After days of skirmishing with Soviet bureaucrats wary of objectionable religious themes, a group of painters yesterday opened a truncated art show considered daringly devoid of Socialist Realism.
The bureaucrats censored 20 canvases, chiefly on religious grounds, allowing 95 others to be hung in the gallery of the Moscow Committee of Graphic Artists. The painters, who have tenuous official ties to the graphics group, backed down from a threat to demonstrate if all the canvases were not hung.
The afternoon opening was jammed with Muscovites eager to view the works. News of the troubles with the show traveled through the city's avid intelligentisia and privileged bureaucrats who seldom miss seeing the latest exhibits, especially when there is the sensation of official difficulty.
Many foreign correspondence were on hand as well, alerted by the artists, who spread the word that they might demostrate.
The contretemps once again exemplifies the uneasy relationship between artists of any kind and a state intent upon closely monitoring and controlling forms of self-expression.
The show as well demostrates that in today's Russia, which has never drunk deep from the fountain of modern abstract expressionism, themes of intense self-expression often derive form perculiarly national institutions, such as the Russian Orthodox Church.
For, despite the censorship, this exhibit returns repeatedly to the mystical symbols of the church, which for centuries under the czars ruled with all the mihgt of any state-sanctioned religion and whose power the Communist Party shattered soon after the revolution. Church and state exist in modern Russia, with the state in careful control and vigilant against a rise in "believers," as they are known here.
Among the works in jeopardy but which survived the censors is a 12-canvas effort called "Apocalypse," by Vitali Linitsky. The paintings, which occupied their creator over the previous 13 years, have strong religious themes, including a powerfully executed work showing a man prostrating himself before a series of ghostly images of Christ, te dove of peace, and the cross. Other canvases work out further the themes of death and transfiguration amid such Christian symbols as the altar, the heavens and the trumpets of the saints.
Among the works censored was a painting entitiled "crucifixion," which explicitly portrayed that scene and one called "woman," depicting the broken body of a woman on the ground. One source asserted that the officials feared the work might be taken as an allegory for the motherland.
Other paintings included in the exhibit and seen by the studious crowds were one showing a Russian Orthodox church walled off by a monastery parapet looking suspiciously like the Kremlin's and several colorful modern primitives by A.E. Tymanov portraying a throng around a bearded figure wearing a crown of thorns.
The artists are among those whose attempt to exhibit paintings at an outdoor show was broken up by security police in 1974, who beat up several Western reporters, including a woman, and drove bulldozers through the crowds and over some paintings.
It was being said yesterday that several artists of the group may be expelled from the Graphics Committee Union as a result of the ideological tussle connected with the show. The painters were included in the Graphics Union as the authorities sought a way to accomodate their creative impulses within the ever-important "official" framework, which offers privilege at the expense of control.