It has been seven years since the dissolution of the world's second largest communist-ruled nation, yet the fusion of art and ideology has never been more apparent than in works of artists from the former Soviet Union.
The paintings, propaganda posters, sculptures, medals and KGB memorabilia that comprise Darker Shade of Red: Official Art and Imagery of the Soviet Union, on view at the University of Central Florida, span the years 1917-1991, and come from the collection of Central Florida resident Gary Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth, who has been amassing works of Soviet art since 1988, obtained some pieces from Russian artists who immigrated to the United States. Others were found in flea markets, auctions, galleries or through dealers whom he met via his restoration business, Hollingsworth Fine Arts.
Hollingsworth's favorite is an oil painting by an unknown artist that depicts Lenin riding the train into Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) on his return from exile prior to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. A worker in the shadowed foreground shovels coal while Lenin stands in tense profile. He stares expectantly beyond the range of the canvas, hand clenched, symbolically representing his anticipation of his leading role in establishing a communist government. This is one of several works representing the "Cult of Lenin" phenomenon that elevated this leader to deity status among the Soviet people.
Lenin is also a pivotal figure in M.S. Tkachev's 1935 painting, "Members of the Union," which portrays a meeting between Stalin and Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution in a room crowded with patriotic soldiers and artillery. The meeting never actually occurred, but it made good propaganda. Stalin favored socialist realism in art because it could be manipulated to political advantage, and in 1934 it was decreed the official form of artistic expression.
The highlight of the exhibition is the boldly colored propaganda posters. Recurring themes include army volunteers, heroic workers and the ever-present threat from the capitalist west. The latter is deftly portrayed in E.P. Solovjev's untitled poster from 1985, in which a huge, rifle-wielding fist traps a writhing half-man, half-serpent, its tongue ending in a swastika, symbolizing the magnitude of the threat. Once again, the U.S.S.R. crushes the capitalist menace.
Contrasting the ideological images are portrayals of common Soviet people. "Working Morning," from 1982, an oil by Brathenko, portrays men and women hurrying to work on a snowy day. Factories -- the eternal symbol of progress -- belch smoke into the air while socialist leaders appear in a sculpture overlooking the street. And M.A. Legart's oil, "Nina, 1950," is a sensitive, competent portrait of a member of a Soviet youth organization. She looks proud to belong to the group, which structured meetings and activities for young people.
Also of note are medals that were awarded for military achievements, labor and civic duty. These are works of art in themselves and feature intricate enameling, gilding and metalwork. KGB badges and buttons from various hierarchical levels of the infamous Committee of State Security are included, as well as a large, porcelain vase highlighted in gold that would have been awarded to a deserving unit. Once symbols of unquestioned power, these, too, remain mementos of a regime that is now history -- one whose political legacy is immortalized in its art.