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Author: Joy Neumeyer

Nov/Dec 2014
Page 54   ( 6 pages)

Summary: It is likely no individual has had more graven public images cast of him than Vladimir Lenin. Recently, a Moscow exhibition delved into the early Soviet regime's search for the "perfect" Lenin, revealing plenty of rejected versions.


In the basement of Moscow’s State Historical Museum, hundreds of tiny Lenins gather dust on shelves. They are red, white, yellow and black. They clutch their lapels and point towards the future; they frown in concentration and grip their pens.

Their author was Nikolai Andreyev, a Soviet sculptor who spent six years perfecting his design for a statue that would never be realized. Andreyev was one of dozens of artists who labored to create the iconic image of the Leader – and whose efforts often ended up on history’s ash heap.

Andreyev’s figurines are among 100,000 pieces of “Leniniana” hidden for decades in the bowels of what was once called the Lenin Museum. Now, some of them are on display for the first time in “Myth of the Beloved Leader,” an exhibition running through January 2015.

Rejected for looking “demonic” or mundane, for having a rumpled suit or a pensive frown, the early Lenins are fascinating postcards from an era when artists competed to shape history.

On January 28, 1924, a week after Lenin’s death, the literary critic Ivanov-Razumnik composed a letter to his friend Andrei Bely. “How interesting it is to live in the origins of the myth,” he wrote. “It doesn’t matter who Lenin was in life. History will remember Lenin’s legend.”

The leader’s passing initiated not only a brutal struggle for succession, but also a race to fix his image for posterity. Artist Yakov Tugendkhold later recalled: “When Lenin died, we all felt that we’d missed something, that we temporarily needed to forget all the ‘isms’ and preserve his actual appearance for our descendants. The desire to depict Ilyich united every faction.”

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