Sunday, February 6, 2011

ArtTraveler probes lines separating art and artists, revolution and murder

Leon Trotsky: A murdered hero? Photo by S. Van Drake.
Moscow, USSR circa 1976.

"Where did Leon Trotsky go?"

"We don't see anything at all about your former head of the Red Army," a handful of us lawyers studying the Soviet legal system asked, closing in a small circle around our Intourist guide.

She became numb, angry and speechless as she knew Soviet revisionists banished Trotsky into the bowls of oblivion. This discussion was off-limits.

There's an incomprehensible visual divide between the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the cadmium red Revolutionary Museum in Moscow where we hassled our guide, who quit the next day after imploding.

Replaced by another Intourist minder. I met more Soviet political dissidents at art museums like the Tretyakov in Moscow.

And from there, we would meet in tube stations, places with tons of people to avoid KGB surveillance, and it did exist, especially for foreigners and Russians talking with foreigners, especially from the United States.

And then there was vodka, another story.

All of us either spoke or read Russian.

We were treated as a high-level US delegation. (We met with some members of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Presidium, to discuss easy topics like Andrei Sakharov's freedom.)

From the bowls of banishment of Leon Trotsky to today's revelation that Mexican painter David Sigueiros, founder of the Mexican Communist Party, led a botched assassination attempt on Trotsky at his home in Mexico City on 23 May 1940.

He worked through a KGB controller in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

According to author E.B. Held in A Spy's Guide to Albuquerque and Santa Fe (New Mexico, USA), Siguerios and gang, armed with automatic weapons, sprayed Trotsky's bedroom, but alas, no dead Trotsky or family.

Siguerios should have stuck with painting. With the help from poet Pablo Neruda, the painter escaped to Chile avoiding prosecution for attempted assassination.

However, enter KGB hit-man Iosef Grigulevich, using a Santa Fe, New Mexico drug store as a safe house, pulled it off a few months later. You gotta buy the book to get the nitty and the gritty.

With help from Spanish aristocrat Ramon Mercader,  (died in Havana 1978), Grigulevich orchestrated the successful hit on Trotsky, ice pick in the head. (Mercader was an NKVD agent and did 20 years for murder but not Trotsky's; he was born in Barcelona.)

Newell Searle commented on this blog.

He said Trotsky's assassination happened in turbulent Mexican times, that both the Russian and Mexican communist parties launched in 1917 but the Mexican version survived a decade longer, in part because it was more about propoganda than controlling indigenous peoples.

Artists were pretty much left alone. "Indigenous life forces were much too strong."

Gotta love the art of intrigue.

There's a happpy ending: Grigulevich escapes back to the USSR, becomes a Hero of the Soviet Union and writes 58 books on Latin American history. Anyone associated with Trotsky's murder lived a good life, except those who were kidnapped and executed likeTrotsky's American assistant.

What's the moral and how does it relate to art and artists?

It's a fine line, indeed.

But reading allot about the Spanish Civil War and espcially the Lincoln Brigade of Yanks (more than 2,500) volunteering and fighting and dying with the International Brigades for the Republic from 1937 - 39, most were idealogs, well educated, writers, playrights, painters, sculptors, academics,scientists and other intellectuals.

At least half were Jewish.

Photo by Stefan van Drake.
And why should we not be revolutionaries in our way? Then and today. We can sublimate, transfer all our anger into art, not violence. Let our art speak loudly.

Yet, perhaps in no other dictatorship than the Soviets did art as propoganda play such a key role in brainwashing people.

Obviously, it didn't work, although the Soviets had a good run at Communism: 1917 - 1989.

One man, comrade Stalin, arbitrated what was art and who lived or died.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube. Also, check out the growing photo gallery of Dutch walkers Rob and Joost, who are trekking 1,000 kilometers, from Seville to Santiago de Compostela (Via de la Plata).

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)

1 comment:

  1. Trotsky's assassination occured during an interesting period of Mexican history. Interestingly, Mexico's PRI - the Institutional Revolutionary Party - and the Russian Communists Party state began in 1917 but the Mexican PRI out-lasted the USSR Communist Party by nearly a decade. Although the PRI was engaged in propoganda, it didn't shackle artists as the Russians did -- the indigenous life forces were much too strong -- and both are and life went their way while the PRI fell into the oppressive corruption that befalls one-party systems.