Aleksandr Deineka (1899-1969) : an avant-garde for the proletariat

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Aleksandr Deineka (1899-1969) : an avant-garde for the proletariat 

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AleksAndr deinekA (1899-1969)

An AvAnt-GArde for the ProletAriAt


Todos nuestros catálogos de arte

All our art catalogues 




Fundación Juan March

Fundación Juan March

This catalogue and its Spanish edition 

are published on the occasion of the exhibition


An Avant—Garde for the Proletariat

Fundación Juan March, Madrid

October 7, 2011 – January 15, 2012

Fundación Juan March






Fundación Juan March


n 1985, a time when the Soviet regime 

was still in power, the Fundación Juan 

March organized an exhibition titled 

The Russian Avant-Garde, 1910–1930. 

Ludwig Museum and Collection, the 

first show in Spain to display art works 

by the Russian avant-garde. In the past 

23 years, various exhibitions devoted 

to the leading figures of this move-

ment—among them, Kazimir Malevich 

(1993), Aleksandr Rodchenko (2001), 

and Liubov Popova (2004)—have been staged 

at the Fundación, including the recent 

Total En-

lightenment. Conceptual Art in Moscow, 1960–

1990, held in 2008. This show brought together 

the work of a number of Soviet artists such as Ilya 

Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Vitalii Komar and Aleksan-

dr Melamid. Straddling between concept art and 

their own particular style of Soviet pop art, these 

artists focused on and raised issues regarding 

Soviet culture during the Stalin era, from his rise 

to power following Lenin’s death in 1924 to his 

death in 1953.

These exhibitions therefore addressed two 

moments in Russian history: the great experiment 

that was the Russian avant-garde in the years pre-

ceding the Stalin era and, secondly, the unoff icial 

and decidedly postmodern form of Soviet art that 

emerged a decade after Stalin’s death. In order to 

complete this historical overview, it became obvi-

ous that the interval between both periods, a de-

fining moment in the history of modern Russia, 

deserved our attention. And so, Soviet revolution-

ary art and art produced during the Stalin era, in 

particular, are at the core of the present exhibition. 

On account of its social, political, economic, 

and also cultural particularities, the Stalin era is a 

period of history well-known to many. Tradition-

ally associated to the darker years of the Soviet re-

gime—which indeed it was—Stalinism became the 

subject of much historical (and political) debate 

following Khrushchev ‘s rise to power. It is an era 

known for the Five-Year Plans that revolutionized 

the country’s agriculture and introduced indus-

trialization, the victory of the USSR in the Second 

World War, ever-increasing oppression under to-

talitarian rule, in short, the radical pretensions of 

totalitarianism. In the arts, Stalinism is associated 

to “socialist realism,” an artistic style that was en-

forced in 1932.

In spite of the vast amount of literature on 

Stalinism and the span of years it encompasses, 

the art produced during the period has not been 

explored in depth. Further aspects that remain un-

known are the implications of socialist realism, the 

meaning of its tropes (“realist in form and social-

ist in content”), its aims and purposes, and, most 

importantly, its connection to earlier avant-garde 

movements and other forms of realism that devel-

oped concurrently outside Russia.

The relatively unknown art of the Stalin era—the 

focus of only a few exhibitions in the Soviet Union, 

Europe and America—tends to be disregarded 

(or casted out a priori from the usual canon) as an 

unremarkable eff ort that simply resulted in a pre-

tentious and monumental variant of kitsch, a de-

rivate and propagandistic form of art subject to 

ideological purposes and aimed at educating the 

masses. And, what is worse for the moral judgment 

it implies, the art produced during these years has 

been identified with a totalitarian regime respon-

sible for liquidating (in the literal sense of the word 

in some cases) the avant-garde movement that so-

cialist realism would come to replace in the 1920s 

and 1930s.

Aleksandr Deineka (1899–1969): An Avant-

Garde for the Proletariat is the first exhibition in 

Spain to present the work of such an outstanding 

figure of soviet socialist realism. The fourth of its 

kind following a groundbreaking exhibition in Düs-

seldorf, the 1990 show in Helsinki and a more re-

cent exhibit held in Rome, this comprehensive ret-

rospective—with over 80 works on view—is to date 

the largest exhibition devoted to Aleksandr Deine-

ka outside Russia. His art work—and by extension 

the historical period from which it was borne—is 

presented here in a twofold context: the end of the 

avant-garde and the advent of socialist realism.

To this end, Deineka’s straightforward painterly 

style coupled with the ambivalence—or ambigu-

ity—of his art and persona serve as a representative 

example. The artist received his formal training at 

institutions traditionally influenced by avant-garde 

art and formed part of the last remaining construc-

tivist groups (such as October and OST). Because 

of this, and in spite of his commitment to the revo-

lution and the formation of a socialist state, he was 

accused of adhering to formalism. He was none-

theless granted permission to travel to America 

and Europe and was commissioned major works 

by the Soviet state, whose utopian pretensions 

found their most notable expression in Deineka’s 


A broad yet detailed selection of magazines, 

posters, books, documents, objects, and works 

by other Russian avant-garde artists—with a spe-

cial focus on their revolutionary output—mirror the 

“ambivalent” and “ambiguous” quality of Deineka’s 

art and career. Presented together, these pieces 

expose a unique, coherent (and unexplored) set 

of relationships between socialist realism and the 

Russian avant-garde. Socialist realism viewed itself 

as a contemporary style, an artistic/political form 

of avant-garde art made for the proletariat, in sync 

with the political ideals of the Soviet state, unlike 

the artistic avant-garde which was dismissed as 

decorative, abstract, or, to be more precise, for-

malist. For this reason, Aleksandr Deineka (1899–

1969): An Avant-Garde for the Proletariat draws a 

timeline spanning the years between the onset of 

the avant-garde in 1913, marked by the premiere 

of the first futurist opera—

Victory over the Sun by 

Aleksei Kruchenykh, stage design by Kazimir Mal-

evich—, and the death of Stalin in 1953. The show 

explores the diverse forms of art that not only per-

meated all spheres of life during the period but also 

added to and revealed the intentions of a regime 

that represented itself in demiurgic terms in its ef-

fort to transform life in every way. 

Given the intricacies of this subject, in addition 

to a broad selection of works by Deineka, the exhi-

bition also features pieces by avant-garde and rev-

olutionary artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Aleksei 

Kruchenykh, Vladimir Tatlin and El Lissitzky, as well 

as Liubov Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Aleksan-

dra Ekster, Gustavs Klucis, Valentina Kulaguina, 

Vladimir Mayakovsky, Natan Al’tman, Mechislav 


Dobrokovskii, Solomon Telingater and Aleksei Gan, 

and realist artists including, among others, Kuzma 

Petrov-Vodkin, Iurii Pimenov, Dmitrii Moor and 

Aleksandr Samokhvalov.

Aleksandr Deineka (1899–1969): An Avant-

Garde for the Proletariat covers Deineka’s entire 

body of work, from his early paintings of the 1920s 

to the twilight of his career in the 1950s. During 

the artist’s final years, the futuristic quality of his 

first paintings gave way to the harsh materiality 

of everyday life, a life in which the utopian ideals 

of socialism had materialized. Deineka’s graph-

ic work, extraordinary posters and outstanding

Aleksandr Deineka 


An Avant-Garde 

for the Proletariat

Fundación Juan March

contributions to illustrated magazines and books 

are presented here alongside his imposing, monu-

mental paintings. The exhibition therefore displays 

a variety of subject matter—factories and enthusi-

astic masses, athletes and farmers, the ideal and 

idyllic image of soviet life. Not only were they out-

standing ventures into painting and works of great 

formal beauty, but they were also symbolic of So-

viet ideals and the conviction that social and mate-

rial reality could be transformed by the revolution-

ary dialectic of capital and labor. 

The majority of the nearly 250 works and docu-

ments on view form part of the State Tretyakov Gal-

lery and the Russian Museum of Saint Petersburg; 

other pieces were granted on loan by regional mu-

seums in Russia and private and public collections 

in Spain, other countries in Europe, and the United 

States. Furthermore, by a great stroke of luck, the 

Fundación Juan March’s interest in Deineka coin-

cided with that of the Hamburger Kunsthalle—

whose upcoming exhibition of Deineka and Ferdi-

nand Hodler opens in 2012—giving us the opportu-

nity to jointly conduct and oversee the loans of the 

artist’s work. 

The Fundación Juan March would like to thank 

all those who facilitated loans from their collec-

tions, especially the State Tretyakov Gallery and 

the Russian Museum of Saint Petersburg and those 

responsible for their holdings, Irina Lebedeva and 

Evgeniia Petrova, as well as the director of the Kursk 

Deineka Picture Gallery, Igor A. Pripachkin. 

Without Merill C. Berman’s exceptional collec-

tion of modernist art, presenting Deineka’s graphic 

work and gathering the material and literature need-

ed to reliably reconstruct the artist’s historical con-

text would have been a diff icult, if not insurmount-

able, task. For his support, we are truly grateful. Our 

sincere thanks also go to Vladimir Tsarenkov—a 

more than generous art collector who nonetheless 

prefers to discreetly remain in the background—, 

Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Fundación Azcona, 

Fundación José María Castañé, Juan Manuel and 

Monika Bonet, Archivo España-Rusia 1927–1937 and 

its director Carlos María Flores Pazos, Bibliothèque 

L’Heure joyeuse (Paris) and its conservator of His-

torical Holdings Françoise Lévèque, José María La-

fuente and Maurizio Scudiero.

The numerous individuals and institutions that 

have supported our project require the extensive 

section that follows this introduction. Among them 

Boris Groys (New York University) deserves special 

mention, as his groundbreaking essays on the arts 

and culture of modern Russia inspired this exhibi-

tion. Equally important was the expertise of spe-

cial advisor to the project Christina Kiaer (North-

western University), leading expert on Deineka 

outside the former Soviet Union. We are more than 

pleased to present Ekaterina Degot’s insightful text 

on socialist realism as well as an essay by Profes-

sor Frederic Jameson, who supported the project 

in its earliest stages when we contemplated em-

barking on the risky task of presenting the work 

of Deineka and Charles Sheeler in a comparative 

perspective. Working alongside the Hamburger 

Kunsthalle and its director, Hubertus Gassner, has 

been an immensely gratifying experience. Further-

more, we want to thank Matteo Lafranconi (Palazzo 

delle Exposizioni, Rome) for his timely help, as well 

as the Interros Publishing Program for providing us 

with essential graphic material. And, as usual, our 

gratitude goes to Banca March and to Corporación 

Financiera Alba for their support.

In addition to the exhibition catalogue, printed 

in English and Spanish, the show is accompanied 

by a facsimile edition of Elektromonter (The Electri-

cian, 1930) by Boris Ural’skii, a children’s book illus-

trated by Deineka. 

Through image and text, this extensive cata-

logue presents an in-depth and varied account of 

Aleksandr Deineka’s production and the historical 

circumstances that surrounded his work, unknown 

to the general public and experts alike. Given this 

general lack of knowledge, the volume brings to-

gether several essays by scholars of Soviet art, the 

Russian avant-garde, and Aleksandr Deineka in 

particular. The Fundación Juan March extends its 

gratitude to the following contributors: Alessandro 

De Magistris, Ekaterina Degot, Boris Groys, Fredric 

Jameson, Christina Kiaer and Irina Leytes.

The catalogue also features an exhaustive 

anthology of previously unpublished historical 

documents. Selected texts include writings by 

Deineka, texts on Deineka and several other docu-

ments written between 1913 and 1969 that are key 

in grasping the complexity of this historical pe-

riod: from standardized writings by avant-garde 

artists to proclamations, manifestos and polemic 

accounts of revolutionary art, as well as socialist 

realism’s foundational texts, and even passages of 

bio-cosmic writings or extracts by the early Soviet 

utopians, whose ideas had a strong impact during 

these years. 

The selection of texts for the present catalogue 

is grounded in our firm belief that lack of knowl-

edge—or proper appraisal—of Deineka’s art and 

historical context partly stems from the fact that 

Russian and Soviet sources are not easily accessed. 

A fact that is all the more obvious in the Spanish-

speaking cultural milieu, as many of the texts se-

lected for this critical edition were unavailable in 

this language. The result is a body of texts carefully 

translated from the Russian, some of which are ac-

companied by a detailed critical apparatus. 

Coupled with Deineka’s body of work, this se-

lection of historical literature will provide the view-

er with in-depth knowledge of the ideas that in-

spired the leading figures of the time. The volume 

would not have been possible without the advice 

and support of a number of experts including John 

Bowlt, Hubertus Gassner, Eckhart Gillen, Michael 

Hagemeister, Aage Hansen-Löve, Patricia Railing, 

Evgeny Steiner and Erika Wolf. Equally important 

was the diff icult task undertaken by the transla-

tors of the texts in Russian, both those whose work 

had been published before—John Bowlt, Herbert 

Eagle, Xenia Glowacki-Prus, Anna Lawton, Chris-

tina Lodder, Arnold McMillin, Paul Schmidt and 

Rose Strunsky—and those who translated works 

exclusively for this book—Natasha Kurchanova, 

Evgeny Steiner and especially Erika Wolf, who in 

addition to translating did valuable research for 

this book—and the coordination work of Con-

stanze Zawadzky; to them we are truly grateful. 

The present volume closes with a full critical ap-

paratus including chronological, bibliographic and 

documental references. Under the title Aleksandr 

Deineka (1899–1969): An Avant-Garde for the Pro-

letariat, both the catalogue and the exhibition aim 

to expose the existing links between Deineka’s art 

and his era: an unexplored, fascinating and contro-

versial case study that exemplifies the always com-

plex and unpredictable interface between politics 

and art in the twentieth century. 

Fundación Juan March

Madrid, October 2011

Fundación Juan March









State Tretyakov Gallery

CAT. 44, 84, 106, 111, 112, 115, 116, 131, 167, 168, 169, 182, 191, 193, 194, 195, 

199, 212, 221, 233, 243, 244



State Russian Museum

CAT. 125, 180, 196, 213, 222, 223, 225


Kursk Deineka Picture Gallery

CAT. 1, 39, 40, 113, 204, 207, 208



Archivo España-Rusia 1927-1937

CAT. 21, 31, 33, 37, 38, 53, 55, 58, 61, 69, 70, 71, 73, 74, 76, 77, 92, 107, 130, 

132, 133, 134, 135, 137, 138, 140, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 154, 156, 157, 158, 

160, 163, 174, 184, 185, 186, 200, 202, 211, 219, 227, 229, 230, 235, 242, 247


Fundación José María Castañé

CAT. 8, 46, 114, 161, 164, 172, 188, 189, 201, 206, 215, 217, 226, 236, 240, 241, 

245, 246



Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea

CAT. 192 



Ville Paris, Bibliothèque l’Heure joyeuse

CAT. 93, 94, 95, 98, 99, 100, 101



Fondation Beyeler, Riehen

CAT. 6


Collection Merrill C. Berman: CAT. 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 23, 27, 28, 29, 35, 36, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 54, 60, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 96, 97, 

102, 103, 104, 105, 108, 109, 110, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 126, 127, 136, 139, 141, 142, 143, 144, 151, 152, 153, 159, 162, 165, 170, 175, 177, 178, 183, 187, 197, 205, 209, 218

Collection Vladimir Tsarenkov, London: CAT. 43

Collection Azcona: CAT. 15

Collection MJM, Madrid: CAT. 59, 72, 75, 128, 171, 173, 179, 181, 203, 210, 214, 216, 224, 228, 231, 232, 234, 237, 238, 239

Collection José María Lafuente: CAT. 18, 34

Collection Maurizio Scudiero: CAT. 2

Oth er private collections: CAT. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 30, 32, 41, 42, 45, 56, 57, 62, 65, 91, 129, 155, 166, 176, 190, 198, 220, 248


Fundación Juan March


The Fundación Juan March wishes to express its gratitude to the following individuals and institutions for their collaboration, assistance and the 

loan of works that have made this exhibition possible:


State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow: Irina Lebedeva, Tatiana Gubanova, Anna Ashkinazi; State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg: 

Evgeniia Petrova, Elena Tiun; The Kursk Deineka Picture Gallery: Igor A. Pripachkin.

UNITED STATES:  Collection Merrill C. Berman: Merrill C. Berman, Jim Frank, Joelle Jensen; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Karen E. Haas; National 

Gallery of Art, Washington, DC: Charles Brock; John Bowlt; Charlotte Douglas.


Vladimir Tsarenkov; Patricia Railing; Evgeny Steiner; Christina Lodder.


Hubertus Gassner; Eckhart Gillen; Michael Hagemeister; Aage Hansen-Löve.


Archivo España-Rusia 1927–1937, Madrid: Carlos María Flores Pazos; Colección Azcona, Madrid: Lalo Azcona, Ángela Riaza; Fundación 

José María Castañé, Madrid: José María Castañé, María Jesús Escribano, Eduardo Fort; Monika and Juan Manuel Bonet; María de Corral 

López-Dóriga; Carlos González-Barandiarán y de Muller; Masha Koval; José María Lafuente; Carlos Pérez; Iana Zabiaka.


Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome: Maria Vittoria Marini Clarelli, Barbara Tomassi; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 

Rome: Matteo Lafranconi, Flaminia Nardone ; Maurizio Scudiero.


Ville de Paris, Bibliothèque l’Heure joyeuse: Françoise Lévèque.

SWITZERLAND:   Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel: Samuel Keller, Tanja Narr.

As well as to those who wish to remain anonymous.

Our thanks also go to Elena Pavlovna Volkova-Deineka, widow of Aleksandr Deineka, to whom we wish to pay special homage on her recent demise.

Likewise, we wish to thank Marta Bernardes, Lara González Díaz-Aguado, Fani Koseva, Cayetana Martínez, Eduardo Moreno and Constanze Zawadsky for 

their assistance in research and administration; the library staff  of the Fundación Juan March, Paz Fernández and José Luis Maire; and the IT department of 

the Fundación Juan March. Our gratitude also goes to Guillermo Nagore, for the catalogue design and layout; the editors and proofreaders Erica Witschey, 

Erika Wolf and Inés d’Ors; the translators Natasha Kurchanova, Evgeny Steiner and especially Erika Wolf (from the Russian), Ishbel Flett, Andrew Davison 

and Jonathan Blower (from the German), Simon Pleasance (from the Italian) and Vanesa Rodríguez Galindo (from the Spanish); the research assistant Frida 

Swerdloff ; and the conservators Lourdes Rico and Celia Martínez. Finally, we express our appreciation to Alcoarte SA; José María Ballesteros (Decograf); 

and to Laura Lozano, Angelines del Puerto and Ana Tabuenca (SIT).

Fundación Juan March

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