Art: Canvases of Their Own

Now that socialist realism has been undone, artists struggle between the desire to find a fresh vision and the lure of Western markets

If any single art event symbolized Russia's thawed relations to its own modernist past, it was the show at the Tretyakov Art Gallery in Moscow last winter by a painter and mystic who died in 1935, well into the Stalin era, and whose work remained buried for decades thereafter: Kasimir Malevich.

Each day a long queue of the curious would form. Inside the packed gallery, people would argue and gesticulate in front of abstract paintings -- a red square on a white ground, a fragmented cubist portrait -- done a generation before their birth.

The Malevich show was a political emblem...

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