At the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt there’s a spectacular collection of Soviet Art. Massive oil paintings, posters, grandiose architectural renderings, and soviet propaganda films. My friends and I were simply blown away — I couldn’t wait to plunk down my Euros for the fat catalogue. The show is called “Dream Factory.”
Smiling commissars, noble warriors, beefy sportswomen, the glow of sweat, marching youth, the joy of hard work — as well as the tender humility of country life. Misguided politics and artists in the employ of the state to make Stalin look like a good guy — art in the service of an idea.
These folks knew what they were doing. Counterlight, reflected light, backlight, brilliant patterny compositions both interior and exterior. And all this often in a broad and painterly style. “Unforgettable Encounter,” for example, is a complex figure piece by Wassilij Jefanow that shows a glowing young woman giving flowers to Stalin. Each of the twenty-odd faces are an accurate, smiling portrait, old and young, wise and common, men and women, all hands caught in the act of clapping.
But it is Tatjana Jablonskaja’s painting “Bread” that takes your breath away. High-key, atmospheric groupings of women shovelling grain, threshing, loading trucks. Strong design and heroic sweep are made all the more precious by red isolation, luminous greys and dazzling auras around white garments. These barefoot amazons wade in golden grain — everything gilded in reflected light through the dust and blessed with an education in pictorial composition.
PS: “Jablonskaja received her second Stalin Prize in 1951, the title Distinguished Artist of the Ukrainian SSR, Order of the Red Banner of Labour, the State Prize of the USSR, 1979. In 1975 she is made a full member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the USSR.” (Boris Gloys, Max Hollein)
Esoterica: Next door there’s a much-travelled exhibition of Hitler-era work of German expressionist Paul Klee. These are wispy, mainly pencil drawings pasted into imposing frames, dreamy, yes, but of one who was able to make subtle protest of the tragedies he foresaw. A great contrast of rye ego against the others in the Soviet block who perhaps had little, but were nevertheless party to a dream.
Dream Factory Communism: The Visual Culture of the Stalin Era
The following are a few of the paintings featured at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.
Photos obtained from Frankfurt Lounge and Das Darsteller und Künstler Portal.
Academic training maintained
by Ron Sanders, Fort Wayne, IN, USA
While Europe and America were swept by modernism, The Soviets maintained the Academic training of the 19th Century. There is much for a narrative realist to learn from them. “Every good piece of art… involves first essentially the evidence of human skill, and the formation of an actually beautiful thing by it.” (John Ruskin)
Propaganda art stunning
by Larry Moore, Winter Park, FL, USA
I saw a similar exhibit here in Orlando of Russian, Chinese and Nazi propaganda posters and art. They were indeed stunning and well crafted. As an illustrator, their heroic style was quite an inspiration and I look to them from time to time for influence and guidance. Not to mimic, especially because the heroic thing doesn’t play anymore, but to glean some of the drama and light from those masters. I’ve been doing work for our local opera company for the last six years. Two years ago I did a piece for an opera called “brundibar,” sung by children in German concentration camps. I looked to surviving artists of the holocaust for inspiration… it was incredibly moving to view their work and read their stories.
Museum experiences memorable
by Violette Clark, Canada
Your travels remind me of my voyage to Europe with my family when I was seventeen (32 years ago). I was a budding artist enthralled by the works of the European masters, in particular the paintings at the Louvre, the impressionists they absolutely took my breath away! Much to my family’s chagrin I dragged them through some rather large museums. One of our most memorable experiences was visiting the El Prado Museo in Madrid viewing the somber paintings of Goya and Velasquez which interested me but bored my family. Unfortunately we were unable to see everything as we were forced to make a hasty retreat when my entire family and I came down with tourista. My clearest memory of that visit was running across a busy street with my family trying to be the first to make it back to the hotel! Perhaps one day I will revisit the museum and take a leisurely stroll through the many rooms full of opulent art!
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
I visited an exhibition of conceptual art in Amsterdam and saw a variety of self-styled “artworks.” The best one was a typed letter-size notice pinned on a wall, which stated that the “artist” had thought out a wonderful piece of art but that there would be no representation of it whatsoever. This particular artist — who was unfortunately not on hand that day — turned up periodically and engaged visitors to the museum in a conversation about this non-representational piece of art.
Museum standards reliable
by Ivan Kelly, Toledo, Oregon, USA
In response to the letter about standards, people will say how do you know if one painting is better than another or what gives you the right to judge? We have to start somewhere and what better place than museums where hangs what is generally considered some of the best work ever produced. If these works are not reliable as a standard then the collections are meaningless. Are they there to showcase the bad and pathetic? I don’t think so. Therefore if we go by those standards relating to traditional painting and sculpture then it is obvious that much is lacking today. I would not be surprised if Rembrandt, Monet or Sargent couldn’t make the grade today for a juried show never mind a prestigious museum because the jurors would not recognize the quality or sadly even know how to look for it, thus perpetuating mediocrity. Yes, everything in our culture has coarsened and deteriorated so there is no reason to expect that art should be spared. However I am heartened that some people still respond to good quality work, for whatever reasons, enough to part with their money to acquire ownership.
Waves of influence
by Monika El-Seroui, Graz, Austria
We are never alone on an island. We are surrounded by waves of influence whether from the past, present or — speaking in the terms of physics: like Schroedinger’s cat, or even in future transcendence — flowing freely for a certain time. Lucky us — maybe we get from time to time a glimpse of transcendence, even if veiled by a curtain. But we really never find out how it works. I have painted a few pictures that made me uneasy. I was unable to sleep properly. Usually I over-painted the parts that made me uneasy.
Weakness into strength
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, TX, USA
So is jumping off the fence (onto the destructive side of the lawn) what happened to the talented Camille Claudel? I always just thought that her Passion for Rodin drove her nuts. It has always interested me that a group of people take what many others see as their weakness and turn it around into their strength. What a triumph if not abused or used to put down those outside of the group.
What is Art?
by Anne Copeland, CA, USA
There are some universally recognized pieces that are designated as art that many people seem to recognize in some unspoken way as “art.” But the reality is that it is only the mutually agreed upon recognition that creates the label “art.” There is primitive art, and there is natural art, and there is also art as an activity (i.e. the “art” of living well, the “art” of gourmet cooking, etc). So on this level we can assume that art is not always recognized by all peoples at the same time as having this quality we call “art.” The idea of art seems to imply that art is a higher level of activity that goes well beyond survival. So we can cook to eat, or we can learn the “art” of cooking. I wonder if we can actually ever agree on a definition of art because in some ways it is like lots of words we take for granted.
Less use of tools more God-like
by Sylvio Gagnon, Ottawa, ON, Canada
In response to “Drawing aids” by Dave Edwards, I suppose that unlike God and his ability to create from nothing, we humans need tools to “create.” But the less use of tools the more God-like. Those who choose to use facile shortcuts such as drawing by projector or painting on computer generated images miss out on all the fun and awesomeness of creativity.
by Bill Kerr
My niece’s husband’s Grandpa was born in France and came to North America as a young man with his wife. Not surprisingly they like their wine. In addition to buying copious quantities they also make their own. Their wine is excellent and much of the red is made from choke cherries. My brother-in-law said to them one day, “I thought that the French believed that peach, plum, rhubarb, and in fact all wines not made of grapes were not wines at all but mere liquid confections.” “That is so,” Grandpa Gobin replied, “but there are no choke-cherries in France. It is a shame; if there were, red wine would be made from choke cherries.”
The Sun is Red
oil painting on canvas
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Mary Wiley who wrote, “Thanks for reviving memories of my three years in Germany. I lived in Frankfurt and Heidelberg and have fond memories of both places. I found the people to be very interesting and interested and the countryside was beautiful.”
And also LidaVan Bers who wrote, “What a jewel Europe is! Germany has so much history and much of it saved from the last war.”
Also Pam Wong who wrote, “At the cottage, my time to catch up on reading in the quiet. It’s a great place to read the Painters Keys. Never ceases to amaze me, how do you ever think of all these things!?”
And Sandy Sandy who wrote, “I’ve been a busy bee. Just thought you’d like to know… I am just finishing up my violin project. Click here to check it out…