NEW YORK, NY -- As early as 1934, Socialist Realism became the state-mandated literary and artistic style, and was part of the Soviet Union’s effort to shift mass consciousness towards a single, collective psychology and self-understanding backed by Communist ideology. For Soviet citizens of Bruskin’s generation, life was inundated with repetitive iconographies and symbols intended to reinforce a unified vision and unbridled optimism for the future. The image of the determined young pioneer or the heroic worker were part of a visual vocabulary disseminated by Soviet mass media, while artistic experimentation was subordinated and authors often persecuted.
Signs of diversity in Soviet art began to emerge after Khrushchev’s “secret speech” in 1956, when the Soviet leader denounced the cult of personality surrounding Stalin and his crimes. Still, the censorship that existed persisted until the Soviet Union’s collapse. As disillusionment with increasingly pervasive Soviet propaganda grew, Grisha Bruskin and his contemporaries worked as “unofficial” artists, loosely connected to one another in their search for individual expression and autonomy in their choice of subject and meaning.
In Bruskin’s work, the artist engages in an exploration of himself and others. In his series of paintings Fundamental Lexicon and Logies, as in his sculpture series Birth of a Hero, representatives of Soviet society are stripped of their individuality. These citizens exist only as functions of the objects they hold: a portrait of Lenin blocks one figure’s face while another holds a common political slogan turned on its head. In satirizing the socio-utopian myth and Communist ideology’s collective ethos—the basis of all Soviet propaganda—, Bruskin shows the individual to be alienated from society and its prescribed values while continuing to live within it.
Incorporating symbols of Soviet identity is part of Bruskin’s greater search for self-identity, outside of the State’s prescribed identity reflected in the imagery of everyday life. Influenced by Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions, Bruskin’s interest in his Jewish heritage is a continuation of this exploration of self and the power of the image. Figures in ritual clothes and objects stand next to otherworldly creatures, angels and demons, all of which come together to create another visual vocabulary, one less prescriptive and more layered in meaning relative to its Soviet counterpart. Many of these works present as alphabets, with each figure connected to or derived from Jewish spirituality. While not necessarily related to one another, the figures weave together to create the artist’s understanding of this world and his place within it. Bruskin’s incorporation of Judaic imagery allows him to arrive at a deeply personalized aesthetic without disregarding years of personal experience growing up and living in a repressive state.
Post-War & Contemporary Art
Auction May 14, 2019 at 2pm
Exhibition May 11 – 13
Featured in the auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art are nine works by Grisha Bruskin from various collections, including the Estate of a Gentleman, Park Avenue and Southampton, New York.