Boris Orlov, ‘master of imperial absurdity’, is one of the main representatives of social art. Many of his colleagues (Komar and Melamid, Kosolapov, Sokov) left for America and were developing this subject already on capitalistic basis. As for Orlov, he hasn’t emigrated, not, of course, for patriotic reasons, but because of his life circumstances, and since 1970s and up to this moment he has been working with the image of the empire, analyzing its nature, aesthetics and paradoxes.
Social art is a direction within unofficial Soviet art, invented by analogy with western pop-art. With the help of a wide range of artistic means, it treats ironically the comprehensive and even ‘splashing over the edge’ in those days Soviet ideology, clichés and otherwise ‘stagnant’ reality. Orlov went further: in his sculpture, graphics, and later in installations, he analyzes cultural codes and the phenomenon of the Soviet empire. In 1970s, foreseeing its near end, the artist decided to create its ‘generalizing image’, expanding his interest to eternal historical questions, since empires are known to be cyclical and finite phenomena. In his works power attributes are often used, but with simultaneous addition of the elements of absurdity, which any thinking person at all times could easily read while contemplating the ‘imperial reality’.
In 1989, Boris Orlov painted a large canvas “Red Cloud”, which is now part of the Tretyakov Gallery collection. Later, the same year, the artist created the presented work – its version of a smaller size and different in technique: silkscreen covered with enamel.The work refers to post-perestroika reflections on the topic of the socialist past, which turned out to be not so beautiful, as it was claimed from the tribune next to Mausoleum. The style of this work resembles Soviet posters. Boris Orlov remembers that in the 70s he and his like-minded friends, “focused on agitprop ... as one of the languages using which one can conduct a dialogue.” The ‘red cloud’ here is a grotesque image of the victory of communism, which was not destined to happen, but which many then sincerely believed in. The plot is based on the popular Soviet film “The Bright Path” (1940) with Lubov Orlova in the main role. The artist, therefore, continues his theme of heroes, because the film is dedicated to the Stakhanovites, heroes of socialist production.
The painting depicts a landscape: a huge red cloud is spread over the field along which tractors drive. And this cloud is a woman depicting a goddess of fertility, whose huge bust is hanging over the ground a little threateningly. But this is not just a goddess, but a ‘hero of socialist labor’: her clothes are ‘woven’ from the red ribbons with the lines from the song “The March of Enthusiasts”, which was first voiced in the film. The artist often quotes patriotic songs, slogans and orders in his works. “In our daring, we are always right” is repeated many times, it spreads about the woman's body, that is, all over the sky. A gracious ideological rain is about to shed from the swollen “Red Cloud” and impregnate the earth with its slogans. At the end of the film, the heroine flies by car over Moscow, beautiful, smiling, happy. And the Boris Orlov’s heroine ascended over the whole country, but her image is impersonal, she is an ideological machine, the archetype of which the artist is closely studying. V
Other works of the artist
Gala Group Portrait (Three-headed totem), 1988
enamel on hardboard
122 х 132 cm
AUTUMN AUCTION 2013
Female bust in the spirit of Rastrelli, 1988-, 1988-2009
67 х 46 х 17 cm
AUTUMN AUCTION 2013
"The hierarchy of the Earth", "The Hierarchy of Heaven", 1982
ink on paper
37,5 х 25,5 cm