Press Release

Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to announce “From Pictorialism and Avant-Garde to Socialist Realism: Russian Photography, 1920s-1930s.” The exhibition of rare vintage photographs, will feature sixteen masters, including Max Alpert (1899-1980), Nikolai Andreev (1882-1947), Viktor Bulla (1883-1938), Semyon Fridlyand (1905-1964), Alexander Grinberg (1885-1979), Sergey Ivanov-Alliluev (1891-1979), Valentina Kulagina (1902-1987), Sergey Lobovikov (1870-1941), Moisei Nappelbaum, Nikolai Petrov (1874-1940), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956), Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959), Arkady Shishkin (1899-1985), Mikhail Tarkhanov (1888-1962), Vasily Ulitin (1888-1976) and M. Vitoukhnovsky (-).

The 1920s in Russian photography were the most exciting years, an age of great experiments. Photographers from different styles exhibited at major salons both at home and abroad. As in the West, modernist photography was coming into vogue, while the pictorialist movement was still popular with photographers who continued to explore printing techniques and remained faithful to their aesthetic ideals. Highlighted are works by Sergey Lobovikov using bromoil processes in his evocative images of the Russian rural life, and portraits of Russian “types” made by Vitoukhnovsky who traveled throughout Russia. Alexander Grinberg celebrated the human form in his studies of movement and nudes. Victor Bulla documented demonstrations and avant-garde street decorations of Petrograd of the early 1920s. Famous master of studio portraiture, Moisei Nappelbaum, created portraits of prominent revolutionaries, scientists, and cultural figures, and the exhibition will showcase a portrait of Lenin made in 1918, among others. Alexander Rodchenko’s first portraits of Vladimir Mayakovsky in 1924 became iconic. The exhibition also features some rare abstract photographs by a lesser known artist Mikhail Tarkhanov, who studied under Vasily Kandinsky in Vkhutemas in the early 1920s. This was a time of the birth of Soviet photojournalism, and the work by Arkady Shaikhet and Max Alpert, its most important founders, are in the exhibition.

Photography became the most effective art form and propaganda tool for the new Soviet society with t rise of socialist realism in the 1930s. The Masters of Soviet Photography exhibition in 1935 was the last to feature works of all genres side by side. The variety of styles ceased to exist by the end of the decade, pictorialism was forbidden for its lack of ideological content, avant-garde photographers were accused of formalism, and Alexander Grinberg was sentenced to a labor camp for eroticism. Gradually, images of optimism and the glorification of Stalin populated magazines and Soviet cinema. In the exhibition, Valentina Kulagina’s photomontage created for the entrance of the Siberian pavilion at the VDNKh (All-Union Agricultural Exhibition) is one of the greatest examples of socialist realist art.