The Legacy of Socialist Realism

February 6 through July 20, 2014
West Ambulatory Gallery

This exhibition reveals the influence of Socialist Realism, the only officially condoned style for artists in the Soviet Union and many of its satellite states, on two contemporary artists: Bulgarian-born Christo and East Germany-born Gerhard Richter. In their twenties, both fled their home countries behind the Iron Curtain in search of artistic freedom in the West. Both artists also rose to world fame, in part due to their rigorous training in Socialist Realist methods.

Other artists, such as Yugoslavian Marko Spalatin, Albanian Anri Sala, and American Tom Zetterstrom, view Socialist reality from without, as outsiders looking in. Their works comment on the restrictive artistic and social conditions imposed by totalitarian control, or the bleak post-Socialist world, divested of the idealized semblance that the official visual rhetoric projected round the clock.

The exhibition relates closely with a section of works on view in the Ellen Johnson Gallery that presents Socialist Realist art of 1970s and 80s from the USSR, China, and Yugoslavia.

Based on a snapshot Richter took on the Canary Islands in 1969, Seelandschaft iterates a key Socialist Realist trope—the prominent inclusion of the horizon line in official paintings and photographs—that symbolizes the utopian future to which all Socialist societies had aspired. The golden, almost apocalyptic glow of the sky, however, forecasts an impending cataclysm, not an earthly paradise.

This exhibition was organized by Curator of Academic Programs Liliana Milkova.

Related Lecture:
Thursday, April 17 at 5pm
Classroom 1, Allen Art Building

“Voice Amplified/Voice Interrupted: The Use of Punctuation Signs in Soviet Posters” - Art Historian Masha Kowell of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, traces the syntactic, semantic, and graphic evolution of punctuation signs deployed in Soviet propaganda posters. She links their usage to shifts in Soviet censorship and artists’ resistance or complicity with it.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Russian Department and the Clowes Lecture Fund, and the departments of History and Sociology.

Gerhard Richter (German, b. 1932)
Seelandschaft (Ocean), 1971
Color photogravure
Art Rental Collection Transfer, 1995.1