When Russia adopted Christianity in the late 10th century, Russian artists began incorporating influences from Byzantine art and architecture into their own local traditions. Perhaps most notable are the Russian icons, or paintings of saints, with gold backgrounds. Other subject matter, including portraiture, landscapes, and history painting, became more common in the 17th and 18th centuries. The 19th century saw the rise of everyday genre scenes and the graphic arts. Artistic experimentation seemed to explode in the early 20th century, amidst a period of political and social unrest. While some artists drew upon national or folk traditions, others were inspired by artistic developments in Western Europe. Styles ranged from realism to abstraction. Artists blurred the traditional boundaries between different art forms.
- What artistic traditions do you think the artist drew upon? How did s/he transform them? For what reason?
- What traditions do you think the artist challenged and/or rejected? For what reason?
- How does the visual imagery—the form, color, size, medium, etc.—help to convey the artwork’s message?
- What message(s) does the work communicates? Who do you think the artist was addressing? Why do you think this?
- Do you think the artwork communicates an official government message, or at least a message that the government would have approved of? What makes you think this?
- Does the artwork critique the government and official culture? What is being critiqued and how so?
Want to Know More?
Works in the Nasher’s Collection
Duke Libraries’ Russian Posters Collection, 1919-1989 and undated.
Badovinac, Zdenka, Joseph Backstein, et al. Body and the East: From the 1960s to the Present. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
Balina, Marina, Nancy Condee, and Evgeny Dobrenko, eds. Endquote: Sots-Art Literature and Soviet Grand Style. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2000.
Berlin—Moscow: 1950-2000. Exh. cat. Berlin: Martin Gropius Bau; Moscow: State Tretiakov Gallery, 2004.
Bown, Matthew Cullerne. Contemporary Russian Art. Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1989.
Degot, Ekaterina. Contemporary Painting in Russia. Sydney: Craftsman House, 1995.
Dickerman, Leah, ed. Building the Collective: Soviet Graphic Design, 1917–1937; Selections from the Merrill C. Berman Collection. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
Dodge, Norton, and Margarita Tupitsyn. Apt Art: Moscow Vanguard in the ‘80s. Washington, D.C.: Washington Project for the Arts, 1985.
Forbidden Art: The Postwar Russian Avant-Garde. New York: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 1998.
Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s. Exh. cat. Flushing: Queens Museum of Art, 1999.
Goodman, Susan Tumarkin, ed. Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change, 1890–1990. Exh. cat. New York: Jewish Museum, 1995.
Gray, Camilla. The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922. Revised and updated by Marian Burleigh-Motley. London: Thames & Hudson, 1986.
Hoptman, Laura and Tomáš Pospiszyl, eds. Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2002.
Neumaier, Diane, ed. Beyond Memory: Soviet Nonconformist Photography and Photo-Related Works of Art. Exh. cat. New Brunswick and London: The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum and Rutgers University Press, 2004.
O’Donnell, Ellen, Jamey Gambrell, and Yevgeny Barabanov. Adaptation and Negation of Socialist Realism: Contemporary Soviet Art. Exh. cat. Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis, and Paul Paret. Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Ridgefield: Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990.
Roberts, Norma, ed. The Quest for Self-Expression: Painting in Moscow and Leningrad, 1965–1990. Exh. cat. Columbus: Columbus Museum of Art, 1990.
Rosenfeld, Alla, ed. Defining Russian Graphic Arts, 1898–1934. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press and the Zimmerli Art Museum, 1999.
Rosenfeld, Alla, and Norton T. Dodge, eds. From Gulag to Glasnost: Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.
Rosenfeld, Alla, ed. Moscow Conceptualism in Context. New Brunswick: Zimmerli Art Museum; Munich: Prestel, 2011.
Ross, David, ed. Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late
Communism. Exh. cat. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990.
Samizdat: Alternative Culture in Central and Eastern Europe: 1960s to 1980s. Bremen: Edition Temmen, 2000.
White, Stephen. The Bolshevik Poster. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.