Critics’ Picks

Vladimir Slepyan, Abstract Composition, 1958, oil on canvas, 43 x 39 1/2".


“The Thaw”

The State Tretyakov Gallery
10, Lavrushinsky Lane
February 16 - June 11

Though this institution maintains an extraordinary collection of postrevolutionary Russian art, it did not begin the year as many such museums outside of the country did—with an exhibition marking the centenary of the violent, utopian Russian Revolution. Instead, the museum addressed a less contested period: the Khrushchev Thaw. Encompassing fifteen years of his leadership and its aftermath (1953–68), this multimedia exhibition reinforces an accepted narrative—the Thaw as inspiration for brave explorations of culture, science, and the Stalinist past—by culling five hundred objects from over fifty private and public collections in Russia.

The show has few surprises, but several instructive highlights. In Yuri Pimenov’s iconic painting Wedding on the Street of Tomorrow, 1962, a bridal party totters through urban construction. Galina Balashova’s interiors for the 1960s Soyuz spacecraft incorporate sofas, bookshelves, and even gravity—familiarizing outer space as a more compact version of life on earth. The installation here also explores the quagmire of abstract art, ignited in part when the USSR resumed participation in the Venice Biennale in 1956. If Fedor Reshetnikov dramatized the Biennale’s preoccupations with abstraction as crude and capital driven with a triptych of cackling dealers and monkey artists (Secrets of Abstractionism, 1958), Erik Bulatov’s rendering of the visual light spectrum in Section, 1965–66, epitomizes a desire to replace overt ideological content with explorations of materials within space. The rhythmic circles and dashes of Vladimir Slepyan’s Abstract Composition, 1958, exemplify so-called technical aesthetics, a style sanctioned for illustrating scientific journals.

The attention given here to cultural production also raises questions regarding the period’s tenacity. As an unprecedented number of Khrushchev-era apartment blocks are set to be demolished across Moscow, how essential will the Thaw remain to Russia’s sense of itself?