Stalin would be proud
THE ROYAL ACADEMY’S EXHIBITION is based on the 1932 Leningrad State Museum’s exhibition Fifteen Years of Artists of the Russian Soviet Republic. Ten rooms are devoted to various movements of the Russian art scene, but the exclusion of earlier works from that momentous time results in the visitor confronting some degrading and soulless art. Alongside such well-known painters as Malevich, Kandinsky and Chagall, figures less familiar in the West are introduced, such as Filonov, Petrov-Vodkin and Deineka. Each room carries a title such as Salute the Leader, Brave New World, Fate of the Peasants and others, leading to the final Stalin’s Utopia. Lenin is swiftly dealt with in the first room, which includes a charismatic photograph of Vladimir. This contrasts with Brodsky’s oil of Lenin overlooking a demonstration entitled Signatures for the condemned.
Many pieces were chosen to depict the worst elements of the period, including Redko’s Insurrection, showing Lenin surrounded by a diamond of fire burning within an imprisoned city. As you progress through each room, the art gets closer to Stalin’s ideal of Socialist Realism. Some interesting objects include works from the Leningrad State porcelain factory, minimalist subjects that wouldn’t look out of place today.
Maria Lebedeva’ s stunning vase with the inscription “The Liberated People” shares a room with Nikolai Demkov’s Kerchief with Portrait of Lenin in the Centre with Trotsky’s corner portrait cut out. Indeed, the curators have almost completely cut out Trotsky from this exhibition.
A wall devoted to Mayakovsky’s graphic posters for propaganda and communication was fascinating and instructive, each with a slogan such as “Worldwide revolution is at their door/As clearly as two times two is four”, ending a series which depicts fat cats and problems in England at that time.
Without honest reference to life under the Tsar, this exhibition appears as a warning against socialism and communism. The selections made for this show, sponsored by the oligarchs Blavatnik, Polonsky, Fridman and Aven, clearly follow an agenda. As the columnist, Paul Mitchell reflects, “Stalin himself would be proud”. Nonetheless, you should still go.