Cold War/Hot Culture
America and Russian Nonconformist Art

Visual Art Show

For the official Soviet propaganda, America has always been an embodiment of ills plaguing capitalist society. For many Russian artists, on the other hand, the United States has been the source of profound fascination and ambivalence. Drawn to its promise of freedom, Russian artists felt put off by its lifestyle alien to Russian spirituality. Oddly enough, Russian nonconformist artists learned a good deal from their official counterparts, from the artists like Alexander Zhitomirsky, whose superb collages demonized and glamorized America at the same time.

The present exhibition vividly communicates this fascination with anti-American art in the nostalgic references to the political icons of the bygone era. This appropriation of the recent past was mediated by the new Western ideas which began to make their way to Russia following the path-breaking 1959 U.S. Exhibition in Moscow. American abstract expressionism and Minimalism were among the key influences that had shaped the unofficial art scene in the Soviet Union. The former was taken to be a symbol of unrestrained freedom and the latter seen as an embodiment of nonideological pure form.

In the 1970's, the cross between Soviet propaganda art and critically appropriated Pop-Art produced a movement known as Sots Art. Its followers played on the curious resemblance between ubiquitous Soviet icons and American advertisement. Russian émigré artists sought to render explicit the hidden parallels between Soviet propaganda art and American consumerism with its relentless cheerfulness and cliché-ridden language. This artistic gesture that preserves the artist's position as an outsider offers Russian émigré artists a perfect vantage point from which they can comment on alienation, consumerism, and technology-obsessed society of today while retaining their ironic distance and mixing their sarcasm with a hefty dosage of nostalgia.

The visual art exhibit opens up with 26 collages by Alexander Zhitomirsky, a student of Alexander Rodchenko, whose Cold War era photo montages picturing America were a familiar sight in the Soviet Union. Unofficial Russian artists used these collages as an ironic offset in their own work. Zhitomirsky’s political photography allows American audiences to sample Soviet propaganda art and thus better understand the visual sources of countercultural artistic movements such as Sots Art.

Participants

Yuri Albert
Vagrich Bakhchanyan
Farid Bogdalov
Grisha Bruskin
Mikhail Chernyshov
Peggy Jarrell Kaplan
Alexander Kosolapov
Leonid Lamm
Rostislav Lebedev
Sergei Mironenko
Komar & Melamid
Vladimir Paperny
Leonid Pinchevsky
Leonid Sokov
Oleg Vasiliev
Alexander Yulikov
Alexander Zhitomirsky