I kind of have a thing about Socialist Realism. (I realize that is in part because I didn’t have to live through the idealogy behind it…) I don’t think it is one of the more sophisticated forms of art. It’s art for the people, really. A cartoonish type of utilitarian imagery that is meant to tell a story. Kind of like how medieval church frescoes and friezes, were similarly formulaic and simplified in order to communicate theology to the masses. Same method, different religion.
Nevertheless, the blockish architecture and big, solid figures appeal to me. And how can you not love artwork with titles like “Thank You Tractor Operator?”
Plac Konstytucji (Constitution Square) is a few blocks from our apartment. I walk past it all the time, and have wondered about the enormous buildings with their massive sculptures. It turns out that the entire area was a postwar Socialist Realist architecture and arts project, designed to replace a much older neighborhood that was destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising.
The expansive Plac itself was designed to accommodate state parades. So, that’s kind of awesome, from a historical perspective. In 1999, a campaign was launched to name the square after Ronald Reagan. This was very sweet, really, but I am personally glad it did not succeed.
Two buildings in particular stand out. They are enormous, matching complexes with arcades that face each other across Marshalkowska street. Sort of a socialist interpretation of a Greek marketplace. Or something like that.
The sculptures are either big and clumsy (they are all wearing huge work boots) or imposing, depending on how you look at them. I think they are kind of cool.
Whether you love or hate this style, it is definitely one of the things that make being posted to the former Eastern bloc interesting. Architecture here is a layer cake, from medieval to post-modern. Socialist realism is just one of the more distinctive layers!