Caption: Portrait of Leonid Utesov by Soviet artist Alexander Laktionov, Credit: Julia Barton
Image by: Julia Barton 
Portrait of Leonid Utesov by Soviet artist Alexander Laktionov 

Soviet Art in America

From: Julia Barton
Length: 10:51

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Twenty years ago, the Soviet Union was in its last throes. A hardline Communist coup failed in August 1991, but officially the USSR still existed until December. As the empire crumbled, a huge cultural edifice dedicated to the arts crumbled with it. The Soviet art world—especially painting—was its own ecosystem, largely closed off from trends in the Western art world. Now, as Julia Barton tells us, the remains of that Soviet ecosystem have started showing up in some very surprising parts of the American heartland. Read the full description.

Utesovprx_small

Why does a country music megastar and all-American guy like Ronnie Dunn — half of what was Nashville’s biggest act, Brooks & Dunn — have a house full of paintings from the Soviet Union? It’s a long story.

Twenty years ago, in the fall of 1991, the Soviet Union was being dismantled, and its highly managed art world vanished in a puff of smoke. Unchanged since Stalin's time, the government-run Artists Union practiced Socialist Realism as the official style, timid in theme and precise in execution. If you weren't a member of the Artists Union, tough luck — you couldn't even buy real paints. When the free market came in, the tables turned fast. For Western collectors, who had the money, dissident and underground art (Grisha Bruskin, Komar and Melamid) was hot; official art (Sergey Gerasimov, Nikolai Timkov) was not.

"We found a lot of paintings that were pulled out from under a bed," recalls Ray Johnson, a Minneapolis collector who went hunting for official art in the decaying empire. Johnson was emphatically not looking for Communist kitsch. "Maybe five to ten percent of the pieces were purely propaganda, or pieces that the government thought they could use to their advantage. But most of the work the artists did they did for themselves and remained in their studios, until people like myself came from all around the world to collect what was in the studios, as opposed to just what was presented by the museums."

Johnson assembled the largest private collection of Soviet-era paintings outside Russia, and founded the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis with a financial assist from his client Ronnie Dunn. Still, Dunn knows that his passion for Socialist Realism clashes with his image as Nashville royalty.

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Piece Description

Why does a country music megastar and all-American guy like Ronnie Dunn — half of what was Nashville’s biggest act, Brooks & Dunn — have a house full of paintings from the Soviet Union? It’s a long story.

Twenty years ago, in the fall of 1991, the Soviet Union was being dismantled, and its highly managed art world vanished in a puff of smoke. Unchanged since Stalin's time, the government-run Artists Union practiced Socialist Realism as the official style, timid in theme and precise in execution. If you weren't a member of the Artists Union, tough luck — you couldn't even buy real paints. When the free market came in, the tables turned fast. For Western collectors, who had the money, dissident and underground art (Grisha Bruskin, Komar and Melamid) was hot; official art (Sergey Gerasimov, Nikolai Timkov) was not.

"We found a lot of paintings that were pulled out from under a bed," recalls Ray Johnson, a Minneapolis collector who went hunting for official art in the decaying empire. Johnson was emphatically not looking for Communist kitsch. "Maybe five to ten percent of the pieces were purely propaganda, or pieces that the government thought they could use to their advantage. But most of the work the artists did they did for themselves and remained in their studios, until people like myself came from all around the world to collect what was in the studios, as opposed to just what was presented by the museums."

Johnson assembled the largest private collection of Soviet-era paintings outside Russia, and founded the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis with a financial assist from his client Ronnie Dunn. Still, Dunn knows that his passion for Socialist Realism clashes with his image as Nashville royalty.

Broadcast History

Studio 360, 11/18/11

Transcript

HOST INTRO:

Twenty years ago this fall, the Soviet Union was in its last throes. A hardline Communist coup failed in August 1991, but officially the USSR still existed until December. As the empire crumbled, a huge cultural edifice dedicated to the arts crumbled with it. The Soviet art world—especially painting—was its own ecosystem, largely closed off from trends in the Western art world. Now, as Julia Barton tells us, the remains of that Soviet ecosystem have started showing up in some very surprising parts of the American heartland.

At least twice a day, buses trundle along the streets of suburban Nashville, Tennessee. This is the Grayline tour called “Homes of the Stars.”

ACT 1/Driver
On the corner of the left side now , here’s the home for half of the biggest-selling duo in the history of the country music business, Brooks & Dunn. On your left now, here’s the home for Ronnie...
Read the full transcript

Timing and Cues

MUSIC OUT at 8:14 - 10:51
Please back announce: "That story was originally produced by Julia Barton for Studio 360"

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

Twenty years ago this fall, the Soviet Union was in its last throes. A hardline Communist coup failed in August 1991, but officially the USSR still existed until December. As the empire crumbled, a huge cultural edifice dedicated to the arts crumbled with it. The Soviet art world—especially painting—was its own ecosystem, largely closed off from trends in the Western art world. Now, as Julia Barton tells us, the remains of that Soviet ecosystem have started showing up in some very surprising parts of the American heartland.

OUTRO:

That story was originally produced by Julia Barton for Studio 360.

Additional Credits

Originally produced for PRI's Studio 360

Related Website

http://www.studio360.org/2011/nov/18/ronnie-dunns-secret-stash-of-soviet-art/