Jamey Gambrell; Christopher Phillips. Red wedge, black wedge. (relationship between Russian and German art, Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany). Art in America, Dec 1995 v83 n12 p72(8)
(OST) This section includes a number of the paintings seen in the final room of the Guggenheim's "Great Utopia" exhibition, where they served to announce the vanquishing of the Soviet avant-garde by dark political forces with bad taste. There the effect was deflating, even depressing, and the paintings seemed timid if not trivial. After all, the German artists remained in opposition to the ruling powers, while in Russia the revolution had, supposedly, been won.
If the Russian curatorial team seems to regard the Russian avant-garde of the '20s as a barren fluke of history, it has clearly placed its bets on Alexander Deineka, a member of OST, as the artist who most fruitfully married modernity and tradition.
Whether this is because such paintings all seem so dismally interchangeable or because some Russians still resist comparisons of Stalin to Hitler is hard to say. In general, the selection of works and their installation bypasses many obvious opportunities to make connections and reveal subtle differences in the iconography of German and Russian totalitarianism.
The flip side of the German stress on "family values," however, and one of the most striking differences between Soviet and German painting of the period, is the chill, somewhat sinister eroticism of many Third Reich paintings, and the preponderance of nudes. The Soviets were singularly modest, and the nudes--mate or female--in well-known Stalin-era paintings can probably be counted on one hand.
By the early '30s most Soviet artists could no longer leave the USSR. Their private effort in the face of the two overwhelming ideological machines is also given its due in this show.
This section also displays late, post-avant-garde paintings--mostly small portraits and still lifes. But it is not entirely clear how we are meant to read these esthetically timid, rather pathetic works. Do they testify to the failure of the avant-garde's project to merge art and life? Or are they evidence of intensely private feats of heroism, of resistance to the collective insanity of the age? Given catalogue essayist Natalia Adaskina's somewhat misleading designation of this work as "unofficial Soviet art of the 1930s," one suspects that many of the Russian curators believe the latter.