The exhibition Sots Art retraces the development of a movement which, from the early 1970s and in the wake of Socialist Realism, would stand out as the first original art movement in Russia since the 1920s avant-garde.
The term was coined in 1972 by two Moscow artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, as a take on Pop Art, "Sots" being a contraction of Socialism and Art.
Rather than the rejection and denunciation that motivated the first generation of Nonconformist artists, Sots Art follows a third way. It appropriates and subverts propaganda images and slogans to transform them into something that is both playful and grotesque. Through its irreverent use of symbols which, in their original context, were intended as a means of dominating the individual, Sots Art had a genuinely liberating effect on Soviet minds.
Following Komar and Melamid's example, the term of Sots Art was then taken up by a group of artists which developed in the 1970s and 1980s around personalities such as Vagrich Bakhchanyan, Ilya Kabakov, Alexander Kosolapov, Leonid Sokov, Dimitri Prigov, Boris Orlov and the Nest Group. Sidelined from official exhibitions, they showed their work in their own homes which became venues for creation, exhibition and exchange for the Moscow avant-garde. This period is symbolised by the replica apartment at the entrance to the exhibition. Sots Art dominated plastic arts, architecture, design and film throughout the Perestroika years (1985-1991).
A wave of emigration in the second half of the 1970s took Sots Art beyond the USSR. Many artists moved to New York where they staged exhibitions and began to combine American and Soviet symbols.
Sots Art has proved to be a prolific trend not just within the Communist system but in societies which exert other forms of pressure, via the media and religion in particular. Russian art in the 2000s is a case in point, where comparable attitudes have emerged in the work of Oleg Kulik, the Blue Noses and the PG Group.
Curator of the exhibition: Andreï Erofeev
in partnership with the Tretiakov Gallery (Moscow) and the Foundation "Art Promotion Society" (Moscow) with the support of the Ekaterina Foundation (Moscow), the Novi Foundation (Moscow), ProLab (Moscow), Robert Vallois (Paris).
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