Sophie Pinkham Reviews the Deineka/Samokhvalov Exhibition in St. Petersburg for NYRB

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sophie Pinkham (Ph.D. Slavic, 2019) reviews the Deineka / Samokhvalov exhibition at the Manege Central Exhibition Hall, St. Petersburg, for New York Review of Books (14 May 2020).

From the review:

In Aleksandr Deineka’s painting Textile Workers (1927), three barefoot young women in simple shifts work in a light-filled blue-gray space, the rows of bobbins rendered as floating lozenges along the walls. The girl in the foreground, a skinny teenager, pulls a thread from a bobbin that seems to hang in the air. She faces us, but is unaware of our presence: we have the advantage, as if looking through a two-way mirror. On the right side of the canvas, another woman walks pensively into white nothingness. Deineka, one of the Soviet Union’s most successful artists, said the painting was intended to celebrate the rhythms of the factory, but today it looks more like a glimpse into an alternate universe: the early Soviet project, with its vertiginous hopes for a new world.
 
At the exhibit “Deineka/Samokhvalov,” on view this winter at St. Petersburg’s Manege Central Exhibition Hall, Textile Workers hung in a dim room, the painting lit so that it seemed to glow from within. The factory workers looked like ghosts from a future that never happened. But as presented at the Manege, the painting also evoked something intensely contemporary: a cell phone screen, luminous with color, solitary, easy to like. The dim lighting wasn’t helpful if you wanted to scrutinize Deineka’s technique, but it made the painting look great on Instagram. Welcome to a new Russian aesthetic: socialist realism curated for social media.
 
The Manege is offering online tours of a 3D model of the exhibition from April 10 to April 30.