here," he says. "This is significant because it may help preserve the spiritual energy of the country. It may also help our country's transition to a market economy by giving rise to a cultural identity."

The totalitarian system introduced by the Communist Party destroyed the creative instincts of artists, part of a general atrophying of the Russian cultural identity, according to Sergei Tarabarov, director of the Dar Gallery in Moscow. Beginning in the 1920s, art became an instrument controlled by the party to help in the so-called building of socialism.

"The assignment was to show the everlasting happiness of life - particularly the happiness of the workers - and this lasted more or less until the end of the Soviet Union," says Mr. Tarabarov.

The style that perhaps best captured the essence of art under the Communists was called Socialist Realism, which often featured smiling faces set against the backdrop of a factory or collective farm. Socialist realism enjoyed its heyday in the early 1950s, during the later years of Stalin's dictatorial rule, but its influence extended into the 1970s.

When official restrictions began to ease during former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost era, it didn't come as a surprise that artists rebelled using Sotsart. …


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