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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Is Not Realism That Is Socialism

For Russians, socialist realism cliches are part of the Soviet nightmare. But for the uninitiated foreigner, the current display by the Zamoskvorechye Gallery at the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel, entitled "Faces of Russia," is of definite historical interest, giving a retrospective of Soviet art from the 1930s on.

"We were at first planing to display famous Russian people," says fine arts expert Regina Nezlobina of the Zamoskvorechye Gallery. "Then we decided to show life in all its complexity - the horrible days of the wars, portraits of political leaders, weddings, children, etc."

A large part of the exhibit is dedicated to portraits of political leaders, from Ivan Grinyuk's "Lenin and Krupskaya in Gorky" (1965), to Edward Shageyev's "King of Russian Billiards" (1999), portraying Yeltsin playing with contemporary Russian politicians.

"Philosophers argue whether people make history or history makes people," says Nezlobina, and the exhibit aims to reflect this debate.

"Faces of Russia" joins together artists who flourished in the heyday of Soviet rule with those who chose realism as their artistic credo and developed the best traditions of the Russian realistic school that had been born before Communist rule.

In 1932, socialist realism became an obligatory style in arts, literature, theater and cinema in the Soviet Union. Artists who continued and developed the traditions of impressionism, surrealism or abstract art were often repressed, with many emigrating to the West. This display offers works by the old masters of the Soviet school, as well as those of recent art school graduates who are still working in the tradition.

Among the former is Yakov Romas, the favored party artist touted at the grandest Soviet exhibitions at home and abroad. He became a lyrical artist later in his career.

Noteworthy among the contemporary artists are the Tkachyov brothers, Sergei and Alexei, two academicians who produced many paintings on the Civil War and WW II. Their works are now in demand all over the world, especially in the Far East, which, Nezlobina says, holds a particular reverence for Russian art.

Among the examples of good solid 19th-century style realism at the exhibit, look out for Leonid Turzhansky's "Northern Village" and Ivan Golitsyn's "Masha."

There are also plenty of works that bear no mark of talent, regardless of subject or tradition, such as Pavel Borisov's "Sea Gull," portraying Anton Chekhov with a huge sea gull flying past his shoulder.

"20th Century: Faces of Russia" runs through Oct. 15 from 2 to 8 p.m. daily in the atrium of the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel, 1 Ul. Balchug. Tel. 954-3009. Metro: Novokuznetskaya.

- Olga Slobodkina