Rethinking Socialist Realism, Art in America, vol. 108, no.6 (Sept-Oct 2020), 72-77.
In print and online—read on the magazine’s website.
This article is a part of a larger project “Remembering Communism in Visual Art.”
“In former Soviet republics and satellite states, Socialist Realism is associated with the culture of the former occupier. While the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow still proudly displays monumental canvases of Stalin and Lenin by Aleksandr Gerasimov and Isaak Brodsky, museums in Bucharest, Prague, Budapest, and elsewhere tend to keep their Socialist Realist works in storage. In the former East, Socialist Realism is associated with state propaganda, with the instrumentalization of art for a political agenda. Many would say it has no moral ground: it is an accomplice in totalitarianism. Socialist Realism is further dismissed for aesthetic reasons, as an assembly-line art of copies and clichés.
Attitudes are largely similar in the former West, where Socialist Realism is almost entirely absent from museum collections and critical discourse. It continues to be seen as the antipode to modernism, as positioned by Clement Greenberg in his 1939 essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” The presentation of Wojciech Fangor’s forgotten mural at Museum of Warsaw is an example of a recent revisionist approach that introduces complexity into the stories of art and artists in the Eastern Bloc—a task that takes on political urgency as the right-wing parties that now hold power in many countries in the region promote one-dimensional nationalist narratives…”