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Soviet Union

Painting, Sculpture, and the Graphic Arts

Moscow and Leningrad housed the two most popular art museums in the Soviet Union, the Tret'iakov Gallery and the Hermitage Museum, respectively. The Tret'iakov contained medieval and modern Russian masterpieces; the Hermitage's collection of Impressionist painters was one of the best in the world.

Until the mid-1980s, avant-garde expression appeared not in state museums but within the confines of the basement galleries on Moscow's Gruzinskaia Malaia street. Displays of overtly religious, surrealist, or semiabstract works began in 1978. The artists who created such works became an integral part of the cultural life of Moscow, as their art directly contrasted with socialist realism. These "survivalists" withstood pressure from the official unions and prospered through domestic and foreign patronage from established cultural figures, influential higher officials, scientists, and diplomats.

Nonconformist artists created attention both at home and abroad in the late 1980s. Former underground artists, such as Iliia Kabakov and Vladimir Iankilevskii, were permitted to display their works in the late 1980s, and they captured viewers' imagination with harsh criticism of the Soviet system. Paintings by such artists as Vadim Sacharov and Nikolai Belianiv, linoleum graphic works by Dshamil Mufid-Zade and Maya Tabaka, wood engravings by Dmitrii Bisti, and sculpture by Dmitrii Shilinski depicted society as gray, drab, harsh, and colorless. Their works indicted industrialization, the Great Terror (see Glossary), the annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the polluted environment.

Gorbachev based much of his policies' success on the new content of artistic expression appearing throughout the Soviet Union. By opening up cultural life and enabling mass media representatives and artists to speak more honestly, the leadership attempted to win the support of the intelligentsia for its policies. In the late 1980s, the leadership loosened the strictures of socialist realism to enrich the cultural vitality of society, although censorship laws still prevented much information from reaching the public. Although strictures were relaxed, the principle of party control remained in force.

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Many works offer insights into Soviet mass media and culture. For a good overview of the mass media and descriptions of the censorship institutions, the following sources are particularly helpful: Frederick C. Barghoorn and Thomas F. Remington's Politics in the USSR; Jane Leftwich Curry and Joan R. Dassin's Press Control Around the World; Vadim Medish's The Soviet Union; Lilita Dzirkals, Thane Gustafson, and A. Ross Johnson's "The Media and Intra-Elite Communication in the USSR"; and Ellen Mickiewicz's Media and the Russian Public. More specialized works concentrating on media and culture include Maurice Friedberg's Russian Culture in the 1980s; Martin Ebon's The Soviet Propaganda Machine; Ellen Mickiewicz's "Political Communication and the Soviet Media System," Wilson P. Dizard and Blake S. Swensrud's Gorbachev's Information Revolution; Valery S. Golovskoy and John Rimberg's in Behind the Soviet Screen and S. Frederick Starr's Red and Hot. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989