The Ironic Curtain Brings Soviet Nonconformist Art to the CMA

Mark Shteinbock (Russian, born 1944). Television Came to the Village, 1980. Collection of Neil K. Rector.

Mark Shteinbock (Russian, born 1944). Television Came to the Village, 1980. Collection of Neil K. Rector.

Columbia, S.C. – The Columbia Museum of Art announces its featured summer exhibition, The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground, an exclusive, CMA-organized show on view Saturday, July 3, through Sunday, September 12, 2021. A celebration day on Friday, July 9, features free admission, extended hours, and a program featuring conversation between CMA Curator Catherine Walworth and Neil K. Rector, from whose collection the exhibition was assembled.

The Ironic Curtain features artists who worked under political repression in the decades just before the fall of the Soviet Union, often making “official” art by day and their own experimental art in secret. The results are wild and darkly witty, with symbols of the Soviet government used to parody its power rather than to celebrate it.

“This exhibition will be strange, funny, heartbreaking, and important,” says Walworth. “While the Soviet government tried to make all its citizens conform and to control them with images, the artists in The Ironic Curtain were on this wild covert quest to make art freely. There is absurd humor because they were playing cat and mouse with the authorities, but they were also joyously playing a game with each other, making sense of their world and of what art could be.”

Sots Art, a Soviet version of Pop Art, is well represented in this exhibition among paintings, sculpture, prints, and photography by nearly three dozen artists, including the artist duo Komar and Melamid, Ilya Kabakov, Alexander Kosolapov, and Leonid Sokov. Many featured artists pay homage to early 20th-century Russian avant-garde art movements including Suprematism, Constructivism, and Cubo-Futurism.

Having been officially repressed or relatively contained to émigré centers such as New York City, many of these works are little known, and some works in the exhibition are being shown in the United States for the first time. The CMA has organized this exhibition from the premier Neil K. Rector Collection to create this rare opportunity.


Opening Celebration for The Ironic Curtain
Friday, July 9 | 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Enjoy free admission, extended hours, and a talk with the collector in celebration of new exhibition The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground.

Lifting the Curtain: Neil K. Rector in Conversation with Catherine Walworth
Friday, July 9 | 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Contemporary collector Neil K. Rector discusses his personal memories of the nonconformist artists in The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground with CMA Curator Catherine Walworth. The act of collecting is critical to 20th-century Russian avant-garde art, which nearly fell out of history under political repression. Rector has been actively preserving and collecting postwar Soviet art and photography for decades. He was a founding member of a Russian-focused collections committee at Tate Modern (London), and his support of Russian art was honored by the Hermitage Museum Foundation (St. Petersburg) in 2012. Walworth’s book Soviet Salvage: Imperial Debris, Revolutionary Reuse, and Russian Constructivism (Penn State University Press, 2017) was shortlisted for a First Book Prize by the Modernist Studies Association in 2018. Space is limited for in-person attendance to allow for physical distancing. In person: Free. Members only. Virtual: Free and open to the public.

Rasputin’ on the Ritz
Sunday, July 25 | 11:00 a.m. – Noon
Drag Queen Ebony Wood leads guests on a subversive gallery tour through The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground and an art project. Registration required as space is limited to ensure physical distancing; includes take-home goodie bag. $25 / $20 for members.

CMA Underground
Thursday, July 29 | 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Hey! Ho! Let’s go! Celebrate the summer exhibition The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground with a free event for all ages. Explore underground art and culture scenes with a night of punk rock performances from Columbia Arts Academy, throwback hip-hop sets from DJ Kingpin, a skate demo from Bluetile Skateshop, a pop-up vinyl shop from Scratch N’ Spin, upcycled vintage clothing and accessories pop-ups from The Beautiful Neighborhood and Internet Crush by Nori Noir, arcade games from Transmission Arcade, art activities from the CMA, and more. Food available for purchase from Chubby’s Burgers, Karen’s Mobile Kitchen & Catering, and Gorilla Boost Co. (vegan). Event admission free and appropriate for all ages. Gallery admission $10 or less / free for members.


The Ironic Curtain: Art from the Soviet Underground is presented through the support of our generous sponsors and grantors. Presenting sponsor: Cyberwoven. Friend sponsors: Joseph Bruce; Ann Marie Stieritz and John Carran. Patron sponsors: Patricia L. Beckler; Nancy and Rick Layman; Mr. William C. Schmidt, Jr. Grantors: City of Columbia, Richland County Government, South Carolina Arts Commission, and South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. Additional support: Dr. Jessica Kross.

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