Documenting the Heroic Rescue of Soviet Paintings in The Desert of Forbidden Art

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The Desert of Forbidden Art
Directed by Amanda Pope
and Tchavdar Georgiev
Opens March 11, Cinema Village

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At its core, Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev’s engrossing documentary is a hero’s tale: Archaeologist and frustrated painter Igor Savitsky rescued more than 40,000 Soviet artworks (mainly paintings) from obscurity—tucked away in family closets and under beds, used as patching for roofs—and created a museum in the outback of Uzbekistan to house them. Many of the salvaged paintings are now considered 20th-century avant-garde masterpieces. After being told by one of his art heroes that his own work was rubbish, Savitsky devoted himself to recovering work that had run afoul of Stalin and the government-sanctioned Socialist Realism movement, which ruined not only careers but lives, as is painfully detailed in the film. Using wit and cunning, the obsessive Savitsky was able to con the government into providing funds for the creation and maintenance of his museum of dissident art. Pope and Georgiev let their camera linger on this collection, and create a dense but accessible context that illuminates the deadly political, religious, and historical tensions that made life precarious for the work and its creators—pressures that still linger today. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in art.

 
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