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Dream Factory Communism

Dream Factory Communism: The Visual Culture of the Stalin Era
FRANKFURT  •  Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt  •  Ongoing
This comprehensive exhibition is dedicated to the universe of Soviet art in the Stalin Era, which is still only little known in the West. As part of a centralistically organized mass culture, this art relied on advertising mechanisms and strategies for spreading its highly effective propaganda images. There is an obvious similarity between Stalinist Socialist Realism and the US-American mass culture of that time. The affinity between the Western commercial and the Soviet ideological mass culture is mainly evinced by the fact that both systems' advertising schemes were style-formative and addressed all people in the same way – the difference being that a variety of products was promoted in the West, while only one, communism, was promoted in Stalinist Russia with its totalitarian state machinery based on oppression. The more recent works of Sots Art represent a visual comment on the culture of the Stalin Era reflecting the historical events; they critically examine the stalinist regime's aesthetics and mark a distance which separates us from its works both aesthetically and politically.

Anton Lawinskij: Battle Ship Potyomkin, 1926
Photo courtesy of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

The major survey curated by Boris Groys, professor of philosophy and media theory at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, together with Zelfira Tregulova, deputy director of the Kremlin Museums, Moscow, includes works by such artists as Kazimir Malevich, Gustav Klutsis, Aleksander Deineka, and Aleksander Gerasimov, films by Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Chiaureli, and Grigorii Aleksandrov, as well as works by contemporary Sots Art representatives such as Erik Bulatov, Komar & Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, and Boris Mikhailov. The selection suggests an interplay between a range of different media from painting and poster art to sculpture, architectural drawing, and film. Many of the works, which come from collections like the Tretyakov Gallery, the ROSIZO State Museum and Exhibition Centre Archives, the Historical Museum of Moscow, the Russian State Library, and the Central Armed Forces Museum, are accessible to the public for the first time since Stalin's death in 1953.

Chronologically speaking, Dream Factory Communism starts from this turning point where the major 1992 Schirn exhibition The Great Utopia dedicated to the Russian avant-garde ended. Highlighting Kazimir Malevich's late work and Gustav Klutsis' photo collages, the first section of the show documents the road from early avant-garde abstraction to the figurative and photographic solutions of Socialist Realism. The pictures of the "high" Socialist Realism of the 1930s and 1940s and its main protagonists Aleksander Gerasimov, Aleksander Deineka, and Isaak Brodski deal with various aspects of the new Soviet life such as the Soviet leaders embodying "the new Communist man," life in the city, collectivized agriculture, sports, and happy private life. Films from the Stalin era by Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Chiaureli, Abram Room, a.o., which were also seen by many people and are extremely characteristic of their time, will round off the panorama, emphasizing the cross-media character of Soviet art once again. The presentation concludes with Sots Art and Moscow Conceptualism, the unofficial Russian art of the 1960s and 1970s, introducing Erik Bulatov, Komar & Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, Boris Mikhailov, and other representatives. This part of the exhibition exemplifies a genuinely aesthetical criticism of Stalinist Socialist Realism: reflecting the avant-garde Stalinist Utopia and its self-destruction, this approach, in its fundamental rejection of Utopian thinking, relates to Western post-modernism.

A catalogue is available: Dream Factory Communism. The Visual Culture of the Stalin Era. Edited by Boris Groys and Max Hollein. With a preface by Max Hollein, an introduction by Boris Groys, and essays by Oksana Bulgakova, Ekaterina Degot, Boris Groys, Hans Günther, Annette Michelson, Alexander Morosow, and Martina Weinhart, as well as interviews with Ilya Kabakov and Georg Baselitz conducted by Boris Groys, German/English, ca. 300 pages, ISBN 3-7757-1328-X, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern.

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt Web Site

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Tel: (49) 69 29 98 82-0

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