MOSCOW — An unprecedented exhibition opened in Moscow Friday of nude prints with scrawled comments apparently written by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that make ribald references to his party comrades.
Titled “Messages from the Great Leader: Stalin’s Autographs,” the week-long exhibition shows prints of 19th- and 20th-century art works that Stalin is said to have defaced with messages in coloured pencil.
“Ginger bastard Radek, if he hadn’t pissed against the wind, if he hadn’t been angry, he would be alive,” he wrote across the leg of a weighty male nude.
The macabre comment was an apparent reference to Karl Radek, the former head of the international communist organisation, the Comintern, believed to have been shot dead by Stalin’s secret police in 1939.
Another comment refers to Marxist theorist Georgy Plekhanov, who opposed the October Revolution. The writer scribbles on a drawing of a nude man, “Plekhanov, why are you pointing backwards? Coward and enemy of the people.”
Other comments are simply coarse jokes about nudity. “Don’t sit with a bare arse on stones,” Stalin writes on a drawing of a man sitting on a pedestal. “Give the boy some pants.”
The collection was preserved by people who worked in Stalin’s security service, said the organisers who include the popular online newspaper gazeta.ru. But the owner of the collection wants to remain anonymous.
“We found them more than a year ago, and we decided first of all to show them and then publish something (on Gazeta.ru),” said organizer Yury Pankov, who heads a publishing house called Avtograf Veka.
The show is taking place at the Marat Guelman gallery in central Moscow, one of post-Soviet Russia’s first and best-known private art galleries.
It opens ahead of the 130th anniversary of Stalin’s official birthday amid controversy about the popularity in Russia of the leader who led Russia to victory in World War II but is also blamed for the deaths of millions.
Rebutting any notion the jottings could be fake, the organisers display a certificate signed by a expert from the interior ministry who examined the handwriting and said it was genuine.
Most of the drawings are signed with a flamboyant “J Stalin”.
The collection “was stored by family members, people who once worked with Stalin, they were guards. It’s the personal archives of workers of KGB,” said one of the exhibition’s organisers, Viktor Turshatov.
The prints were issued in the late 1940s, meaning that Stalin wrote the comments at around the age of 70, Turshatov said.
“Here there are just some flashes of his subconscious. Stalin is talking with his former acquaintances, friends, partners, comrades in the party, like a lot of old people talk to photographs, but here he even corresponds with them.”
At a Sotheby’s auction in New York last week, a letter signed by Stalin was sold for 12,500 dollars. But the exhibition organisers said they had no idea how much the drawings could be worth.
“You can only find out the value at open auctions, and so far no one knows, because it’s a unique collection,” Turshatov said. “There hasn’t been such a precedent with the name of Stalin.
Some reports on the exhibition have suggested that Stalin had homosexual leanings, as most of the drawings are of nude men, and the commentator twice makes jokes about masturbation.
“Stalin and naked guys: what was between them?” a story was headlined in daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
“We specially showed these works to psychologists. They didn’t find any expressions of homosexuality, although this material of course does prompt you to have this thought,” Turshatov said.