The exhibition, entitled Who's Afraid of Red?, is a selection of the work of long-term collaborating artists who are currently linked by their membership in the Union of Soviet Artists. Founded in the autumn of 2016, this extended international group stands for a programmatic turn towards realistic work from the second half of the 20th century, mostly produced in the former Soviet Union. Essential for them is the search for a creative and social stance that integrates aesthetic and political dimensions. The movement relates to the ideas of communism and humanism, which for the authors represent the only effective = revolutionary perspective of today. Artists reject the individualistic model of work, but on the other hand, they do not want to deny or reject authorship. What is essential is that they do not strive for original expression and style: they work together, share their skills and programmatically influence each other, which is related to the use of a common genre register, painting techniques and iconography, the staple of which is a rather broadly understood socialist realism. The portraits, still life paintings and landscapes in the exhibition are complemented by political satire and cartoons that address the local art establishment. An important point of the installation is a jointly produced painting completed before the opening of the exhibition, which “emblematizes” the artists’ shared position. Here, the artists eliminate the subjectivism that is deliberately dissolved in the formal “indistinguishability” of the individual author’s handwriting.
The organization of an exhibition with programmatically controversial premises is not and cannot be carried out by the organizing institution and the curator in terms of a mechanical mediation of a certain artistic tendency. In this context, it is necessary to recall the Radical Realism Manifesto published by the SSU on the occasion of its establishment (its text is freely available at the exhibition). It employs an offensive diction to express the supposed crisis of contemporary art, with many stark condemnations, but in any case, it is appealingly direct, resolute and bold. As is usually the case with manifestos after all. It crosses elements of historicism, even retrogradism, with modernism, a combination that we tend to perceive as contradictory. A typical feature of this approach is the use of motifs and symbols that have no immediate connection to the present and which are reminiscences of modernist aesthetics. As an important issue raised by the exhibition, we understand the declaration of belonging to socialist realism, which, although not explicitly expressed in the manifesto, repeatedly appears in the arguments of the exhibiting artists in the broader media discussion.
From the historical experience here, socialist realism usually emerges as a) a power-dictated end to the heteronomy of avant-gardes and the violent indoctrination of a single official creative method, b) a mere rhetorical phrase. However, beyond this one-sided interpretation of “images of power”, it is appropriate to finally open up topical levels such as, for example, the challenging of the boundary between verism and stylization, typicality in art, or the categories of truthfulness and social usefulness of art. The preparation of this exhibition was carried out also in a polemical spirit. From the curatorial point of view, it was a permanent revision: a spiral of clarification of the common positions of the exhibiting artists, which evolve and change and which one must want to understand. Paradoxically, this uncertain moment brings authenticity and the knowledge that “something is going on” to the whole thing. But that does not exclude a permanent question mark over the degree of authorial exaggeration and provocation. And even the extent to which the authors’ approach can be separated from the conceptualism and postmodernism they criticize.