Exhibit by Soviet Jewish Artists Receives an Enthusiastic Response
Menu JTA Search

Exhibit by Soviet Jewish Artists Receives an Enthusiastic Response

Download PDF for this date

An unusual exhibition of paintings and sculpture by 12 Leningrad Jewish artists has met with enthusiastic response in this city. The exhibit, which opened June 10 and closed last week, was sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and shown at a local theater.

Eleven of the artists whose works were shown have requested emigration visas. As a result, the artists, all graduates of the finest art institutions in the Soviet Union, have been expelled from the Artist’s Union and denied the right to work or to declare art as their profession. The twelfth artist, Tatyana Kornfeld, a 27-year-old graduate of the Leningrad Academy of Art, was permitted to emigrate to Israel last year.

Judy Balint, head of the Seattle Committee on Soviet Jewry, said she was pleased with the reception of the exhibit in Seattle. She expressed belief that if enough attention is paid to the exhibit in the U.S. the II artists still in the Soviet Union, and other Jews wishing to emigrate, will be allowed by Soviet authorities to leave the country.

With the exception of five pieces, the show did not consist of actual paintings and sculpture but rather of photographs of the works. The paintings and sculpture were photographed in the Soviet Union and the film was then smuggled out of the country, tucked into a letter sent to the San Francisco Bay Area Council on Soviet Jewry. The film was developed for an exhibit in Berkeley, California and then booked into 26 cities across the U.S.


The pieces at the exhibit included works of abstract art and Surrealism, styles forbidden in the Soviet Union. Soviet art theory demands that an artist be a propagandist for the state and therefore “Socialist Realism” is the only style permissible. Typical paintings in that mode portray powerful, blocky figures of workers laboring proudly for the state.

Ironically, the pieces at the exhibit expressed the depression of the 12 artists who have been hounded by Soviet authorities. The dozen artists represented each has a distinctive approach, often with religious symbolism a key factor. “Forbidden” themes (including religious themes) are treated in unsanctioned painting styles. Denied access to the worldwide movements in contemporary art, the painters have evolved innovations based on Russian folk idioms and the rounded lines of icon figures.

Technically, the exhibit was not an art show but a political statement, meant to illustrate the virulent anti-Semitism encountered by Jews in the Soviet Union. On Nov. 23, 1975 these 12 artists opened an unauthorized exhibition of 112 paintings, graphics and sculptures in the one-room Leningrad apartment of one of the participants, Evgeny Abezgauz. In one week’s time, 4000 people visited the show and Soviet authorities made no-move to close the exhibition. The show subsequently moved to a Moscow apartment where it attracted another 5000 citizens.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund