“Staging Happiness” showcases the unique phenomenon of socialist realist photography not only demonstrating the political propaganda for which it is best known but also exploring its artistic value. Socialist realism produced incomparably powerful symbolism and mythology, glorifying achievements of the new Soviet state and idealizing the socialist lifestyle.

The exhibition includes works from the 1930s by both famous and lesser-known (in the West) Soviet photographers like Alexander Rodchenko, Akrady Shaikhet, Boris Ignatovich, Yakov Khalip, Max Penson, Mikhail Grachev, Georgy Petrusov and Sergey Shimansky.

The diversity of photographic styles of the 1920s were curtailed with the Communist party's 1932 resolution that proclaimed the reorganization and unification of artistic and literary organizations. The legislative reshaping of Russian culture ended with the adoption of the policy of socialist realism at the First Congress of Soviet Writers (1934). Photography became the most important artistic tool in shaping the collective consciousness with the purpose to create a New Soviet Man.

This resulted in a multitude of commissioned works featuring beautified images of heroic men and women, cheerful pioneers, abundant produce as well as glorified depictions of the Soviet military might and achievements of new economic policies that led to prosperous future under the leadership of the Great Stalin. Photographers became the creators of new icons, and the subjects of their photographs were hailed as the stars of Soviet publications – state-sanctioned role models for the general population.

‘Staging Happiness’ continues in a way today through the art of advertisement, which creates a glossy reality with the stars of pop culture, movie and fashion icons, powerful politicians, etc. – and promotes a healthy lifestyle, American values, and patriotic feelings.

— Nailya Alexander