I assembled this collection of Soviet-era realistic painting of the 1950s to 1980s with the help of expert art critics and specialists of the leading art museums of Ukraine, including the National Art Museum of Ukraine. With very few exceptions the canvases in this collection were exhibited at the republican and all-union exhibitions of their time. This is evidence that, despite the specific ideological requirements demanded from the artists on the social and political orientation of many of the pieces, they were executed with the highest professional and artistic standards.
I am completely persuaded that the collection fully reflects the character of Ukrainian Soviet painting and its national and artistic qualities. It also defines the place of Ukrainian painting within the broader context of art development in the USSR and beyond.
Tetiana Yablonska. Portrait of Jurii Maniichuk.
Oil on canvas. 1997. (95 x 100 cm)
This project is a scholarly undertaking. Until now in Ukraine, and in the former Soviet Union as a whole, there has not been any systematic attempt to rethink and contextualize the history of Ukrainian and Soviet socialist realist painting.
The original impetus in the creation of the collection came with the realization that the eyes of our contemporaries have witnessed a change of epochs. In my opinion, the Soviet epoch is most fully materialized in its art, which became a sphere of spiritual activity for the people.
The Soviet era firmly entrenched the idea that art must permeate all spheres of life. This illusion gave birth to another - the illusion of innumerable quantities of art works. This illusion was cultivated by the state, which always stepped forward in the role of sole commissioner and consumer of art. Throughout this time, paintings were evaluated and appropriated through the special structures of the Ministry of Culture. These paintings were then directed firstly to museums, then to state buildings, public organizations, and institutions. It appeared they were indeed innumerable.
However, the reality was different. In the process of forming the collection and analyzing the available statistics, it became clear that during a single decade only 100 to 150 paintings by Soviet artists found their way to the museums of Ukraine for safekeeping. Thus, painters of the past several decades were not as prolific as they may appear.
Yuri Zorko. Harvest. 1981.
Oil on canvas. (115 x 123 cm)
Also remarkable was the complicated hierarchy that existed in the public exhibition of art. For exhibition, the quality of paintings of 'titled' artists - academicians, professors, People's Artists, etc. - was accepted unequivocally. However, what became evident was that the factor that defined not only the exhibition but future fate of a painting was its very size. As a rule, only paintings of large dimensions were chosen for museum collections and public buildings. Taking into account their destination and the requirements of the state commission, artists completed these paintings with special diligence, notwithstanding the prerequisite ideological themes. It is precisely in such big paintings that the philosophy of socialist realism took concentrated shape.
Only an insignificant number of the big canvases were not bought by the state and these, for various reasons, mainly idiosyncratic and subjective, remained in the studios of the artists, awaiting better times. This fact was especially taken into consideration while putting together this collection.
It is not too difficult to imagine how many paintings perished or were consciously destroyed in the ideological reorientation of society in th 1990s. Because of material hardship, many artists did not shy from reusing these completed paintings as new canvases, working right over the old work. Since the turn of the century, scholars, critics, and collectors have begun to reevaluate socialist realist art, and now major museums in the former Soviet Union proudly display their Soveit-era holdings.
Serhi Lisenko.V. Lenin at Rest.
1960.Oil on canvas. (140 x 180 cm)
With the purpose of shaping this collection, several expeditions were undertaken throughout Ukraine. The trips were based not only on the desire to reflect the peculiarities of the regional schools, but also on the reasoning that it is particularly outside the boundaries of the capital city that one can find very interesting work. This is due to the fact that in Soviet times, Kiev-based artists, who made up the artistic 'elite,' had preference and privilege in defining the fate of their pieces, even if the quality of their work was less than that of their provincial colleagues. As a result the paintings of provincial artists more often returned from exhibition to their native studios.
Industrial and cultural centres were of particular interest. A substantial part of the collection represents the work of painters from Kharkiv, where a strong and unique school was formed. The rest of the pieces represent the art of Kiev, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Mikolaiv, Kherson and Sumi.
I deeply believe that this collection gives a chance for both specialists and art lovers to become acquainted with one of the most interesting pages of 20th century Ukrainian art and to gain a solid impression of the painting of socialist realism. The collection here is by level and quality on a par with many museum collections of Ukraine and, in some cases, reveals genuine masterpieces.