A unique collection of Socialist Realism Art
by Romuald Mieczkowski
Nowy Dziennik, New York, NY
(translated by Michael Szporer, SIEC)

When leaving the Soviet Union Juri Maniichuk had to obtain permission from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to take his "masterpieces" out of
the country. Prominent experts responsible for the protection of national treasures were simply dumbfounded. Nonetheless, they had no
argument to forbid exportation abroad the canvasses of Lenins, Stalins, and other leaders of the Comminist Revolution, of the Red Army
soldiers and partisans, of workers and peasants, of the heroes of socialist labour profiled against the backdrop of steaming factory chimneys,
liquid steel furnaces of foundries, power plants, mines, tractors, and combines.

One hundred and thirty five large canvasses made their way to America with Juri. They reflect the grandeur backed by the iron will of
Bolshevik might. Socialist realism fascinates me as attempt to turn art to the renaissance in the comminist rendition. Art always had a certain
political dimension, retaining an ideological function. The system harnessed it for its own agenda. The closing of
borders and isolation of
    the USSR, along with the demands on the arts, of course, were the motivating factors.
        Vadim  Bogdanov
      Voice of "Big Land"
  1978, oil on canvas, 176x124
    watered socialist realist
passions and made them blossom on canvas.

  "The paintings can be classified into several types: kitsch portraits and scenes from proletarian
  life; paintings on the edge that diverged from socialist realism dicta; compromises with the regime
  ideology, among them more "ambitious" pieces intended for the walls of offices of enlightened
  bureaucrats; poster-paintings celebrating historical events; large-scale paintings intended for
  museums, theatres, palaces of culture and clubs. The latter surprise us with the seriousness of
  their execution and monumentalism. It was well known that quality depended on many factors,
  and especially on the artist's name and reputation. Among them are the today forgotten "stars"
  of ideological commitment, but quite good craftsmen", Juri explains. 

  The early years of the revolution brought to fruition interesting talents artistic rebellion. The
  ideological noose quickly tightened. Even though volumes were written in the USSR about
  socialist realism and its "superiority" to bourgeois art, that type of art stiffened - reflecting in that
  gesture the dreariness of the time.

  Juri regards the paintings of the fifties, when socialist realism art was at its peak, as the most
  valuable of his collection. Later, socialist realism began to dissolve, abandoning ideology rather
  quickly, introducing innovation, as if foretelling the sudden collapse of communism.

  The collector gathered the canvasses of distinguished masters of the period. Their works were
                                                      described in a collection catalogue "Realism and Socialist Realism in Ukrainian Painting of
                                                      the Soviet Era".

Oleksy Shovkunenko's "Hymnal to Love", from 1950-51, stands out in the collection with its naive hyperrealism and plain photographic
narration, measuring 400-600cm, portraying Stalin surrounded by his faithful comrades - fallen stars of that forgotten season.

Very striking is Michail Antonchyk's "Triumph of Women". That triumph depends on three women - three barefooted graces of socialism -
with the record holder of the five-year plan in the foreground, donned with medalsof a labour heroine, and with a shoulder bag of
seeds sowing by hand the vast fields of kolkhoz (collective farm).      
        Mikhail  Weinstein
  1966, tempera on canvas, 160x89

There are canvasses of other Ukrainian masters expressing their devotion to the edicts
of socialist realism, among them Michail Weinstein, Tatiana Jablonskaya, Victor Puzyrkov,
Victor Shatalin, Zoya Lerman. Noteworthy are the pieces by Sergey Grigoryev, Boris Kolesnik,
Ivan Yevchenko, Juri Zorki, Ilya Vasilchenko, Asfat Safargalin - and many others whose
very names reflect the international flavor of Ukrainian art of the period.

Along with the local, the collection contain the works of newcomers to Ukraine, especially
the Russians who generally served as mentors. After all, realism in Russian art was
as formidable as in ballet. From the point of view of such influences, Ukraine was not
unlike other republics of the Soviet empire.

As the collector observes, his paintings albeit carefully selected, do not pretend
to be unique. Dozens of thousands of socialist realism paintings were produced in
the former USSR. Many canvasses were practically mass produced, but quite a few
by the brush stroke of very well known and highly skilled artists. Some are still kept
in museum vaults to this day. The hastilly assembled collection on the eve of collapse
of the empire is simply a witness of the period. Seemingly unique here, it could perhaps
compete with a gallery in some town in the former Soviet region, says the owner.

This type of art is little known beyond the borders of the former USSR and its former
satellites. Maniichuk would like to situate his collection in some American or Western
European museum, so that it could be seen publicly. The public would then perhaps
understand what was happening at the time in the empire, seen through the prism
of Ukraine from whose holding the paintings originate.

Maniichuk does not want to divide the collection. Aside from historical interst, the works are professionally executed, and realism
is fashionalble in the West, he observes. the Maniichuk paintings reflect a unique type of art from a closed historical period that
has no future. However, the collection as as investment has a bright future: Its value will undoubtedly grow over time.

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