Steamboat Springs The early 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s in the Soviet Union represented a time of revolving change, open criticism and, eventually, reform.
Those years also gave those living in the West their first look at art behind the Iron Curtain.
“These paintings have not been seen by a lot of westerners,” said Rich Galusha, who is curating "The Russian Experience" art exhibit, which will give those in Steamboat a rare glimpse into Russian art when the exhibit opens at the Steamboat Art Museum for the First Friday Artwalk.
The exhibit, which predominantly features Russian art from 1930 to 1980, opens at 5 p.m. and will be on display until April 12. The collection was lent to the museum by a local couple who wish to remain anonymous.
A lecture will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 14 at the museum. The cost is $20 or $10 for members and students. At 6 p.m. Dec. 14, the museum will host the “Night at the Museum” dinner. Owners of the collection will be on hand, and those who attend will enjoy traditional Russian cuisine catered by Steamboat Meat and Seafood Co. Tickets are $75 and on sale at the museum.
“I think this is the best exhibit we’ve had,” Galusha said.
This exhibit introduces a hidden world of Russian paintings from a time period known as Russian socialist realism and impressionism styles.
The artwork became available to westerners when Perestroika — the literal meaning of restructuring — occurred during the 1980s in Russia.
Part of Perestroika introduced market-like reforms that allowed artists to sell their work. And in the early 1990s, collectors and scholars learned of the changes and gobbled up the art pieces.
More recently, the Russian government prohibits art from leaving the country without a permit from the ministry of culture.
The paintings on display in Steamboat are vivid portraits based in realism and impressionism. Art students in Russia were allowed to apply for entrance into the Academy of Arts institutes. From there, they faced six years of training.
Each year, students were forced to focus on one aspect of art. As they progressed through the rigorous program, what they were able to do was expanded.
“Western culture training wasn’t that tough,” Galusha said.
The images speak for themselves, all featuring portraits of working people. The impressionist style differs from French impressionism in that the Russian style is very masculine. Russian art schools didn’t encourage creativity, instead inviting discipline in the styles.
During the time period, artists would ask the government what it wanted them to paint.
“They said paint reality. Well, what’s reality?” Galusha said. “Really, it was what the government said it is.”
But the style was left up to the artist — a style adapted by most colleges and universities for years and years.
The portraits, however, provide a stark look into the working class of Russia. The images are intimate, intense and offer a peek behind the walls of Russia most have never seen.
“It’s about the present and not the past,” Galusha said. “You see in all of these it’s about the people. There is no one particularly important. They glorified the worker, which was part of socialism.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham