February 8 - March 23, 2013 / Main Gallery of the Mūkusala Art Salon
The officially decreed definition of socialist realism left indelible traces on the face of Latvian art of the Soviet period (1940-1941, 1944-1990). Its original definition - “Socialist realism (..) demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism. (..) Art must be national in form and socialist in content, that is, its subject has to be formulated in national tradition, based on socialist ideas.” - transformed and became more tolerant along with a certain liberalisation of the regime that followed Stalin’s death in 1953. Thus new currents entered the art scene, acquiring such labels as “the harsh style”, “associative figuration”, “fantastic realism”, etc. The subject and form of the work did not have to be so literal and unambiguous, the artists could afford to use a certain stylisation in their formal expression, as well as to make an attempt to establish their own system of signs, that could also include irrational symbols and elements of Aesopian language.
Looking at the wide reach of intuitive figuration in the art of the Soviet period, arguably one of the main movements affecting Latvian painters and graphic artists was surrealism. Not only because the movement was highlighted at an official level by “Surrealism in Art”, a book by Irina Kulikova (Ирина Куликова) published in Moscow in 1970, and the reproductions of works inspired by the said movement in the relatively accessible Polish art magazine “Projekt”. But also, because surrealism was not foreign to the Soviet system. Firstly, its origins are to be found among left-leaning artists, which included adherents of Marxism, while in the 1960s the Soviet Union to an extent rehabilitated the works of its own “red” Avant-Garde artists of the 1920s. Secondly, Soviet surrealism contained one of the main traits of the officially sanctioned movement - realism or recognisability of objects, which allowed the artists working in the Soviet Bloc, under the guise of apparent concreteness, to strive for a different art.
The exhibition from the Mūkusala Art Salon collection will not display works belonging to the classical understanding of “surrealism”, rather it will be a testament to its influence on Soviet Latvian painting and printmaking. The exhibition will include artists from the collection, who use automatic sketching of compositions (Biruta Delle), chance (Alberts Goltjakovs), stream of consciousness and imagined scenes coming from the unconscious (Māris Ārgalis, Vladimirs Glušenkovs, Maija Tabaka). Surrealism drew a response in Soviet art exactly because, contrary to the previously dominant, rationally conceived compositions, it offered a path to follow the inner intuition and to arrive at findings of form not premeditated by the author, as in the works of, for example, Ilmārs Blumbergs and Juris Dimiters. If not all, then several traits of Surrealism - “endowing depicted objects with opposing, mutually exclusive physical properties”, “the joining of unnatural things and objects in unexpected circumstances”, “co-existence of the real with the unreal”, “mutual overlays of various objects creating new images”, “merging the opposites”, “the use of biomorphic forms” - can be found in the paintings and prints of these artists. Despite that, none of the artists in this exhibition refer to themselves as surrealists, instead they mostly underline the uniqueness of their own system of symbols, and yet the process of their creation, undeniably, makes use of the methods found and formulated by the surrealists.
The exhibition is a collaboration with the Tukums Museum and the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Sniedze Kāle, art historian
Press image: Māris Ārgalis. Untitled. 1973. Oil and pencil on paper mounted on plywood. 70 x 80 cm. Photo: Jānis Pipars