The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists In A Time Of Glasnost

In This Review

The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists In A Time Of Glasnost

By Andrew Solomon
Knopf, 1991
170 pp. $25.00
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Solomon may well be the Timothy Garton Ash of the revolution in Soviet art. As a journalist arriving in Moscow to cover the landmark Sotheby sale of contemporary and avant-garde Soviet art in July 1988, he fell among Soviet "vanguard" artists who quickly took him into their studios and their confidence. The artists and their work (much of which seems closer to theater-to what used to be called "happenings" in the West 30 years ago-than to fine art) are described individually, intimately and affectionately. There follows a lengthy history of "unofficial" (proscribed) art movements in the U.S.S.R. since 1957, which has some tedious stretches. But the latter part of the book, describing the eruption of Soviet artists into the West with the easing of travel and export restrictions in 1988, is lively and often hilarious. The story, however, is not entirely upbeat. Many artists have been spoiled and corrupted by their newfound and not always well-deserved popularity and commercial success in the West. And all are aware of uncertainty and danger: artists in the Soviet Union are by no means convinced that glasnost is irreversible, that their freedom cannot be taken away overnight. Living and working in that tension is their continuing burden. Solomon has written a thought-provoking book, a homage to free spirits.

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