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Russophone Emigrants in the Performing and Visual Arts

Rosenfeld, Alla

Although each wave of Russian artistic emigration to the United States had its own peculiarities, émigré artists of the two major periods of emigration–the 1920s and the 1970s–had to deal with similar issues of cultural assimilation, ethnic distinction in the international art market, and financial survival. While some artists sought to escape the political or religious persecution they had experienced in their native land, others responded to the American promise of creative and/or social emancipation. Despite their range of ethnicities, these artists, who came from all classes of society and practiced many different artistic styles, were all termed "Russian" by the Americans. Among the artists who arrived to the US before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 were the Soyer brothers, Louis Lozowick, Ben Shan, Mark Rothko, and Max Weber. Many of the artists who came to the United States after the Bolshevik Revolution were already famous and successful in Russia, and they received critical acclaim soon after they arrived to the US. This group of artists included Boris Anisfeld, Boris Grigoriev, Nikolai Fechin, Serge Sudeikin, and David Burliuk. Another group of artists, including Alexander Archipenko, Jacques Lipchitz, and Osip Zadkine, came to the United States via Europe. They have established themselves as important artists while in Paris, and then received an opportunity to create profusely in the United States. (Lipchitz's "Bellerophon Taming Pegasus" dominates the façade of Columbia's Law School building). Under the rule of Joseph Stalin immigration was almost impossible. During the period in Soviet history from the late 1930s to the end of the 1960s, the names of earlier émigré artists were almost erased from the history of Russian art and their work was largely hidden from public view. From 1973, primarily on Jewish visas, some artists were finally permitted to leave the Soviet Union. Although this group of émigré artists was faced with new demands of Capitalist market economy, they received an unprecedented amount of artistic freedom, and direct contact with the Western art world.

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Harriman Institute
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September 26, 2013
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