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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Nationalist Right, an Artist Laureate

Russia's nationalist -- some have said fascist -- leaders gathered in the guise of art lovers Wednesday for the opening of a much-awaited exhibition of the works of Ilya Glazunov. Among the 500 adoring fans were such connoisseurs of the fine arts as Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Sergei Baburin, as well as Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. The artist, 64, was received at the Manezh exhibition hall with the enthusiasm usually reserved for religious figures and revolutionary heroes. To many of them, he is a little of both. Glazunov paintings celebrate Russia's glorious past and apocalyptic present in a realistic, illustrative style that has won him a huge popular following. His monumental murals, such as "Eternal Russia," and the new "Awake, Russia!" also carry a nationalist message, one that he emphasized in his remarks at the opening. "I hope that Russia can reclaim its position of force in Europe," he said, adding, "All the humanitarian aid we need is the greatness of the Russian spirit." The artist has achieved great commercial success, if not critical acclaim, with his self-described technique of "high realism," which he has used to illustrate the classics of Russian literature and to paint scores of celebrity portraits. Of the 30 works that he is showing for the first time -- his last exhibition was in 1990 -- only a handful of them are outright nationalist manifestos, but they were the ones that got the most attention. As the crowd pushed its way onto the podium, Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Glazunov, Zhirinovsky and Orthodox priest Father Gerasim gave speeches that had as much to do with politics as art. "In the terrifying, apocalyptic time we are living in, we need to remember Russia's great and powerful heritage," Glazunov said to enthusiastic applause. Zhirinovsky hailed Glazunov's work and its influence on young painters and the world at large. "In these paintings, you can see what Russia has been, and what it could be," the ultranationalist politician said. Glazunov's work "reveals the spirit that distinguishes Russia from any other country in the world," he added. In "Awake, Russia!," a blond youth stands in the foreground, bare-chested, holding a New Testament in his left hand and an automatic weapon in his right. At his feet lie a drooling derelict and a huddled group with a sign reading "For Sale: the Russian family. Price: $1,000." Above his head is Jesus Christ, breaking through the clouds, and a triumphant Russian fortress, painted in the style of an icon. As she gazed at the painting, Nina Boldiryova, a pensioner, nodded grimly. "It's all true," she said. "They're selling children on the street. It's chaos, our Russia." Boldiryova was only one of the older Russians who brought flowers for the artist. Faced with a mood of joyful patriotism -- complete with Orthodox chants over the sound system -- even the few skeptics in the crowd seemed to be moved. "I always thought of his paintings as kitsch and ideological art," said Marina Katkova, 34, a teacher. "He's only middling as an artist."