Art Exhibitions

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Art Exhibitions


public, usually temporary displays of works of art. Art exhibitions are a basic way of acquainting viewers with painting, sculpture, and the graphic arts (both contemporary art and the artistic heritage). Sometimes art exhibitions are held in order to sell works of art. Art exhibitions can be international, national, or regional (in the USSR they exist on all-Union, republic, oblast, and other levels). They can be stationary or traveling, one-man shows or group and collective exhibits. Art exhibitions can be held periodically, often annually or biennially. Works displayed at art exhibitions are often selected on the basis of some distinguishing feature. The works may be chosen according to the participating artists, who may be members of an academy of art or they may be art school students or amateur artists. The artists may also belong to a particular art group. Works of art may also be brought together on the basis of type or genre (paintings, sculptures, engravings, portraits, landscapes), as well as on the basis of subject matter (so-called thematic exhibitions) and trends in art. Of great importance are museum art exhibitions—both those devoted to the work of one artist and thematic shows—using works that have been kept in reserves or received on loan through exchanges with other museums, as well as those exhibiting new acquisitions. A special commission (jury) selected by the participants in the exhibitions or appointed selects the works by subject and quality and awards prizes. Some exhibitions are held without juries. Broader functions are performed by an exhibition committee that conducts the entire work of organization. It obtains works for the art exhibition, sets up the exhibits, publishes catalogs and guides, organizes tours and lectures, and so forth. For many art exhibitions, especially thematic ones, a plan of exposition is made in conformity with the subject and ideological content of the exhibit.

The first art exhibitions were public shows of art works in ancient Greece (beginning in the sixth century B.C.), in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries during holiday processions, and in Holland and Flanders in the 17th century at fairs and marketplaces. In France, the Paris Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which first presented exhibitions of its members’ work in 1653, began to organize exhibitions in the Louvre in 1699. In the 18th century regular exhibitions were organized by the art academies of other countries (including the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts beginning in 1760). In the 19th century art exhibitions became the main form of the participation of art in public life and the arena for the struggle between ideologically progressive and regressive artistic trends. In the late 19th century unofficial exhibitions were held in addition to official academic exhibitions, for example, the two exhibitions of G. Courbet’s paintings—“Realism” in 1855 and “The Salon of the Rejected” in 1863—both held in France. There were also public exhibiting associations, such as the National Society of Fine Arts established in 1890 in France and the Sezessionen, which began to organize in Germany and Austria in 1892. Some of them countered academic and salon art with a realistic program and quests for new means of artistic expression. In Russia in the 19th century the most progressive exhibitions were established by the peredvizhniki (the “wanderers,” an artistic movement) in 1871. A sharp increase in the number of art exhibitions at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th reflected the complex and contradictory nature of Russian art at that time. There were exhibitions by such groups as the World of Art, the Russian Artists’ Alliance, and the Knave of Diamonds. The growing interest in the study of the national art heritage was reflected in the Historical and Artistic Exhibitions of Portraits held in 1905 in St. Petersburg.

In the USSR and other socialist countries art exhibitions are intended for the popular masses and play a large educative role; this has given rise to an extensive proliferation of art exhibitions, including thematic ones. The most important exhibitions have been the “Fifteen Years of RKKA” (Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, 1933), “Socialist Industry” (1939), “The Great Patriotic War” (1942), “Exhibition of Fine Art Works of Socialist Countries” (1959), “Art—Into Everyday Life” (1960), and “On Guard for Peace” (1965). Other exhibitions include the all-Union anniversary art exhibition, “Fifty Years of Soviet Power” (1967, Moscow),“Mass Propaganda Art of the First Years of the October Revolution” (1967, Moscow and other cities), the all-Union art exhibition devoted to the 100th anniversary of the birth of V. I. Lenin (1970, Moscow), and “We Love Life” (1966, Berlin). The role of art exhibitions in the development of national culture and growth of national consciousness in countries freed from colonial domination is great, for example, the First International Festival of African Art (1966, Dakar, Senegal). In capitalist countries, in addition to exhibitions of classical and contemporary progressive art, many art exhibitions are held for advertising and commercial purposes, and some exhibits are held to propagandize bourgeois ideology.

Art exhibitions devoted to different phenomena in the history of art are very important for the study and criticism of art. At these exhibitions, works preserved in various countries are often shown. Exchanges of national art exhibitions promote the cultural rapprochement of peoples, the mutual enrichment of their cultures, and the struggle to achieve peace and progress. Examples of such exhibitions are “The Art of Mexico From Antiquity to the Present” (1960, Moscow), “Russian Art From the Scythians to the Present: Treasures of Russian Museums” (1967-68, Paris), the international art exhibitions “Art and the Resistance” (1965, Bologna), and the national and international expositions at world’s fairs, such as the exhibition “The Genius of Man the Creator” held at the international pavilion of the world’s fair in Montreal in 1967.


Vystavki sovetskogo izobrazitel’nogo iskusstva (handbook), vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1965-67.
Luckhurst, K. W., The Story of Exhibitions. London-New York, 1951.
Koch, G. F., Die Kunstausstellung: Ihre Geschichte von den Anfängen bis zum Ausgang des 18. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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