The art of the USSR

Website of collector Mihaila Arefyeva

Soviet Art from the Arefyev Collection in Didrichsen museum, Helsinki

The exhibition, Soviet Art from the Arefyev Collection, offers a selection of this Moscow collector’s treasures. It includes some 40 works from 1920 to 1995, shown for the first time in Finland. The exhibition is one in a series presenting works from private collectors in neighbouring countries.

Stylistically, Mikhail Arefyev’s collection offers a broad picture of socialist realism. Most of the works on show are paintings from the 1960s and 1970s. Also included are a few works from the avant-garde period, as well as Late and Post-Soviet works from immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The main theme is ordinary man, the hero of the everyday. Mikhail Arefyev is particularly interested in the multi-ethnic face of the nation. Most of his acquisitions were made either directly from the artists or their relatives.

Art in the Soviet Union was a powerful propaganda weapon. During the Great Thaw following the death of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), the country tried to eradicate the worst excesses of totalitarianism and improve civil liberties. This was also reflected in art and constitutes one of the most interesting periods in Arefyev’s collection.

The spirit of the thaw allowed a glimpse of the truth within the framework of socialist realism, even if the system did not allow for real criticism. Although the monumental depictions of the Great Patriotic War continued to fill public spaces, the works in the exhibition depicting the life of the working man show that it was no longer all struggle.

Themes were no longer treated with the overwhelming ideological pathos of earlier times. Regrettably, art history has paid little attention to this fascinating period in Soviet art.

The exhibition includes works by 31 artists of whom the best known is Alexander Deineka (1899–1969). His large-scale painting Good Morning depicts one of his major themes from the 1950s, one familiar to Moscow visitors as a monumental mosaic in the city’s Metro.

President Tarja Halonen has graciously agreed to be the exhibition’s patron. In addition, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, honours us with a personal message where he stresses the importance of art in developing friendship and understanding between nations.

Site of the collector M. Arefyev.

Art from the USSR.