Was socialist realism forced labour? The case of Aleksandr Deineka in the 1930s

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This essay argues that the transition from the Soviet painter Aleksandr Deineka's more overtly modernist and experimental images of collective labour of the 1920s to his more realistic depictions of the collective body of the mid-1930s resulted not from official pressure but rather from his own changing vision of what constituted appropriate revolutionary art. The question of art and labour is addressed both through a consideration of Deineka's own artistic labour and of his depiction of the collective labouring body. For Deineka, the Soviet model of organised artistic labour provided a productive context for artistic experimentation: he consciously departed from the critical project of modernism to deploy his modernist training toward the invention of a novel form of figuration that gave form to his dream of the socialist subject. His dream did not differ markedly from familiar Socialist Realist themes; his difference lay in his refusal to pretend that the dream of collectivity was already knowable and therefore representable in a language of pictorial immediacy. His more legible pictures of the 1930s therefore continue the revolutionary project of imagining the as-yet unknown collective body that he inaugurated in his more experimental works of the 1920s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-345
Number of pages25
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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