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Socialist realism: from Stalin to Sots.

Scientific socialism is the most religious of all religions.

Anatoli Lunacharsky, 1907

The proletariat keeps away from those gloomy and tedious personalities who fear laughter, joking, gaiety, and joie de vivre. For the beauty of Socialist art is the beauty of the fight which millions and again millions are waging under the leadership of the genius Stalin. It is a strong and heroic beauty which pictures the stormy course of events, yet does not sweep the artist away, but uplifts his ideas and brings strength to his arm and courage to his heart.

Sergei Dinamov, 1937

The beauty (or is it the horror?) of Socialist Realism was that it offered a complete world--an unambiguous totality that identified regression with progress, rationalized the inchoate yearnings of mass culture, and orchestrated a cacophonous multimedia system with a singleminded coherence beyond the capacity of any isolated individual. A true vanguard, Socialist Realism began to crumble well in advance of the Soviet Union, its imperfect simulation. Albeit a scandalous digression in the narrative of Modern art, it was an organic development in Russian culture--where it even now continues to mutate.

If Russian painters have historically shown greater concern for the world's spiritual transformation than for its naturalistic representation, then Socialist Realism--typically described as "utopia in lifelike forms"--was a deeply rooted flowering. Long before 1937 or even 1917, Russia had resisted the secular art of the West. It was the veneration of the holy icon that distinguished the Russian esthetic, although "esthetic" (Sergei Dinamov might tell you|1~) isn't the precise word: as the collector Ilya Ostroukhov wrote in 1913, "the icon takes us into an absolutely special world, one which has nothing in common with the world of painting . . . a world created by faith and filled with representations of the spirit."|2~ More than the stylized image of a saint, the icon was a "prayer in material form"; yet not simply "a door to heaven," it was the authority sanctioning the social order.|3~

For Russia's early-20th-century avant-garde, the icon was both a symbol of an ideal national past and an inspiration for a transfigured future. Later, under the rule of Stalin, who had spent his adolescence at a Georgian theological seminary, the icon was recast: portraits of Soviet leaders greeting workers, planning industrial victories, inspecting harvests, and otherwise engaging in the construction of socialism were rendered with a pomp so extreme that, as Gyorgy Szucs notes, their perfection "enchants and disarms the viewer."|4~ The saint is axiomatic in Socialist Realism; the figure of the so-called positive hero or heroine is the brave, steadfast, selfless, and allegorical personification of Bolshevik ideals, the embodiment of history's "forward" trajectory. One sort of living positive hero was the Stakhanovite, named for the miner Alexei Stakhanov, who presaged the New Soviet Man on August 31, 1935, when he cut some 102 tons of coal, exceeding the quota by 1,400 percent. The other, of course, was Stalin.

Leader, Teacher, Friend, painted by Grigori Shegal in 1937 (the year of the slogan "Dreams become reality"), shows an apparent meeting of the Communist Central Committee. An avuncular Stalin stands left center at the podium. He has heard the question of the earnest peasant woman sitting beside him, and is affably poised to answer. Around them, people in various national garbs cup their ears, tilt their heads, and pretzel about to catch his imminent words. A diagonal vector leads from the strenuous attention of the woman turning in the foreground, through Stalin, to the outsized stone Lenin hovering behind, harmonizing the space while bestowing the blessing of history. "Obviously, Lenin's presence can be no more than an abstraction," writes Szucs. "The present time is filled by Stalin."|5~

The artist who did most to dramatize this icon on celluloid was Mikhail Chiaureli. As a youth, Chiaureli had painted frescoes in Georgian churches. At the post-World War II height of his career he was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet. Chiaureli's first films showed the influence of the European avant-garde, but he soon corrected himself--or, rather, he chose another vanguard. It was in 1938, in The Great Dawn, that Chiaureli introduced an infallible Stalin as a historical character. The following year he began The Vow, to confirm Stalin as Lenin's heir.

Completed in 1946, its production delayed by war, The Vow is named for the oath of fealty that Stalin took at Lenin's tomb--a declaration suggesting, for Isaac Deutscher, the "homage to a deceased tribal chief"|6~--and is less a narrative than a succession of friezes dramatizing events from Lenin's death in 1924 through World War II. As it courses through the mighty figure of Stalin, the film concerns the fate of the Volga port city that, from 1925 to 1961, bore his name.

Populated by a mixture of historical personalities and abstract social types, The Vow is a tale of sacred substitutions. Like a messenger from the serfs sent to entreat the tsar, an old Bolshevik sets out for Moscow to deliver a letter (perhaps an enemies list?) to Lenin. Kulaks kill him en route, and his grandmotherly wife, Varvara, assumes the mission. But she arrives too late. Lenin is ill--and then, Lenin has died. As the people weep outside the leader's Gorky home, and the music swells, the film's somber Stalin-impersonator appears in majestic close-up, walking alone in the cold, gazing on the bench where he and Lenin last spoke. That the outline of Lenin's form is still marked in the snow seems a gag out of Un Chien Andalou, an impression only reinforced by the irrational cut that instantly transports Stalin to his Kremlin office. He sits at his desk, lights his pipe, and is given an epiphany: a thought-balloon of Lenin agitating.

Snow is still falling on Red Square as Stalin declares that "men like Lenin never die" but "live forever in our hearts." He stands and swears eternal allegiance. Onlookers are rapt: "Stalin gives his vow, and so shall we!" As Varvara advances with the letter, the crowd parts. Celestial voices resound as she presents it to Stalin. A banner is raised, the face of Lenin fills the screen, and a maimed herdsman speaks for all: "Now we know that Lenin is still alive."

But the age of miracles has only just begun. ("The only difference between Stalin and Tarzan is that the films about the latter don't pretend to be documentaries," French critic Andre Bazin would write.|7~) The morning after Stalin's vow, the first Soviet-made tractor chugs into Red Square, then, tragically, stalls. Kibbitzed by sympathetic bystanders, the desperate driver tinkers ineffectually under the hood. Nothing works. And then . . . Stalin, accompanied by a few colleagues. Friendly and concerned, ignoring Bukharin's cynical crack about the superiority of American products, Stalin inquires as to the difficulty and diagnoses it instantly: "The spark plugs, of course."

Comrade Stalin climbs into the driver's seat. Suddenly, a close-up of him at the wheel dissolves into an image of endless tractors plowing the Soviet fields.

Fully achieved Stalinist art, observes Katerina Clark, was an "ideological ecosystem" that eradicated conflict, brightening reality and ridding it of "pollutants."|8~ If so, the years between 1946 and 1953 saw the acme of Socialist Realism, as earlier representations of struggle were superseded by blandly harmonious depictions of everyday life in an achieved utopia. With its grateful deification of Stalin, The Vow had inaugurated a new era in Soviet movie-making. Although production dwindled, each film was an a priori "masterpiece."

Of course, after Khrushchev cited The Vow in his "secret" denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Party Congress in 1956, Chiaureli fell from fashion. His most famous movies were hidden. For a time he was reduced to directing educational cartoons--an apt fate for one who had made his reputation constructing children's psyches. Then, fifteen years later, Yugoslav director Dusan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism took advantage of the resources of the Jugoslovenska Kinoteka film archive to quote several sequences from The Vow in the service of the most intense critique of the October Revolution ever produced in a Communist country.

Idolatry invites iconoclasm: WR mocks the Stalin cult, Yugoslav workers, Communist intellectuals, and World War II partisans (sacred symbols in Eastern Europe and Russia), in part by abutting them with the sexual/political theories of the radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. To The Vow the film conjoins the piercing harmonies of a Yugoslav party hymn, a mock-Reichian sex documentary, and, later, an image, evidently from a Nazi medical film, of a mental patient banging his head against the wall: "We thank the Party, our glorious Party, for bringing happiness to every home." Inserting images of shock treatment into The Vow, WR also juxtaposes Stalin's proclamation "Comrades, we have successfully completed the first stage of Communism" with a shot of a plaster-cast of an erect penis.

WR also mixes documentary and fiction. The former was shot in the U.S., mainly among the hippies and weirdos of New York's East Village; the latter, staged in Yugoslavia, is a form of self-conscious Socialist Realism. Characters discuss the most intimate matters in ecstatic Marxist cliches: "As long as you were an apprentice beautician, you used to let me pluck roses in your garden. But now that you've passed a Party course, you snub intimate proletarian friend," an irate shockworker-of-Tito complains to winsome Milena, SexPol militant, who responds to his "slanderous lie" by labeling him an "irresponsible element."

The narrative concerns the doomed romance between Milena, a modern, Yugoslav "positive heroine," and an uptight Soviet "positive hero," the champion ice-skater and People's Artist insolently named Vladimir Ilich. Encased in character armor, Vladimir cannot accept Milena's sexual importunities. Indeed, after he responds to her flirtatious fondling by reflexively knocking her to the ground, he briefly disappears--replaced by a tearful Stalin in a frozen world, the bereft Stalin of The Vow. "That's a beautiful shot," Makavejev explained. "Stalin watches the bench in the snow where Lenin used to sit, and he is crying. This is pure demagogy, and I loved this scene for its shallowness, this kind of kitsch quality."|9~ The pathos of this moment in WR cannot be fully appreciated, or even really understood, without knowledge of the structure of The Vow.|10~

In a final (unseen) burst of sexual violence, Vladimir Ilich decapitates Milena with his ice skate. "Even now I'm not ashamed of my Communist past," her disembodied head tells us--speaking, one suspects, for Makavejev as well. WR was to be the last utopian Communist film (that it was produced at the height of the '60s in a no-longer-existent country adds to its fairy-tale quality), but only the first to appropriate Socialist Realist texts. Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble, 1976, based on a treatment first submitted to the Polish ministry of culture in 1962, investigates the creation--and subsequent disappearance--of an imaginary Stakhanovite of the early '50s, the bricklayer Mateusz Birkut, who is launched as a public figure by a propaganda short on the construction of the model city of Nowa Huta. (Wajda credits himself as assistant director on this film-within-the-film, Architects of Our Happiness, an adroit combination of vintage and newly shot "documentary" footage.) Birkut's career is short-circuited when, in the midst of a work demonstration, he is given a scalding-hot brick--a travesty of one of Poland's most celebrated Socialist Realist paintings, Aleksander Kobzdej's Pass Me a Brick, 1950.

Marta Meszaros' Diary for My Children, finished in 1981 but shelved for several years by the Hungarian authorities, not only integrates bits of Cold War newsreel footage--anticipatory documentaries of utopian, which is to say nonexistent, events--but extensively quotes the 1950 Hungarian film Life Is Beautiful If You Sing. Originally advertised as a "film-comedy about our sunny, free, happy life!," this account of rival factory choirs--one led by a bourgeois conductor, the other by the workers of the Socialist Brigade--is so relentlessly "enlightened," so worshipful of its machine-shop setting, and so enthusiastic about the "new world being built in the name of Stalin" that it achieves a certain stolid delirium. Given the official suspicion of theatrical revivals, the resurrection of Life Is Beautiful If You Sing in the Hungary of the early '80s more than signifies temps perdu. As the Russian writer Boris Kagarlitsky noted, "For the classical socialist-realist, a theatrical performance is a play which is read from the stage 'in character.' Campaigns were waged against 'distortion of classical plays.'"|11~

In this context an even more subversive Hungarian movie of the period was the one known in English as Singing on the Treadmill, 1974, which takes off from the 1957 Socialist Realist operetta Bastyasetany 77--the title is the address of a dilapidated house in Budapest that four young couples compete to restore. Director Gyula Gazdag and screenwriter Miklos Gyorffy set this story within an elaborate frame: the tale of the operetta's composition, by a pair of clownishly bureaucratic librettists, Dezso and Reszo, for characters who have minds--or at least wills--of their own.

Although Dezso and Reszo write the script of their musical, it would be more accurate to say that they transform than that they create the film's other characters, the four young couples, who are born in ditches and carried along on an assembly line to the warehouse where their benefactors work. The bureaucrats urge the couples to trust them: "We promise all your dreams will come true. All we ask is patience and discipline." But try as they might to legislate a happy ending, they are confounded by recalcitrant human nature--compelled to replay ruined scenes, revive suicide victims, and forcibly reorient the couples until even their own confidence is shaken.

The movie's satire of a paternalistic state is no less self-evident that its conflation of romantic and political illusions--in part because the couples are so blatantly childish. Like Witold Gombrowicz's play Operetta, Singing on the Treadmill could be said to mix "the monumental idiocy" of its chosen genre with "the monumental pathos of history."|12~ The film climaxes in a burst of musical madness: a chorus, dressed in a wardrobe-room's worth of costumes, dances the rumba while singing an ode to a Mexican volcano. Finally all four couples are permitted to share the house, and, swaying in unison, they break into the finale from yet another Hungarian Socialist Realist operetta. The People's Department Store of 1949: "Life has become so beautiful, our hearts are filled with joy."

Gazdag was informed that no amount of cutting would make Singing on the Treadmill acceptable. But by the time the movie was released--in 1984, a decade after its completion--the culture had already absorbed its subversive use of Stalin-era optimism. In 1976, one of Gazdag's associates at the Csiky Gergely Theater in Kaposvar had done a stage version of The People's Department Store, replicating as closely as possible the costumes, props, and acting style of 1949. When Gazdag proposed a production of a Soviet operetta from the same period, however, permission was refused.

"Irony is the faithful companion of unbelief and doubt; it vanishes as soon as there appears a faith that does not tolerate sacrilege," writes Abram Tertz. Under the regime of Socialist Realism, "irony was replaced by pathos, the emotional element of the positive hero."|13~ But once Socialist Realism was "post-," its icons could only be read as ironic . . . and pathetic as well.

In 1971, a year after WR won the Luis Bunuel prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Eric Bulatov, a Russian painter of the same generation as Makavejev and Meszaros, began to paint what might have seemed an eccentric Soviet version of Western photorealism: uninflected images of ordinary vistas rendered spatially ambiguous by embedded or superimposed political symbols. In Red Horizon, 1971-72, a brilliant crimson-and-gold band bisects a beachscape where the sea would otherwise meet the sky. Is it a Suprematist intervention, a mechanical sunrise, or, as Boris Broys points out, the ribbon of the Order of Lenin?

Other Bulatov canvases exploit the tension between material and representation by imposing the flatness of a political slogan or placard upon a naturalistic rendering of three-dimensional space. Thus Krassikov Street, 1976, replaces the kind of black or white square that might charge a Kasimir Malevich canvas with a billboard of Lenin in a view of a Moscow avenue. German critic Claudia Jolles has characterized Bulatov's interest as the "energy" behind the scene he paints; that "the visible world is little more than a momentary disturbance in the light radiating from the picture" puts him closer to icon painting (or to Suprematism) than to Pop art.|14~ Yet merely by framing his social reality. Bulatov appears to undermine it.

Red letters spelling out the title of Dobro pokalovatch (Welcome, 1973-74) emblazon a Cinerama-shaped canvas showing the "friendship of nations" fountain at Moscow's All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (completed in 1953, and hence the last masterpiece of Stalinist architecture, a dream-world as developed as Disneyland). In Slava KPSS (Glory to the communist party of the Soviet Union, 1975), the words of the title--again red, and even more huge--are set against a postcard-perfect blue sky. How could one explain such deadpan overenthusiasm to the cultural apparatchiks of the Brezhnev era? Soviet Cosmos, 1977, similarly suggests a comically bungled obsequiousness: an imposingly decorated Brezhnev is ridiculously overshadowed by an immense red-and-gold halo of hammer-and-sickled flags.

Here, the simple representation the icon is iconoclastic. This is why Bulatov has been bracketed with "Sots art" ("Sots" being short for "socialist"), a term coined in 1972 by two younger Moscow artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, and subsequently adopted by painter Alexandr Kosolapov and sculptor Leonid Sokov, former classmates of theirs at Moscow's Stroganov art institute. (Groys prefers the term "Russian postutopianism" to "Sots art.") Work under this label would include the red banners that Komar and Melamid exhibited in New York in 1976: inscribed with standard agitprop exhortations like "Onward to the Victory of Communism," they are made extraordinary only by the addition of the artists' names in the lower right-hand corners.

More than a few European critics present for Robert Rauschenberg's triumph at the 1964 Venice Biennale had compared Socialist Realism to Pop. Virtually all of the elements in a painting like Mikhhail Khmelko's Greeting to the First Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, on His Return to Earth, 1957--national leaders, space travel, abundant produce, festive flags--can be found, mutatis mutandis, in Rauschenberg's near-contemporary Retroactive I. Others had seen a useful analogy between Socialist Realism and the realism of Madison Avenue. From the perspective of Russian artists, such equivalences provided them with both a means to subvert Communist pretensions and a point of entry into American culture.

The combining of Soviet and American icons, anticipated by Makavejev in WR and, several years later, by the expatriate Czech painter Milan Kunc, became a persistent Sots-art strategy, from Kosolapov's trademark lithographic juxtapositions of Lenin and Coca-Cola to Sokov's Meeting of Two Sculptures, 1987, in which a monumental plaster Lenin shakes hands with a spindly faux Giacometti. Farther afield, the Chinese painter Wang Guangyi emblazons images of heroic worker-peasants with logos for Kodak and Maxwell House. Actually the device has become commonplace: a T-shirt widely sold in West Berlin after November 1989 conflated the year's two superheroes, showing the Soviet leader of the moment, clad in tights, towering over the rubble of the Berlin Wall, above the acrostic logo "GorBATshow MAN."

The former East Germany abounds with such inadvertent or vulgar Sots-art juxtapositions, ranging from the flashing Coca-Cola sign that presides over the Berlin boulevard still called Karl-Marx Allee to the posters showing a portrait of Stalin being garlanded by an adoring trio of Young Pioneers, reprinted from 1952 and now on sale in the lobby of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, in the same city. In China, the image of Mao has become the local equivalent of Garfield the cat. Old Cultural Revolution anthems like "The Sun is Most Red and Chairman Mao is Most Dear" reappear in disco arrangements. A 1989 Portrait of Chairman Mao by Shanghai artist Yu Youhan (born, like Komar and Melamid, during World War II) elaborates an Andy Warhol's well-known series of Maos, if not on the student protesters who that year splattered the giant image of Mao in Tiananmen Square with paint: Yu not only represents the Chinese leader in (misapplied) lipstick and eyeliner, but covers him with a garish panoply of floral patterns. Marginally more discreet, Chairman Mao in Discussion with the Peasants of Shao Shan, 1991, and Mao Zedong with Friends from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1992, merely obliterate the faces of the figures with inane Pepsodent smiles.

In New York, the late days of perestroika and the collapse of Soviet communism saw department-store advertisements for Soviet-style blue-jeans and porcelain facsimiles of revolutionary designs. All that remains is the integration of an exemplary Socialist Realist painting, perhaps A. Gerisamov's Lenin on the Tribune of 1930, into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. After all, MoMA has already acquired Komar and Melamid's complementary I Once Saw Stalin When I Was a Child, of 1981-82. But the follow-up purchase, of course, would assume a revaluation of exactly what a museum of modern art actually is.

The once canonical essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," originally published in the fall of 1939 as Clement Greenberg's first contribution to the then-Trotskyite Partisan Review, attacked Stalinist kitsch and turned to true socialism for the "preservation" of modern art. On the eve of World War II, as Harold Rosenberg would recall, Modernism seemed a period style--"to all appearances part of the past, suppressed by force in Moscow, Berlin, Rome silenced in Paris by the conflict between the political right and left. . . . A spectator in New York was looking back to modern art; new as they seemed, the exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art belonged to art movements that were already extinct."|16~

This putative obsolescence of Modernism was linked to the rise of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, dictators who took it upon themselves to remake the world. Modernism appeared to erode, then, precisely when art was taken most seriously--or at least deemed too important to be left to artists. (Surrealism anticipated this development, and tried to forestall it, by characterizing itself as a form of scientific research.) Some 40 years later, it might seem that Sots art constituted a belated response to Soviet totalitarian culture, and could be easily drafted into ideological combat as its adversary. Indeed, it is suggestive that the Golden Age of New York Sots--beginning in the spring of 1982 with the Communist Congress performance by the Kazimir Passion Group at P.S. 1, followed by Komar and Melamid's "Sots-Art" gallery exhibition in 1982, and climaxing four years later with the "Sots Art" show organized by Margarita Tupitsyn at the New Museum of Contemporary Art--coincides exactly with the height of Reaganism, Rambo, and the Evil Empire; with the revival, that is, of Hollywood anti-Communism and Cold War jitters. Since then, Bulatov's 1989 Perestroika--a phalanx of block letters against an El Greco sky, with two hands holding aloft an interlocked hammer-and-sickle--has proven the road sign indicating an esthetic dead end. As early as 1979, Jack Burnham had wondered as to "artistic future of Komar and Melamid if they are deprived of the abrasion and suppression of Soviet dogma."|17~

But is that deprivation really the question? There is a moment in Singing on the Treadmill when the Dezso/Rezso regime is threatened with chaos, and the Eternal Goddess of the Operetta graciously appears, restoring order by crooning a notorious Stalin-era lullaby: "A better world is being born for you, thousands of working hands watch over your dreams." The monstrous pathos of this state-sanctioned, scientifically designed, politically correct nursery song is another legacy of Stalinism: Gazdag, like the Kazimir Passion Group, like Komar and Melamid (who, in their 1982-83 Double Self-Portrait as Young Pioneers, painted themselves as mustached eight-year-olds ambiguously razzing or saluting a bust of stalin), clearly associates Socialist Realism with his childhood.

Who are gauge the impact on the impressionable fourth-grader of a film like Young at Heart, 1953, a commie-color vision of total mobilization set in an immaculate Hungarian vocational-training school, at once drably institutional and eerily palatial, where waxworklike teachers engage in all manner of parades, calisthenics, and hootenannies? At the climax a shiny-eyed ten-year old is placed in charge of production: "Join us, comrades! Become an iron-worker and life will be seen more beautiful!" Small wonder that in pronouncing Socialist Realism among the "best" of all art movements, Komar and Melamid declared their work not a reaction against Socialist Realism but its continuation.|18~ They clearly took Socialist Realism as usable culture. Even Bulatov's Brezhnev in the Crimea, 1981-85, might seem like a petrified Magritte were it not so obviously modeled upon Feodor Shurpin's no-less-opalescent Morning of Our Fatherland, 1948, a portrait of a white-uniformed Stalin standing before a pearly sky and pastel field. If Socialist Realism is kitsch, Sots art is kitsch in reverse.|19~

"The precondition for kitsch," Greenberg insisted, "is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience."|20~ This, of course, was the Sots-art program, even if the mature cultural tradition at hand was not the one Greenberg had in mind.

An exhibition of Socialist Realist art, "Stalin's Choice: Soviet Socialist Realism 1930-1956," can be seen at P.S. 1, New York, from 21 November to February 1994.

1. See Sergei Dinamov, quoted in Kurt London, The Seven Soviet Arts, London: Faber & Faber, 1937, p. 232.

2. Ilya Ostroukhov, quoted in Margaret Betz, "The Icon and Russian Modernism," Artforum 25 no. 10, Summer 1977, p. 39.

3. Press material for "Gates of Mystery: The Art of Holy Russia," an exhibition at Princeton University, 17 November 1992-7 February 1993.

4. Gyorgy Szucs, "The Philosophy of Pictorial Sovereignty," in Peter Gyorgy and Hedvig Turai, eds., Art and Society in the Age of Stalin, Budapest: Corvina, 1992, p. 49.

5. Ibid., p. 59.

6. Isaac Deutscher, "Marxism and Primitive Magic," in Tariq Ali, ed., The Stalinist Legacy, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, p. 115.

7. Andre Bazin, "The Stalin Myth," Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols, Berkeley: University of California, 1985, II:35.

8. Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual, Chicago: at the University Press, 1981, p. 109.

9. Dusan Makaveyev, "Fight Power with Spontaneity and Humor: An Interview with Dusan Makaveyev," Film Quarterly, Winter 1971-72, p. 7.

10. In similar fashion, Makaveyev's latest film, Gorilla Bathes at Noon, 1992, shot mainly in post-Cold War Berlin, proposes itself as an absurdist sequel to Chiaureli's Fall of Berlin, 1949, a World War II epic described by historian Peter Kenez as the ultimate in "Stalinist piety." Makavejev's protagonist is the last Soviet solider left in the no-longer-divided city, the child of the lovers Alexei and Natasha, reunited in the presence of Stalin at Fall of Berlin's suitably ecstatic climax. In addition to this scene and others (some overdubbed with the soundtrack from the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will), Gorilla Bathes at Noon incorporates footage documenting the decapitation and removal of a 60-foot statue of Lenin, supposedly the world's largest, in the former East Berlin.

11. Boris Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed: Intellectuals and the Soviet State from 1917 to the Present, London: Verso, 1988, p. 116.

12. Jan Kott, The Theater of Essence, Evanston: Northwestern University, 1984, p. 93.

13. Abram Tertz, On Socialist Realism, New York: Vintage, 1960, pp. 199-200.

14. Claudia Jolles, "Erik Bulatov--Visions of Power, the Power of Vision," Eric Bulatov, exhibition catalogue, London: Parkett/ICA, 1989, p. 10.

15. In his article "Komar and Melamid and the Luxury of Style," Artforum 16 no. 5, January 1978, p. 41, Mark Field notes that "one of the only works in Komar's and Melamid's recent exhibition not sold was a banner bearing the words 'Glory to Communism' in gold letters on a red field. The artists conceived of it as being analogous to Warhol's Brillo boxes."

16. Harold Rosenberg, "The Old Age of Modernism," Art on the Edge, Chicago: at the University Press, 1983, p. 287.

17. Jack Burnham, "Introduction" in Paradox and Politics: The Art of Komar and Melamid, ed. Melvyn B. Nathanson, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1979, p. xxxix.

18. Burnham, "Komar and Melamid, Post-USSR, Get Religion," Art in America 67 no. 1, January-February 1979, p. 13.

19. Other artists have been less adept: it is striking that in his 1980 Man of Iron and her 1986 Diary for My Loves, sequels to Man of Marble an Diary for My Children respectively, Andrzej Wadja and Marta Meszaros produced works that in their stilted lack of ambiguity resemble orthodox Socialist Realism. In Man of Iron, the actual Lech Walesa presides over the wedding of two fictional characters, much as a Stalin impersonator brought together a pair of long-sundered lovers in the stupefyingly sublime climax of Chiaureli's Fall of Berlin.

20. Clement Greenberg, "Art and Kitsch," Art and Culture, Boston: Beacon, 1961, p. 10.

J. Hoberman is the senior film critic for The Village Voice, New York. He recently published a collection of his writings, Vulgar Modernism (Temple University Press). He is working on a book on American movies and politics.
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Title Annotation:Joseph Stalin
Author:Hoberman, J.
Publication:Artforum International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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