ART NEWS: Socialist Realism’s Russian Renaissance

Champions of Socialist Realism are seeking to restore it to what they see as its rightful place in Russian art history. But even as it attracts billionaire collectors and appears in prominent exhibitions, some ask whether the official style of Stalin can overcome its past.

It was one of the most heralded openings of Moscow’s winter season. Artists, curators, and critics nibbled at macaroons and sipped champagne as they gazed at the canvases before them.

“It’s a real breakthrough,” said one artist. “The effect is stunning,” wrote Tatiana Markina in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. But what caused the excitement was not an emerging talent. It was Socialist Realism, the style set forth by Stalin 80 years ago to trumpet the worker state.

As Lenin statues were dismantled across Eastern Europe in the 1990s, savvy Western collectors such as Raymond E. Johnson of Minneapolis snapped up communist-era canvases at bargain prices. In the former Soviet Union, however, Socialist Realist artworks were the uneasy relics of a vanished civilization. The style was largely written off as kitsch, the stuff of posters and magnets sold to tourists.

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