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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blind Eye Turned to Putin in Art

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Few of the people hurrying to work through the unwelcoming basement of the city's architectural-planning building near Mayakovskaya metro station took notice of the huge paintings hanging there.

Most rushed past to the cloakroom, located just behind a grave President Vladimir Putin, staring intently at the rough northern seas.

Others ignored Putin climbing out of his limousine. Putin as a young boy was barely spared a glance on the way to the elevator.

"Our Putin" — a collection of 10 paintings of the president, hung amid assorted ballerinas, artists and Sri Lankan statesmen, now showing at the Soyuz Tvorchestva gallery — wasn't attracting much attention last week, except from a steady stream of journalists and photographers vainly persuading passers-by to look at the pictures.

The portraits, by artists Fyodor Dubrovin and Valery Podkuiko, are pictures of adoration and praise, albeit executed in different styles. Dubrovin shows Putin in a more realistic manner: proudly standing in the tower of a submarine in the Barents Sea, walking down a Kremlin corridor or arriving at an airport with what looks like a Stealth bomber in the background in a painting titled "On Alert." Podkuiko goes for a more impressionistic style, with close-up images of Putin and a portrait of the president as a young boy, called simply "Vova."

"It's a cult of personality," said one visitor as she toured the exhibition. Indeed, the paintings are similar to the hagiographic works of socialist realism that proliferated in the Soviet era.

Although Putin has publicly asked not to be immortalized in works of art, he has inevitably become the object of eulogistic pop culture since becoming president — and the forms have been as varied as a children's book, plaster busts and even a nature walk in the northwestern town of Izborsk that traces every step he made on his short visit there.

"Thanks for the exhibition; thanks for the hero," wrote one visitor in the guest book. "He needs our support."

"The popularization of Putin is needed," said another fan. "Power has to be respected and strong."

Gallery owner Oleg Kalmykov dismissed the accusation that the exhibit aims to elevate Putin to a cult, saying it's natural for artists to want to paint those in power.

"All the polls show that 70 percent of the population supports the president," said Kalmykov, adding that 70 percent of artists probably support the president as well.

And the two painters displaying their works at Soyuz Tvorchestva are just the tip of the iceberg. Kalmykov says hundreds of portraits of Putin come through his office, submitted by many different artists.

And as for the president's popularity, Kalmykov said he is "also part of that 70 percent."

But others at the gallery did not share his enthusiasm.

"The exhibition is in the best traditions of socialism," wrote one visitor. "It's laughable."

"Why so many Putins?" asked the building's bewildered caretaker, pensioner Anastasia Danilova — although she did say there was something about "Vova" that she liked.

"I exhibit art," said Kalmykov, "and these are good artists." He complained that members of the press had been interested only in scandal, with one newspaper journalist asking him to turn the paintings upside down so his photographer could take a picture.

The "Our Putin" exhibit runs through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Soyuz Tvorchestva, 1 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, metro Mayakovskaya.