Cultural Diplomacy “of Great Propagandistic Value”: The First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin 1922

  • Abstract:

    The First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin in 1922 was by then certainly the major event of official Soviet cultural diplomacy in Germany. It was a materialization of the Treaty of Rapallo, signed between Soviet Russia and Germany in April 1922, that marked the beginning of a German-Soviet special relationship within the cultural sphere. In my paper I intend to contextualize the exhibition within the development of Soviet cultural diplomacy in Germany and to give an insight into the institutional possibilities and restraints for Soviet artists that varied within the 1920s. The exhibition was organized by the Workers’ Relief Organisation and the People’s Commissariat for Education, including professional artists such as David Sterenberg and Nathan Altman. It is representative for a period when artists were involved in decision-making processes. One goal was to correct the exile emigrants’ accusations towards the Bolshevik state for destroying czarist cultural property. Including various artistic tendencies, it served to create ties to prerevolutionary art traditions. At the same time, it was a successful attempt to foster understanding for Soviet art trends within the German public and it also reflects the transition in Soviet foreign policy from enforcing revolutionary revolts towards entering bilateral alliances in order to consolidate the young state. Whereas obvious propaganda was avoided, the exhibition was regarded as being of great propagandistic value for the Bolshevik state. This circumstance shows the necessity to reflect on and to historicize our terminology in different contexts of space and time. Especially the concepts of propaganda, cultural diplomacy and soft power require a precise distinction and definition. The First Russian Art Exhibition served as a blueprint for several art exhibitions between Germany and the USSR during the Cold War period, when politicians built on the experience from this famous event.