The thirty-three-year-old artist Aleksandr Deineka was given a large piece of wall space at the exhibition 15 Years of Artists of the RSFSR at the Russian Museum in Leningrad in 1932. At the center of the wall hung his most acclaimed painting, The Defense of Petrograd of 1928, a civil-war-themed canvas showing marching Bolshevik citizens, defending against the incursions of the White armies on their city, arrayed in flattened, geometric patterns across an undifferentiated white ground. The massive 15 Years exhibition attempted to sum up the achievements of Russian Soviet art since the revolution as well as point toward the future, and Deineka, in spite of his past association with “leftist” (read: avant-garde) artistic groups such as OST (the Society of Easel Painters) and October, was among those younger artists who were anointed by exhibition organizers as leading the way forward toward Socialist Realist art—a concept that was being formulated through both the planning of and critical response to this very display of so many divergent Soviet artists. Known for his magazine illustrations and posters, Deineka had also established himself at a young age as a major practitioner of monumental painting in a severe graphic style that addressed socialist themes, such as revolutionary history (e.g., Petrograd), and, as his other works displayed at the Leningrad exhibition demonstrate, proletarian sport (Women's Cross-Country Race and Skiers, both 1931) the ills of capitalism (Unemployed in Berlin, 1932), and the construction of the new Soviet everyday life (Who Will Beat Whom?, 1932).

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