Springville Museum of Art debuts Russian exhibit

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Experience what life was like living in the Soviet Union by visiting the Springville Museum of Art’s Russian exhibit “Russian Stories, Soviet Ideals.”

Featuring paintings from the Jerald Jacobsen collection, the exhibit explores the duality between ideals set by the Soviet government and the realities of everyday life in the USSR.

The subjects of the paintings featured in this exhibit range from baking bread in a humble kitchen, which symbolizes starvation, to a portrait of a ballerina, showing the importance of Russian arts. Much of the artwork focuses on the importance of the worker.

“You see the grand idea of the workers in the factory, but then you also see the noise, the heat and the terrible working conditions,” said Lynn Wing, head of publicity for the museum.

The exhibit shows aspects of the USSR that many Americans might not be aware of. Wing explained that in the Soviet Union, women worked alongside men before women started working in America. Each painting tells a story unique to Russian culture.

“We want people to experience the Soviet Union with new eyes. It’s an opportunity to come and experience this era of another country,” Wing said.

For Russian native Yulia Tanner, the exhibit resembles home. She grew up in Siberia but recently moved here after marrying her husband.

“If you go to a Russian village you can see all of these (images),” said Tanner, looking at the paintings. “It’s like (the way) my grandmother still lives there.”

Tanner explained how people who live in the USSR hold on to what material possessions they have because they cannot buy other things.

“People knew that if they broke it, they couldn’t get another,” Tanner said. “They take care of everything.”

The painting of a woman baking bread especially spoke to Tanner. It reminded her of visits to her grandmother’s house.

“She moved her bed next to the oven because it’s warm. They don’t have electricity,” Tanner said.

However, in many cases, the story of the paintings goes deeper than the surface image of everyday Russian life. Looking closely, one can see on display the propaganda, or ideals, pushed by the Soviet government. In “They are Writing about us in Pravda,” female workers are seen reading the paper on a work break. During the reign of the Soviet government there was only one newspaper, Pravda, from which citizens got their information.

They are Writing about us in Pravda by Aleskei Vasilev, 1951. (Courtesy of Springville Museum of Art)
“They are Writing about us in Pravda,” by Aleskei Vasilev, 1951. (Courtesy of Springville Museum of Art)

“We’re looking at (the paintings) through what … Soviet ideals (are) being presented,” said Jessica Weiss, head of education for the museum. “The message people were getting was very controlled.”

What seems like a picture-perfect moment of Russian life actually shows the reality of the Soviet government’s influence.

“Russian Stories, Soviet Ideals” shows the good and the bad of Russian life during the Soviet reign, depictions of sadness and fear as well as love and celebration. Originally, the purpose of this exhibition was to honor a donor who has been a patron of this collection, owning many of the pieces himself. However, through learning the context of each painting, the museum staff planned an interactive experience for guests.

“This is a chance to reacquaint ourselves not just with the artwork but the culture and tradition,” Weiss said. “We’re just hoping that people will come in and spend some time.”

The Springville Museum of Art offers free tours for children and adults. Visit its website for more information.

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