Why 2008 Is The Perfect Time For Socialist Realism To Re-Emerge

What goes around; or perhaps the tagline from a low budget horror flick “Sometimes they come back.” We noticed this from our friends over at Art News and thought it worth a comment here.

T long since dead oeuvre is creeping back in new and interesting ways. Far from its clumsy and now kitschy stereotype, ‘socialist realism’ is making an insidious and interestingly subversive comeback. 2008 style, it offers props to its heavy handed AgitProp roots while incorporation contemporary references to the global geo-political-iPod-McMansion-Freedom Loving-oil skyrocketing present. Two examples are from Chinese artist Shi Xinning, which as you might imagine, tickled the Stiftung immensely:

There can be little doubt that even if parodying socialist realism one still pays a certain homage to it. In Eastern Europe, as one might imagine, not a small political fact. For regimes in the end art is first and foremost (regardless of intent) political. In the case of China, as Art News quotes Chang Tsong -Zung, a key Hong Kong curator:

Almost all artists in China using the human figure today are dealing in some way with Socialist Realism. It was dominant for so long that it’s virtually impossible to make this kind of work without its influence.

It remains to be seen if art there can emerge from this Schrodinger’s Box and grow into something genuinely new. Our guess is not for a while at least — like politics, art is not the interest of the new generations eager for laptops, cellphones and designer clothes.

Can we look for the revival here in the States? Pernilla Holmes’ excellent piece notes the socialist realism had an even wider and more pervasive impact in Latin American and especially Mexico than even its birthplace, the Soviet Union. Recent demographic tends indicate the collective memory and embrace of communicative style followed the footsteps. Traditionally, the U.S. version embodied the WPA, Hoover Dam, and other engineering and humanity-saving/dignity giving marvels implemented by government to save capitalism (contra ideology from this current group of waning war criminals). But we digress.

Today, across the West, observers note the socialist realism becomes recursive to the nth degree: the new realism is the incapacity to see or know realism. (Think sitting around Washington Square, some ‘brownies’, vintage theramin tapes blaring, and then a noisy bus lurching by with an oversized Katie Couric and her phosphorescent grin beaming down. Suddenly that whole recursive thing doesn’t seem so silly, eh? Want a shorter example? Rent the Matrix).


We are keenly watching for the artwork to emerge from any of the campaigns. So far? Our aesthetics resemble the bland brown cardboxes one gets at Home Depot with the latest Chinese housing supplies. Given the incredible potency of art to communicate and galvanize (aesthetics included here for convenience), interesting that American political campaigns avoid even the most timid steps beyond red white and blue bumber stickers and pins. The inertness of the campaign-related art perhaps speaks volumes for the actual political tectonics beneath the sloganeering on all sides. (Note to Republicans and Movement repressives — even Pat Boone cut a heavy metal album, folks).

And even if they were to try, how could they do it? What do you think is the socialist realist embodiment of change in America circa 2008. Peace, Bread, Land? The crown prince can at least find some historical tools to use and then obscure before Fox News runs 6 hour specials on his covert Marxist roots. Experience? Wouldn’t you think that’s a little more tough. Edwards might have it easiest (if he lasts) using art to motivate his decamisados from all across America. (Offered with profound respect. And regret that the important message did not cut through the clutter, however mortal the messenger).

As for the rest, their aesthetic is already laid down in iron and steel. McCain, Team Mitt, Rudy (if he’s around) — the flag, military hardware and fear. Very Soviet in the 1950-86 period, Kiwanis style. Art News indeed might prove very prescient.