Face to Face

Our image of life behind the Iron Curtain tends to be colored by concepts like totalitarianism, oppression, censorship and lack of freedom, which are usually associated with state socialism. All this was true. Even so, the human spirit finds ways to be creative, happy and have a meaningful life under any political system. Some supported the powers in charge, others tried to resist them, and many more developed a “parallel universe” in which they created their private niches.

This exhibition shows people from the Eastern Bloc as they were portrayed in paintings and photographs during the Cold War era. It makes the point that socialist visual culture was by no means restricted to one-dimensional propaganda. It presents punks and outcasts next to idealized workers and farmers, it shows a wide variety of individuals and painting styles, and above all, it highlights the intimacy of private life.

The paintings in this exhibition are from the Soviet Union and Hungary. They illustrate how pictorial traditions changed over time, and how the artists found myriad ways to express the individuality of those portrayed. The photographic series Russians by American photographer Nathan Farb gives us a surprisingly rich, candid and sometimes humorous peek behind the Iron Curtain. East German photographers Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Claus Bach, and Harald Hauswald document the “other” side of East Bloc reality that has often been omitted from official culture: life at the fringes of socialist society.

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