Erik Bulatov, Caution, 1973, oil on canvas, 43 5/16 x 43 5/16".

Erik Bulatov, Caution, 1973, oil on canvas, 43 5/16 x 43 5/16".

Erik Bulatov

The State Tretyakov Gallery

SOCIALIST REALISM, as enforced by the Soviet Union in 1934, was more than just an art movement or a shared sensibility. It was the representation of Soviet identity, and a representation addressing a national audience that was extremely receptive. In fact, the high level of reciprocation that existed between this imagery and its subjects—the tenants of communal apartments—suggests that socialist realism cannot be grasped apart from communal perception. The genre was an integral part of an immense system, something that today is impossible to fit into crates. Technically, socialist realist paintings are shipped easily enough to Kassel or Long Island City, but one cannot transport the optical conditions (the imperative necessity of seeing through the eyes of the “collective other,” or on its behalf) that gave these works meaning. For that, one must radically change one’s sense of

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