Sam and Berry Shoen Soviet Art Collection
The Soviet Art Collection at Carthage features 131 pieces of professional artwork depicting scenes and themes from areas under Soviet rule in the 20th century. Sam and Berry Shoen, longtime supporters of the arts, donated the largest portion of the new collection of oil paintings and drawings from Armenia, Byelorussia, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. In total, Carthage received 131 pieces worth $3.8 million.
“It’s important for people to understand art in the context it’s created,”
Sam Shoen said. “Even under the most oppressive regimes,
beauty is created by talented people.”
About the Collection
The Carthage College Sam and Berry Shoen Collection of Soviet Art
The Carthage collection of 131 paintings from the Soviet era represents a cross-section of the extensive body of work created by artists who lived in the USSR. It contains works by renowned artists, recipients of the Stalin Prize and other important state awards, members of major art movements and art associations of the Soviet era, as well as regional artists and constitutes a representative body of work from the time period. It also boasts of several examples of the pre-Soviet and post-Soviet works.
Most of the artists in the collection were members of the Artists’ Union of the USSR and its various branches, and thus they were part of the official art establishment at the time when public discourse was heavily controlled by the ideological apparatus of the Soviet state and the Communist Party. The major vehicle of control was the USSR Artists’ Union, as well as some other organizations, such as state museums, art publications, and mass media.
Soviet art is a unique phenomenon in the history of world art. For seven decades, it existed outside the art market and was not subject to market regulation. Instead, it was regulated by ideological concerns, that were, most of the time, not the concerns of the artists themselves but rather imposed on them by the ruling Party’s ideological apparatus.
The Carthage collection is an important resource for studying the functioning of cultural production under the condition of oppression. It provides plentiful research material that helps theorize on how material conditions and social relations shape culture, as well as understand the specifics of cultural production under state socialism. It also allows us to examine individual strategies Soviet artists chose to navigate the dangerous waters of the heavily censored cultural space, vacillating between survival and servility, on the one hand, and creativity and independence, on the other. The collection provides material to uncover narratives that Soviet artists contributed to the public discourse — inspired by, or sometimes divergent from, official Soviet ideologies. It also provides pictorial material to learn about art styles and techniques prevalent in Soviet art.
The collection is broad in its geographical and temporal scope.
The artists in the collection originate from many regions of Russia as well as several other countries. The geography of their birthplaces is extensive, although many of them ended up settling in Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) for some or most part of their artistic careers. The collection‘s artists come from Smolensk, Briansk, Novgorod, Tver, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Ivanovo, Riazan, Tula, Oryol, Kursk, Tambov, Voronezh, Simbirsk, Samara, Saratov, Rostov-on-the-Don, Stavropol, Krasnodar, Astrakhan, and the Altai region in Siberia. All these towns are located within the 1991 borders of the Russian Federation.
Other countries include Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and Serbia.
The collection covers a century of Russian and Soviet art from the 1890s to the 1990s. The overwhelming majority of the works in the collection dates from 1930s to 1980s. Three pieces predate 1900, about 10 works were produced in the first three decades of the 20th century, and five pieces were produced in the 1990s. Out of 131 works, about 100 fall between the 1950s and 1980s. Based on these statistics, it can be safely stated that this is, by and large, a collection of post-WWII Soviet art from the RSFSR, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, with several pieces by Ukrainian, Armenian, and Georgian artists.
The selection of artists includes both top Soviet masters and lesser-known artists from regional artist unions. Among the artists of renown are: Nikolai P. Bogdanov-Belski, Sergei Gerasimov, Vasili Efanov, Petr Konchalovski, Porfiri Krylov, Aleksandr Laktionov, Ilia Mashkov, Dmitri Mochalski, Vasilii Nechitailo, Petr Ossovski, Arkadi Plastov, Yakov Romas, Aleksei and Sergei Tkachev, Vasili Nechitailo, and Mikhailo Weinstein.
Art Associations and Movements
Almost all of the artists in the collection were members of important art groups: the Itinerants, Jack of Diamonds, Association of the Artists of the Revolution, and Soviet Artists Union; and art styles and movements: Socialist Realism, Severe Style, and Village Art.
For examples of individual affiliations, see artist bios below.
The Carthage collection is one of several significant public collections of official Soviet-era paintings in the US. Other public institutions that have extensive collections of Soviet art are the Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis (more than 500 paintings from the Soviet era); Springville Museum of Art, Utah (209 works); Chazen Museum of Art–UW Madison (89 works, not all of them Soviet); and the Mead Museum at Amherst. The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University has thousands of works from the Soviet era, but its focus is nonconformist rather than official Soviet art. There are several pieces of Soviet-era art at the Georgia Museum of Art at the UG in Athens and some other institutions.
The Carthage collection complements the above mentioned collections with the artists that overlap in several collections, for example, Nechitailo, Semenyuk, Romas, Plastov, Vladimirski, the Tkachev brothers, and some other artists. Works by these artists at Carthage compliment other collections with a diversity of themes and time periods. For example, the Carthage collection has a significant work by Boris Vladimirski, a founding member of the Association of the Artists of Revolutionary Russia. This 1950 work, “Ninth of January, Bloody Sunday,” depicts a 1905 event that heavily contributed to the spread of the revolutionary movement, leading to the overthrow of the Imperial power in 1917. This is, in all likelihood, the most important work by this artist currently found in the US museums and public collections.
At the same time, the Carthage collection fills in gaps in the American holdings of Soviet art and includes names that other collections don’t have, such as Vasili Efanov (alternative spelling Yefanov), one of the most famous representatives of Socialist Realism. He received some of the USSR’s highest awards, including the honorary title of People’s Artist of the USSR and five Stalin Prizes.
Other examples are Vasili Konovalov, a participant of the Itinerant exhibitions in the late 19th century; Petr Ossovski, one of the founders of the Severe Style, a new and ground-breaking trend in post-Stalinist art; Aleksandr Lyubimov, a member of the Association of the Artists of Revolutionary Russia; Gennadi Darin, a notable participant of the Village movement in post-Stalinist Soviet art; Dmitri Mochalski, a prominent art educator who taught at the USSR’s top art school, the Surikov Art Institute; and some others.
Mikhailo Weinstein is considered one of the key figures in the development of the Severe Style in the art of Soviet Ukraine. He graduated from the Kyiv Art Institute in 1965. He was admitted to the Union of Artists of Ukraine and began exhibiting his art after his graduation.
(Product of post-Stalinist liberalization, the Severe style emerged in the late 1950s as an experimental trend that combined new thematic approaches and stylistic innovations. The Severe Style aimed at portraying the ‘severe truth’ rather than the idealized picture of Soviet reality, making use of simplified lines and powerful color schemes.)
The Carthage collection features a substantial number of Soviet women artists that were scarce in the male-dominated official Soviet art and are rare in other US collections: Klavdiya Balanova, Maryia Savchenkova, Ida Belyakova, Fanya Kaplan, Vera Kuzmina, Galina Ogareva-Darina, Tamara Osipova, Irina Shevandronova, Viktoria Samsonova, Irina Shtange, Galina Shubina, Lyudmila Skubko-Karpas, and Sophyia Uranova.
The collection also includes a work by Oleg Tolstoy, grandson of Leo Tolstoy.