BRATISLAVA EXHIBITION SHOWS TO WHAT EXTENT THE COMMUNIST REGIME SHAPED ART

Top Pick: Making art under constraint

AN EXHIBITION entitled The Art of Socialist Realism in Slovakia 1948-1963 recalls the days of the communist regime through propaganda art. The works in this exhibition were drawn from the period that began when the communists came to power, continued through 1956 - when the Soviet leadership denounced Stalin - and ended a few years later.
"The first exhibition of really independent art in Slovakia, entitled Confrontations, took place in 1964. Therefore we can say that the period between 1948 and 1963 was a time of strict, conservative socialist realism," says Ivan Jančár, curator of the exhibition, which is running in Mirbach Palace.
"In the 1950s it was extremely difficult for artists to create anything other than what followed the official party line."


ĽUDOVÍT Križan, The Ironbender, 1956.
photo: Courtesy of GMB

AN EXHIBITION entitled The Art of Socialist Realism in Slovakia 1948-1963 recalls the days of the communist regime through propaganda art. The works in this exhibition were drawn from the period that began when the communists came to power, continued through 1956 - when the Soviet leadership denounced Stalin - and ended a few years later.

"The first exhibition of really independent art in Slovakia, entitled Confrontations, took place in 1964. Therefore we can say that the period between 1948 and 1963 was a time of strict, conservative socialist realism," says Ivan Jančár, curator of the exhibition, which is running in Mirbach Palace.

"In the 1950s it was extremely difficult for artists to create anything other than what followed the official party line."

These works of art were created in the spirit of socialist realism, and had to match specific criteria dictated by the regime. They had to glorify the communist leadership's actions, such as the nationalisation of the land and the forced organisation of people into farmer's unions. Because of the restricted range of officially permitted topics artists were allowed to portray in their work, the themes of the paintings and statues are quite repetitious.

"Art, above all, had to be realistic and optimistic, praising the ideals of the era. There were certain themes that were prescribed, like portraying [leading] statesmen and [anonymous] workers in the fields and in factories. The intelligentsia had no place in art," says Jančár.

Because the state tried to influence every minute detail of a person's life, it had to invest a considerable amount of money into the promotion of its ideas. For that reason, it ordered the creation of many works of art to display in museums and galleries. The largest sums of money were invested into monumental art - sculptures erected in parks and in front of schools and factories.

"[Therefore] I had an amazing amount of material to chose from for this exhibition, I had no need to borrow works from other galleries. We could do many more exhibitions like this one," says Jančár.

The curator expected the exhibition to cause some controversy because of its theme and because some of the artists featured in the exhibition are still alive, some even actively working today. But instead of receiving any critical reaction from the artists associated with socialist realism, the display has enjoyed intense interest from its visitors.

"Almost an entire generation doesn't know what kind of art was created during communism and how it influenced people. Many of the people who lived through the period are a bit shaken after they've seen the exhibition. They had forgotten how it looked back then," says Jančár.

The exhibition is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 to 17:00, until March 16. Admission is Sk40. Galéria Mesta Bratislavy (GMB), Mirbachov palác (Mirbach Palace), Františkánske nám. 11, Bratislava. Tel: 02/5443-1556.

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