Realisms

Wojciech Fangor, Postaci (Figuren), 1950 - © Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. Courtesy Galeria Stefan Szydlowski

Wojciech Fangor, Postaci (Figuren), 1950 - © Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. Courtesy Galeria Stefan Szydlowski

The other half of the Cold War binary is, of course, the socialist realism of Soviet, Chinese, and Eastern and Central Europe. Here, to a greater extent, institutional appropriation came before, not after, artistic production. Nevertheless, accounts of this category, too, can be overly fixed. Even in the heyday of its enforcement, socialist realism was not a single style. Under Mao Zedong, Chinese artists produced large official portraits of the Chairman (Jia Youfu, Marching Across the Snow-covered Mount Minshan, 1965) and scenes depicting model workers, but there was also tolerance of traditional ink painting, with the addition of appropriate symbols of the new order, such as the red flag. In the Soviet Union, art from the 1940s to Josef Stalin’s death in 1953 is primarily characterized by affirmative images of work, especially by heroic images of party leaders (Wassilij Jakowlew, Portrait of Georgii Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union, 1946). During the post-Stalinist thaw, genre painting influenced by the nineteenth-century Russian Wanderers became more prominent, as well as the “severe style,” influenced by Soviet art of the 1920s and early 1930s. Outside of the Soviet Union, because there was considerably more latitude for artists working with official socialist representation, such painters as the Czechoslovakian-born Willi Sitte made works that, while depicting officially sanctioned subjects, introduced personal drawing styles. Along with some works of moderate size intended for museums, this section emphasizes enormous public works, popular prints, and documentation.

“Realisms” also includes the influential Mexican muralist painter David Siquieros; ideologically programmatic art by such U.S. artists as Norman Rockwell, who was associated with realist rendering and popular audiences; and Communist Party artists working outside Communist-run countries, including Renato Guttuso and Boris Taslitzky.

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