Wooden carvings, gilded statues and social realism: VDNKh artists

December 19, 2020
Parks and pedestrian areas

8 December marks International Painter’s Day. To celebrate it, VDNKh presents an article about four Russian artists who created decorative elements for the exhibition.

“Over 1,000 artists, sculptors, painters and decorative art specialists worked on the exhibition’s decorations in different periods of time. Many of them were famous internationally, for example, Yevgeny Vuchetich, Alexander Deineka, Matvei Manizer, Arkady Plastov, Alexander Samokhvalov, Georgy Motovilov and Vladimir Favorsky. Other artists are less known to ordinary people, but their contribution to creating famous VDNKh monuments cannot be overestimated,” the VDNKh press service noted.

VDNKh’s unique artistic look took shape over many years. For example, in 1939 the exhibition showed the successes of the collective farm system, and in 1954 it was a large-scale display of the achievements of victorious socialism. Numerous changes in those years were reflected in the appearance of VDNKh.

Socialist realism artist

When he was young, Soviet artist and architect Alexander Gerasimov (1881–1963) was interested in Impressionism and then moved to social realism. His works are full of vibrant colours. Most of Gerasimov’s art was dedicated to Soviet and party history, and his portraits of Joseph Stalin were considered canonical for a long time. Gerasimov was the first president of the USSR Academy of Arts and headed it in 1947-1957.

At VDNKh, the artist created several monument works, either personally or as head.  A large canvas of 6.75 by 11 m, “Stalin's speech at the second Congress of Kolkhoz Farmers and Shock Workers,” was painted in 1953 by a team of artists lead by Alexander Gerasimov. For a long time, it was considered lost, but then it was found in September 2014 in Pavilion 1 during emergency operations. The painting shows delegates of the second Congress of Kolkhoz Farmers- Shock Workers in 1953. It was there that the decision was made to create the National Agricultural Exhibition, which later became VDNKh.

Alexander Gerasimov. Delegates of the second National Congress of Kolkhoz Farmers- Shock Workers on 11–17 February 1935. 1953

Gerasimov’s painting “Michurin in the garden” adorned the Main Pavilion during the first years of the exhibition but was lost later. A large picture with a complicated landscape in the background is rare for a Gerasimov retrospective portrait. The artist drew it from memory based on a 1920s sketch.

Alexander Gerasimov. Michurin in the garden. Portrait

Moreover, in the mid-1950s Gerasimov’s paintings “Opening of the Volga-Don Canal” and “Students at the new Moscow State University building” were on display in the round hall of the Main Pavilion (today’s Pavilion 1).

When Nikita Khrushchev came to power, the artist was gradually relieved from his positions, and his pieces were removed from many museum exhibitions. But even today some works by Gerasimov can be found in many Russian museums, most of them at the Tretyakov Gallery, for example “First Cavalry Army,” “Joseph Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov at the Kremlin,” which was jokingly called “Two leaders after rain,” and “Portrait of the oldest Soviet artists.”

The luckiest Boichyuk student

The monument artist Oksana Pavlenko (1896–1991) was the only student of Mikhail Boichyuk who was lucky enough to avoid repression. She was known mainly for portraying women, for example “Congress of delegate women,” “Women's gatherings,” “Komsomol Woman” and “Long live 8 March!”

Pavlenko took part in decorating VDNKh pavilions in the 1930s and during the postwar renovation in the first half of the 1950s. Today two of her works made together with the Hungarian painter Bela Witz can be seen at VDNKh: the frescoes “The RSFSR people have built socialism” above the entrance to Pavilion 71 Nuclear Energy, and “The Belorussian people have built socialism” above the entrance to Pavilion 18 Republic of Belarus. Both frescoes have similar plots: a procession of happy people with a cornucopia of fruit and wheat, traditional for social realism, showing a perfect picture of life.

In the late 1930s and the 1940s, the artist’s other works went on display at the National Agricultural Exhibition, but later they were lost. “Cotton Harvest,” for example, was exhibited in the loggia of the main portal of the Azerbaijani SSR Pavilion.

Oksana Pavlenko. Cotton harvest

Great easel and monument painter

Many works by the famous Soviet sculptor and sketcher Alexei Teneta (1899–1972) done for the exhibition are connected to its postwar renovation. Together with other experts, he decorated Pavilion 2 Public Education. In particular, in the 1950s, Teneta’s Herder and Kolkhoz Woman statues stood in front of the pavilion entrance. Unfortunately they did not survive until today.

Alexei Teneta. Herder and Kolkhoz Woman statues

Another piece, made together with Dmitry Schwartz, is called Bolsheviks of the North sculpture group, which decorated the Soviet Arctic Pavilion in 1939. It features several profession: a pilot in the centre, with a sailor, kolkhoz woman, miner, fisher and hunter nearby. The sculpture group was lost together with the pavilion.

Alexei Teneta. Bolsheviks of the North sculpture group

In 1951–1954, Alexei Teneta and other masters took part in designing sculptures for the Friendship of Nations fountain: girls wearing national dresses and representing SSR republics.

Teneta worked in the genre of easel, monument and monument-decorative sculpture. His works are kept in the Russian Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery as well as in private collections in Russia and abroad. Teneta’s most famous piece, the monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power in the Far East, was created in 1961. The sculpture decorates the central square in Vladivostok. It is considered one of the best monument works of the postwar period.

Expert wood carver

Soviet sculptor Lev Kardashev (1905–1964) was known as an expert wood carver in the artistic community. He made sculptures for the exhibition during two periods: the construction in the late 1930s and its renovation in the 1950s.

In 1939, Kardashev’s sculpture group was on show near the diorama of the Ukrainian SSR in the Main Pavilion, but later it was lost.

However, the most famous work by the sculptor, the unique New Life wooden relief, has survived. It adorns the pediment of Pavilion 67 Soviet Press (former Pavilion of the Karelo-Finnish SSR). The pediment’s inner space has five reliefs representing electrification and the main branches of the Karelo-Finnish SSR’s national economy: agriculture, forestry, cattle breeding and fishing. Wooden statues of a kolkhoz farmer with a book and a worker with a wrench stand on double wooden columns.

Kardashev was a relative of the famous painter and sketcher Vladimir Favorsky and a student of the renowned animal sculptor Ivan Yefimov. There is a house in Moscow where these artists used to work. It is known as the Red House in Novogireyevo and is located near Entuziastov Motorway. In 1936, Favorsky, Yefimov and Kardashev got a land plot to build housing and studios. They designed the three-storey brick house themselves and completed the construction by 1939.

Source: mos.ru

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