Moscow Gallery Exhibits work of MCCC Visual Arts Prof, Yevgeniy Fiks
His mixed media installation includes both oil paintings and video. It is based on highly stylized imagery from several pro-Russian movies made in Hollywood during the 1940s. The intent of the films, sanctioned by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, was to sanitize the U.S. public image of Russia, with whom the U.S. had cut ties after the Russian Revolution of 1917, now that they were World War II allies.
Fiks’ exploration of the Russian identity through U.S. eyes led him, inevitably, to film. He worked backward, starting with more recent films like Reds, Moscow on the Hudson, and Hunt for Red October. Eventually, he came across references to several “B-movies”– Song of Russia, Mission to Moscow, and North Star – produced about Russia during the 1940s, but he had a very difficult time finding copies to view. As he continued his research, he became fascinated with both these films and their socio-political history. When he finally viewed them, he was even more intrigued. “To me they looked, immediately, like paintings from Russia’s ‘Socialist Realist’ art, and yet they were made in Hollywood!” (“Socialist Realist” or “totalitarian” art was created in Russia after the 1930s government dictum that the arts should exist only to glorify political and social ideals of communism.)
According to MCCC Gallery Director Tricia Fagan, “In his immaculately painted black and white oils Fiks reproduces key shots from each of the three films that he considers to be the most propagandistic, and includes a meticulously reproduced image of the logos for MGM and Warner Brothers studios.”
Fagan continues, “Fiks is also attracted to the deeper irony that these films – created as government-sanctioned, deliberately pro-Russian propaganda films by Hollywood – soon formed the basis for Joe McCarthy’s obsessive hunt for Communist influence in Hollywood. And in the course of the hearings, many Russian émigrés testified to the fact that the Russian people, though portrayed as heroic and anti-Hitler, were also desperate and miserable under the rule of Stalin, who was portrayed in the films as a dignified, thoughtful leader.”
“Song of Russia” employs not only Fiks’ artistic skills, but humor, empathy, and irony in a bid to further a more honest relationship between the people of these two giant nations.
Fiks holds a BFA in Studio Arts from Brooklyn College and an MFA in Computer Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York. His art has been exhibited extensively throughout the New York/New Jersey region, and in group exhibitions and festivals in Russia.
The ARTStrelka gallery is a new art center that sits across from the Kremlin on the banks of the Moscow River, on a site that once housed the city's Red October candy factory. “They’re still around, and they make wonderful candy,” says Fiks with a smile.
The site – the brainchild of a local artist and impresario, Vladimir Dubosarsky, who is also an organizer of the annual ARTKlazma festival on the outskirts of town – opened in 2004, and is quickly becoming a cultural hub for the city. It houses several galleries, upscale boutiques and shops, and several artist-run groups including Radek, a young arts and culture think tank.
Considering Fiks’ artistic concerns, it may be especially appropriate to note that the center is named in honor of Strelka (“little arrow”), one of the two dog ‘cosmonauts’ from the historic Sputnik 5 space flight of 1960. When she returned to earth, Strelka had six puppies, and one, Pushinka, was given to Caroline Kennedy by Nikita Khrushchev. Pushinka and JFK’s dog Charlie, in turn, had a litter of four puppies (called “pupniks” by the president). The birth of these pups occurred around the time of the Cuban Missile crisis. Pushinka and Charlie’s “romance” and the birth of their puppies offered a rare, hopeful sign to the people of the U.S. and Russia.