Surikov Graduate at the Museum of Russian Art

Raising the Banner
“Raising the Banner” – Gely Korzhev 1957-1960

On Monday, an exhibition of the work of soviet artist Geli Korzhev will open at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. Korzhev graduated from the Surikov Art Institute in 1950, and is still painting today.

An article on the exhibition by the Minneapolis Star Tribune focused on the rebelliousness of Korzhev’s work. At first glance, Korzhev doesn’t seem to be the best example of a challenge to the communist status quo. Once the chairman of the Moscow chapter of the Union of Soviet Artists, Korzhev is still loyal to his Communist ideals. There is, however, surprising breadth in Korshev’s work. The show includes student work and small, intimate portraits, as well as monumental images of war, Biblical subjects, and even one painting of Don Quixote.

Morning” – Gely Korzhev 1958

Regardless of the independence of his work, the article brings up an interesting point about the relationship between the government and the most talented soviet artists:

“Asked why Soviet officials would allow a painter to challenge official ideology, [Alisa Lyubimova – curator of 20th century art at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg] shrugged and smiled wryly. ‘The authorities, even in strict times, would understand what is good and bad, wrong and right,” she said. “And he was so strong a person that they couldn’t take away his art.’ ”

Surprisingly, at a time when the government seemed to have little respect for free expression in any form, it gave its most talented artists a wide berth, and extensive resources. The soviet government’s generous patronage is one of the many paradoxes of this movement. A brief history of realism in Russia since the revolution might help answer some of the questions these paradoxes bring up. You can find one here, on the Lazare Gallery website. 

The Tribune’s article ends with advice about Korzhev’s work which resonates beyond the scope of the exhibition. The education director of the Museum, Brad Shinkle, urges us to reserve judgment; “To understand his 60-year career, you have to see it all.”

The show will run through January 5th.

Link to the Star Tribute’s article

Link to exhibition

Update 11/12

Korzhev’s show got some additional press yesterday on Minnesota public radio. The piece included an interesting quote from Korzhev’s on the relationship of his work to communism. Of his painting “Raising the Banner” (top of the article) Korzhev said:

“I depicted a heroic act common to all mankind, not a specific action of a communist. Personally, I share the ideas of communism, therefore I called the painting the way I did, but the painting itself isn’t about communism, it is about a heroic act. The flag could be any color.”


Author: Barry O'Keefe

Artist/printmaker from Richmond, Va

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