Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Contemporary Art

First Advisor

Stephan Pascher

Second Advisor

Melanie Marino

Abstract

Visual artworks by Soviet nonconformist artists, especially those associated with the Moscow Conceptualist and Sots-Art movements of the mid-1960s to mid-1980s, prominently feature experimentations with word and text—both in and as image—for a wide variety of reasons that have been studied by scholars of Soviet and Russian art.

In this paper, a formal and conceptual analysis of nearly thirty text-and-image artworks by nonconformist artists of the period traces the motivations and inspirations for this highly creative and generative practice. Beginning with the desire to resume where the historic Russian avant-garde had left off, these artworks challenge notions of language as a set of visual signs, explore their aural properties, reestablish links to Russia’s rich cache of poetry and literary narrative, and open conceptual angles—including deskilling, banishment of the notion of individual authorship, and an archival approach—similar to those taken by Western conceptualist artists.

Nevertheless, nonconformist artists’ combination of word and text with image reflected and reacted to a set of circumstances unique to life during the late Soviet era, when many Russians had ceased to regard the aims of communism—promulgated by banners, posters, and other state-commissioned artworks rendered in the dominant artistic style of Socialist Realism—as an achievable reality. By including linguistic content in the picture field, Soviet nonconformist artists succeeded in deconstructing propagandistic myths and messages, thereby forging an approach to actual realism that could accurately depict the life of the Russian soul.

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