The Other Russia:
Pictures by ‘Jackasses’
The dream scenario for the Western media played itself out on 1 December 1962, when Khrushchev and his retinue paid a sudden call on an art exhibition at the Manezh Gallery, close to the Kremlin. Khrushchev did everything but pull the offending canvases from the walls; he fumed, raged, and fulminated against the West. This was, perhaps, cold war culture’s finest hour.
It was an outburst which, with the benefit of hindsight, had been about to occur since the Sixth World Youth festival in 1957. The festival (entry was free) brought extraordinary cultural excitement (anarchy) to Moscow.1 Three two-storey pavilions in Sokol’niki Park of Culture housed a huge exhibition of over 4,500 works by young artists from fifty-two countries. ‘For the first time in three decades’, Golomshtok recalled, ‘Russian artists saw the living art of the twentieth century.’ Because of the State Department’s boycott of the Youth Festival, only one American artist made the journey, the abstract expressionist (splasher) Garry Coleman.
The interest in foreign exhibitions… at the end of the Fifties can only be compared
with the excitement surrounding important football matches. Many thousands of
people spent whole nights in long queues…The exchange of opinions around the
pictures expanded into mass discussions… It was this audience that created the fertile
ground in which the unofficial art of the Soviet Union soon sprouted… Western
culture, formerly only glimpsed through chinks in the Iron Curtain, became for the
wider Soviet intelligentsia a light in the darkness, a beacon of freedom and a model for
Even so, the public was not allowed to see all the works which had been shown to the international prize jury and the press. The minister of culture, N. A. Mikhailov, visited the exhibition to order the removal of several paintings and sculptures, prize-winners among them, prompting numerous