A new exhibition of soviet art focusing on women is on display at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis.
“Women workers were prominently featured in Soviet art reflecting the Soviet government’s claim to gender equality as well as the wide-ranging involvement of women in the Soviet economy. Based on the Marxist claim that the foremost class oppression was that of the female by the male, the Soviet Constitution of 1918 proclaimed equal rights of men and women in all spheres of life. At the same time, the Soviet state limited personal freedoms and imposed new burdens. Soviet women had to learn to handle the demands and dilemmas of the communist rule and rapid modernization. This exhibition will explore the unique situation of a Soviet woman balanced between official claims and experienced realities of Soviet woman’s life.”
The exhibition will run through November 11th. If you’re in the twin cities area, be sure to check it out!
Chances are you haven’t heard of Vern Swanson. In the recent history of Soviet Realism, however, he is a towering figure. Swanson was recently awarded the Plastov International Prize, for his contributions to the awareness and understanding of Soviet Realism. The Plastov Prize is currently the world’s largest art prize, with a cash award of $833,000 (25 million rubles) divided into 21 different categories. It is funded and awarded by the government of the Ulyanovsk region to support artists, scholars, schools, and museums dedicated preserving and exploring, “the diversity of forms of realist art,” in honor of Russia’s preeminent 20th century Realist, Arkady Plastov.
Beginning in the mid 19th century when the Wanderers split from the restrictive Imperial Academy, Russia has had a unique tradition of figurative art. Through the 20th century, the tradition of Russian Realism was preserved, largely through the enforced official style of Socialist Realism. In the 1990’s, however, as the USSR disintegrated so did state support for Realism. The future of this tradition, still largely invisible to the west, has been uncertain. The Plastov International Prize was established to ensure a vibrant future for the Russian Realist tradition.
Vern Swanson received the prize for his published works on Soviet Realism, and for his work assembling one of the United States’ largest collections of Russian Art. Swanson studied art history at the University of Utah and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London before becoming the head of the Springville Museum of Art in Utah. Beginning in 1991, just as the Iron Curtain fell, Swanson began travelling to the former USSR to investigate Soviet Realism. Initially skeptical, Swanson was overwhelmed by the beauty, technical virtuosity and diversity of Soviet art, and he began putting together a world-class museum collection. At that time, Swanson worked not only for himself, but also on behalf of Ray Johnson, another collector who went on to found the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis.
A new exhibition of Nikolai Fechin‘s work is going up at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. A student of Ilya Repin at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, Fechin won a Prix de Rome, travelled through Europe and America and eventually immigrated in 1923. He lived briefly in New York, but spent most of his life in the US in New Mexico. There he became fascinated with Native American culture, which became a central subject in his work. In his later years his work became increasingly decorative and fanciful, but the strength of his education always shines through. Fechin is a very interesting example of an Itinerant transplanted to American soil.
“Beautifully installed in spacious galleries, the show at first seems merely to celebrate the work and life of a man largely unknown outside his homeland. A much more compelling story emerges, however, thanks to Zavialova’s insightful labels about the hidden tragedies and suppressed conflicts in Russian life during the Soviet era.”
Like much Soviet Realism, Nechitailo’s idealized compositions of labor masked the often brutal reality of Soviet life, particularly in Stalin period. However, even for former soviet citizens who experienced this time firsthand like the museum’s curator Masha Zavialova, the work can be viewed outside of this context.
” ‘Before I just looked at the [Nechitailo] subjects and they were oppressive to me,’ she said. ‘Now, I look at the canvases and brushwork and find them very interesting and they’ve stopped being threatening. They’re just objects of history. Think of your own childhood. It’s completely gone and nowhere to be found. That’s something you understand only with years. It’s the nature of time. Now I love his work.’ ”
The full article from the Star-Tribune is definitely worth checking out. It’s rare in that it neither completely vilifies the Soviet artist who toes the party line, nor glosses over the complicity of much Soviet art in the oppression of the Soviet system.
The show will run through February 27. There is a small gallery of images from the show available on the exhibition website.