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Comprehensive retrospective of the leading figure of Soviet Socialist Realism at Fundacion Juan March
Aleksander Deineka, Quien podra con quien, 1932. ©Tretyakov Gallery.

MADRID.- A comprehensive retrospective of the leading figure of soviet "Socialist Realism", seen for the first time in spain. This comprehensive retrospective entitled Aleksander Deineka: A Proletarian Avant-Garde will be on display from 7 October 2011 to 15 January 2012 at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid. It opens with the early career of this artist, a key figure within so-called Soviet “Socialist Realism”, and covers the avant-garde movements of the early decades of the 20th century to conclude with the realism and figuration of the 1930s and 1940s. Deineka’s scenes of large crowds and factories are powerful metaphors of the ideals that became the driving force behind one of the world powers that dominated much of the 20th century. They express the Soviet utopia of the total, revolutionary transformation of social and material reality through the dialectic of capital and labour.

In 1985, when the Soviet regime was still in power, the Fundación Juan March organised the first exhibition on Russian avant-garde to be held in Spain, entitled Russian Avant-garde, 1910-1930. The Ludwig Museum and Collection. Since then, and in addition to various exhibitions on leading avant-garde figures (including Kazimir Malevich in 1993, Alexander Rodchenko in 2001 and Liubov Popova in 2004), in 2008 the Fundación presented Total Enlightenment. Conceptual Art in Moscow, 1960-1990, which brought together a series of Soviet artists (including Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid). Their work, mid-way between Conceptualism and a distinctive type of Soviet Pop Art, offered a reflection on culture of the Stalinist era from the period between his rise to power after Lenin’s death in 1924 to his death in 1953.

As a result, following its exhibitions devoted to the great artistic experiment of the Russian avant-garde (which preceded the Stalinist years) and to Post-modernist Soviet art (which arose after Stalin’s death), the Fundación Juan March has now decided to focus on the period between those two eras, specifically the art of the Stalinist era.

Stalinism, traditionally and no doubt correctly associated with the darkest years of the Soviet regime, is a relatively well known historical period with regard to social, political, economic and cultural matters. It has been the subject of historical (and political) revision almost since the time that Khrushchev succeeded Stalin. In addition to the famous 5-years Plans to revolutionise agriculture and industrialise the country, the victory of the USSR in World War II, the growing repression carried out under Stalin’s regime and the extreme nature of his totalitarian aims, this period is generally associated in the arts with so-called “Socialist Realism”, which was the prevailing style and approach among all Soviet artists from 1932 onwards.

However, the widespread focus among historians on the Stalinist period and Stalinism contrasts with the relatively unknown status of the art of this period, its importance, the significance of its aims (“national in form and Socialist in content”) and its function. Also relatively little studied is the relationship between Soviet Realism and the avant-garde movements that preceded it and between other, foreign realist movements that developed in a parallel manner in the 1930s.

This little known art of the Stalinist period, which has been the subject of few exhibitions in the former Soviet Union or in Europe or the USA, is frequently classified (when not simply expelled from the canon) as no more than an unsuccessful exercise in academicist, monumental kitsch: a derivative, propagandistic type of art employed in the service of ideology and the education of the masses. Still worse, given that it implies a moral judgment, this art has been seen to function in the service of the very totalitarian political regime that was responsible for the annihilation (in some cases literal) of the avant-garde, which Socialist Realism succeeded in the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s.

For the first time in Spain the exhibition Aleksander Deineka: A Proletarian Avant-Garde presents the work of one of the leading figures of Soviet “Socialist Realism”. It comprises a complete retrospective (the third following the pioneering exhibition held in Dusseldorf in 1982 and the more recent one in Rome) and includes 80 works by the artist, making it the largest held outside Russia on the figure of Deineka. On this occasion the exhibition aims to present Deineka – and thus his entire era – within the dual context into which they rightly fall: the end of the avant-garde and the rise of Socialist Realism.

Given this aim, there is no better example than that provided by Deineka’s pictorial power and the fascinating ambiguity of his work and artistic personality. Trained in centres influenced by the avant-garde, he was a member of late Constructivist groups such as Oktyabr and OST and was also socially active in support of the Revolution and the Socialist construction of the country. This did not prevent him from being accused of formalism, although he also obtained permission to travel abroad and received important commissions from the Soviet State, the utopian aims of which gave rise to some of the artist’s most successful figurative works.

Through a large and carefully selected group of works comprising magazines, posters, books, documents and objects by avant-garde Russian artists (with a particular focus on their revolutionary role), the exhibition’s organisers have focused on the element of ambiguity in Deineka’s work in order to present the unique (and little known) logic of the relations between the avant-garde and Socialist Realism. The latter undoubtedly saw itself as a sort of artistic-political avant-garde for the proletariat and one more radically in harmony with the political construction of the Soviet utopia than that of the artistic avant-garde. The exhibition spans a period that starts with the first Futurist Opera – Victory over the Sun by Kruchonykh and Malevich of 1913 – and ends with the death of Stalin in 1953. It features a wide range of manifestations of an art that permeated all areas of life and ran in parallel to attempts to radically alter reality on the part of a regime that conceived of itself in demiurgic artistic terms.

As a result, in addition to its comprehensive selection of works by Deineka, the exhibition also includes examples (some of them exceptionally important) by avant-garde figures such as Kazimir Malevich, Aleksei Kruchonykh, Vladimir Tatlin and El Lissitzky, Liubov Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Aleksandra Exter, Gustav Kluzis, Valentina Kulagina, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Nathan Altman, Mechislav Dobrokovsky, Solomon Telingater and Aleksei Gan; and others by realists such as Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Yuri Pimenov, Dimitri Moor and Aleksandr Samojvalov and others.

The exhibition Aleksander Deineka: A Proletarian Avant-Garde spans the work of the artist from his beginnings in the 1920s to his dark works of the 1950s when the presages of the future that some of his compositions seem to express take on the harsh materiality of the greyness of everyday life into which the Soviet utopia seemed to have frozen. Featuring examples of Deineke’s work as a graphic artist, his remarkable posters and his work for magazines alongside his impressive, large-scale paintings, the exhibition brings together a large selection of works (scenes of enthusiastic crowds and factories, sportsmen and women, farmers and idyllic images of Soviet life) that are both outstanding pictorial works of great formal beauty and powerful metaphors of the Soviet utopia of the total revolutionary transformation of social and material reality through the dialectic of capital and labour.

Of the approximately 250 works on display most have been loaned from the State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, as well as from a number of Russian provincial museums and various public and private collections in Spain, Europe and the USA.

Soviet Socialist Realism | Fundación Juan March | Aleksander Deineka |

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