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Editor’s Note: Downloadable high-resolution images of exhibit pieces are available online at news.owu.edu/images.html.

Ohio Wesleyan University’s Ross Art Museum to Host Exhibit of Soviet-Era Nonconformist Artworks

February 5, 2008

(top) Taken in November 1981, this image shows artist-participants at an illegal apartment exhibition in Leningrad. Photo by Anatoly Shishkov.

(middle) Kathleen Browne’s metal-enamel jewelry, including this piece titled “Thrill,” incorporates pulp-magazine-era images.

(bottom) OWU alumnus Christopher Davis ’86 will display drawings and photographs as part of Ross Art Museum’s latest exhibit.

DELAWARE, OHIO – They risked everything for their art, including imprisonment in Soviet-era Russia.

Forbidden by the government from exhibiting their paintings and drawings, these underground artists set up secret showings in apartments throughout Leningrad, today known as St. Petersburg. A replica of one of these clandestine events will be on display from Feb. 14 through April 6 at Ohio Wesleyan University’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum, 60 S. Sandusky St.

The exhibit, titled “The Space of Freedom – Apartment Exhibitions in Leningrad, 1964-1986,” includes a three-dimensional reproduction of a Soviet-era apartment, complete with walls, flooring, and furniture. More than 40 original, nonconformist artworks will be exhibited within this one-room apartment, which will be constructed inside Ross Art Museum’s Barbara Kuhlman Gallery.

“Under the Soviet regime, artists were permitted only to create works that celebrated and promoted the socialist culture,” said Justin Kronewetter, museum director and Ohio Wesleyan fine arts professor. “Those who refused to conform to the law were not permitted to display their art in galleries, museums, or other public places.”

To share their pieces, the underground artists would mount exhibits in apartments during the day, hold showings at night, and then quickly dismantle and move the displays to keep from getting caught and punished by Soviet authorities.

“These artists took great risks to produce and share their work,” Kronewetter said. “The display is so unique and offers such strong educational opportunities that we thought it was perfect for Ohio Wesleyan.” The exhibit is being co-sponsored by the university’s International Studies Program.

All of the artwork is from the collection of Pushkin-10 Art Centre in Russia. The exhibition was organized by the University of Richmond Museums in Richmond, Virginia, with support from Global Partners, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and with additional funding from University of Richmond’s Tucker-Boatwright Festival of Literature and the Arts, the School of Arts and Sciences, and the Cultural Affairs Committee.

Curators include:  Joseph C. Troncale, Associate Professor of Russian and Co-Director of the Russian Studies Program, University of Richmond; Evgeny Orlov, Director, Museum of Nonconformist Art and Vice President, Pushkin-10 Art Centre; and Sergei Kovalsky, President, Pushkin-10 Art Centre.

In conjunction with “The Space of Freedom,” Ross Art Museum also will display metal-enameled jewelry by Kent State University professor Kathleen Browne in the Lynn Mayhew Gallery, and drawings and photographs by Cleveland resident and 1986 Ohio Wesleyan graduate Christopher Davis in the West Gallery.

Browne’s exhibition, titled “Witness,” features pieces that incorporate pulp-magazine-era images. Her works have been displayed in more than 175 exhibitions and featured in nine books.

Davis’s exhibition, titled “Drawing on Nature,” includes detailed images of wooded areas filled with intertwining elements.

Of his photography, Davis said: “The style and composition is heavily influenced by Japanese screen paintings, abstract expressionism, and gesture drawing. This web-like composition is meant to hold the viewer’s attention as his or her eyes have a chance to wander over the fine details. It is important to the meaning of these pieces that the viewer slows down long enough to be able to start to see that all is not finished and whole.”

An opening reception for all three exhibits will be held at the museum from 7-9 p.m. Feb. 13. The event is free and open to the public.

Ross Art Museum is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Saturdays. The museum also will be closed from March 8-17 for spring break. Admission is always free. For more information, call (740) 368-3606.

Ohio Wesleyan University is an undergraduate liberal arts college that transforms the lives of its students through a combination of rigorous academics, mentoring relationships, and real-world experiences. Featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” the private university’s 1,850 students come from 40 states and 45 countries. Visit www.owu.edu for more information.