Exhibition of Severe Style Russian Art planned at the Saatchi Gallery for March 2015

Nov 21st, 2014 | By | Category: Journal


Farewell, 1967, by Geli Korzhev

Farewell, 1967, by Geli Korzhev

















A new exhibition of Severe Style Russian art is in planning for March 2015 at the Saatchi Gallery in London.  The Saatchi Gallery are keen to build on the success of their two Russian Art exhibitions in 2012/2013, ‘Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union (post Soviet period art)’ and ‘Breaking the Ice (Non-Conformist Art of the 1960/70’s).’

The new exhibition, which will have a full catalogue, will explore the Russian artistic response to WWII and focus primarily on the Severe Style artists of the 1960’s such as Geli Korzhev and Nikolai Andronov.  These artists were not Non-Conformist in that they still operated loosely within the confines of the officially approved Socialist Realism and were thus given access to paints, commissions and studios.  However, within those parameters they managed to produce a highly personal body of work which skated so close to the official doctrine that they often ran into serious problems with the authorities.

According to interviews with these artists, most of whom are dead now, the artists were as traumatized by the war as everyone else.  Many of them had either fought in the War, such as Sergei Tkachev, or been evacuated to Samarkand, such as Geli Korzhev and Vladimir Stozharov.  At the end of WWII,  there were 25m Russians dead and 25m homeless.  Russian villages were full of disabled soldiers and this subject became a fertile theme for artists.

“The 1950s ushered in a period of artistic uncertainty as well as a search for one’s own artistic principles that were no less difficult to determine.” –  G. Korzhev

In the early 1950’s and after Stalin’s death and the ‘thaw,’ exhibitions of Western art came to Russia for the first time including shows of international contemporary art, Picasso and Abstract Expressionism.  Pioneering artists such as Nikolai Andronov, Geli Korzhev, Viktor Popkov, Pavel Nikonov, Pyotr Ossovski, Victor Ivanov and Tair Salahov rejected the happy cheerful subject matter of Socialist Realism, drew upon Soviet art of the 1920’s for inspiration and created the ‘Severe Style.’  They abandoned the polished classical style that was fashionable at the time and practised by artists such as Aleksandr Laktianov and presented a subject matter that they felt better reflected the grim austerity of post war Russia.  Monumental paintings by Korzhev, Popkov and Salahov used subjects drawn from daily life with simplified form, colour and a dramatic cinematic manner.

Often these new works attracted significant opposition from those in power and Salahov remembers the times in an interview, “The Russian Soviet encyclopedia identifies me as one of the artists who started this movement along with Victor Ivanov and Pavel Nikonov. We set the course that many artists later followed throughout the Soviet republics. 

Of course, it was dangerous to chart such a course at that time. But I followed my heart. I did what my heart told me to do. We were severely criticized. They tried to stop us. They wouldn’t allow us to go abroad. They publicly criticized our works. Sometimes on the day just prior to the opening of a major exhibition, officials would come and demand that certain works be taken down. The excuse was that they simply did not fit into the broader scheme of Socialist Realism.”

The Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, curated round Russian artist’s response to WWII, will be a small show of some 30 paintings and sculpture and aims to introduce the Severe Style artists to a  broader audience.  Due to current tensions with Russia over US-led sanctions, it is difficult to borrow works from Russian museums now so the artworks will be drawn from private collections in the West.  The only Severe Style artist that has been shown in London to date was Victor Popkov who had a well received show at Somerset House last year.

The exhibition will run for a month through March and there will be a series of 4 evening lectures at the gallery on consecutive Thursdays.

– For more on the Severe Style see: http://www.russianartdealer.com/severe-style/#sthash.cppIdpfC.dpuf


Tags: Geli Korzhev, Nikolai Andronov, Russian art exhibitions in London, Russian Art Martket, Russian artist's response to WWII, Saatchi gallery, Severe Style exhibition, Tair Salahov, Victor Popkov

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