Soviet 'Sport Art' Jumps at Exhibit

London -- Sotheby’s and The Institute of Russian Realist Art are to present the exhibition SOVIET ART SOVIET SPORT – one of only a very small number of exhibitions of Soviet Art ever to have been staged outside Russia.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are thrilled to get a preview of this historic exhibition of 20th century art.

Bringing together 35 important paintings, drawings and sculptures from the collection of the Institute of Russian Realist Art, the exhibition will explore the representation of sport – one of the most powerful symbols of Soviet ideology - in 20th century Socialist Realist art.

Following the 1917 Revolution, sport, with its associations of strength, unity, and glory emerged as a leading theme in Soviet art.

In the same way that court painters like Velázquez were obliged to adjust their style to please royal families, artists in the USSR were expected to adapt their personal style and tastes to meet the demands of their chief patron – the Soviet state.

There were circles of artists who worked on the boundaries of what was seemed acceptable and the majority of them did not fare well. The artist Mikhail Sokolov was declared a formalist, accused of counter-revolutionary activity, and was eventually arrested and exiled.

Along with other key characteristics of the USSR such as industrialization, space and ballet, sport was often heavily influenced by Soviet ideology.

Day-to-Day Routine

Not only were Soviet sporting achievements important ideological weapons used to increase the prestige of the USSR, but sport was also an integral part of day-to-day life that was formally given the same status as traditional ideological education in 1925.

For decades, the entire USSR was awoken every day by energetic music on the radio accompanied by instructions as to which gymnastic movements were to be performed. Almost every organization in the country from schools to factories began the day with compulsory gymnastics.

Mass sporting events were an integral part of Soviet society in the 1920s-30s and parades to demonstrate the physical prowess of the Soviet people were carried out in the main stadiums and squares across the country.

Artists were often involved in staging such events, and had an insider’s understanding of all the aesthetic subtleties and ideological demands.

In 'Parade at the Dynamo Stadium', Sergei Luchishkin depicts a parade at the oldest surviving sports arena in Moscow, the Dynamo Stadium, with young Soviet women marching towards a bright and happy future.

Alexander Deyneka is another celebrated Russian artist of the 20th century, whose works are held in the country’s most important museums. His beautiful mosaics decorate the lobby of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses and the Mayakovskaya and Novokuznetskaya stations of the Moscow metro.

His painting, 'Sportswoman Tying A Ribbon' depicts a new ‘Soviet Madonna’ with a determined expression, strong hands and a powerful – but still feminine – figure. Looking at Deyneka’s portrait, it is difficult to say what the character embodies most – an athlete or woman.

Post World War II

After the end of the Second World War, there was a radical change in the nature of sporting art: the glory, the struggle and the confrontation were lost and sport was presented as an important part of the recreation of the ordinary Soviet citizen.

'Waverunner', one of Kutilin’s early works, shows a young, strong athlete water- skiing. Though still an exotic sport in the 1950s, water-skiing quickly gained popularity among young people in the USSR.

The energy of youth and the desire to move forward and open up new horizons perfectly matched the spirit of the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’, a period of relative liberalization in the USSR following the death of Stalin.

Although Popkov is often included among the artists of the ‘Severe Style’, his works clearly stand out from any single art movement. In the artist’s own words, his paintings convey ‘the spiritual, the intangible’ and are characterized by multi-faceted images and emotions.

In his canvas and fiberboard from 1968, 'Volleyball', he somehow imperceptibly fits a banal episode from rural life into the wider context of the universe. For the artist, sport had nothing to do with tournaments or competitions; it was an element of everyday life that he depicted and infused with metaphorical meanings of his own.

Volleyball and Gymnastics

When volleyball was introduced to the USSR, actors and artists quickly fell in love with the new game as it celebrated grace and strength - among the sport’s biggest fans were the artists Georgy Nissky and Yakov Romas

The ideological thaw of the late 1950s and early 1960s granted real-life sporting heroes the right to their own individual identities and artists began to create portraits of famous athletes.

In these works there is no longer an imposing evocation of the strength of the Soviet state; instead, the artists carefully convey the sporting spirit, internal strength and outward beauty of the contestants.

In 'Gymnasts: Portrait of Vladimir Artemov and Yury Korolyov,' Mikhail Izotov depicts two of the most outstanding gymnasts of the Soviet era.


The Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) is a private project established with the aim of reviving the Russian philanthropic tradition. The IRRA Museum and Exhibition Complex opened in December 2011. The art on display at IRRA has earned a reputation as one of the finest collections of the national realist school of the 20th century.

The exhibition space extends over three floors and displays almost 500 Russian and Soviet artworks across an area of 4,500 square meters. The Institute is based in a former cotton-printing factory in the Zamoskvorechye district, facing the Novospassky monastery.

Sotheby’s 34-35 New Bond Street, London Exhibition is open 19th – 21st December 2013, and 2nd – 14th January 2014