“We are building BAM” and other thematic exhibitions


Alexander Sheltunov. 1978


Russian mid 1980s thematic exhibitions were completely different from the modern ones. Their themes were basically focused on ideological inquiry gratification and state policy support. Therefore, they were farfetched and affected. The names clearly show this fact: “Artists to the Rural Settlement”, “We are building BAM”, “Physical Training and Sports in Visual Arts", “The Angara Coastal Fields”.

Nowadays, the main goal of these expositions is to demonstrate artist’s professional and aesthetic achievements. The Customer has changed as well. Individual has substituted the State: “Pastel of Russia”, “The Picture of Russia”, “A Man and a City” etc.

Frequently the 70―80’s exhibitions were not suitable to the artists due to their limited stylistic and aesthetic frames. However, the artists worked in the given theme and took an active part in exhibitions. For many artists, especially the young ones, so-called “legalization” of their creative activity was needed as well as their colleagues and the masses’ appraisal of achievements and innovations. The artist works for people in the long run, though. One should not forget that these immense thematic exhibitions took place in the biggest cities of Russia.

Alexander Sheltunov worked hard. He always dealt with any themes in a professional way. His watercolor canvases were never left behind the attention. “Sports Holiday at the Angara” (1979) may be one of his best early period work which was exhibited at all-USSR exhibition in Moscow. It revealed important traits of a young artist such as the ability to focus on the main thing, to reproduce the state of a cold winter day and cheerful, energetic mood of participants with the help of contrast.

Baykal-Amur Railroad was declared an all-USSR komsomol top-priority project in April, 1974 and a lot of young people were allocated there. The artists were not an exception as well. Alexander went to BAM as a member of a creative teamwork.

Construction, tunnels, concrete, workers wearing hard hats… But he was true to himself. There was working activity romance on the board of civilization and eternal nature, the truth, sincerity, cordiality and man ― nature relations harmony belief in BAM canvases. The following works as “Birch Garden”, “In the Tunnel”, “The Road to Dovan” are memorable, notable for professionalism and make a deep impression.

Every artist has remarkable works in their creativity. “Night Reaping” has become his remarkable work. Here plain realistic landscape transfers smoothly and gracefully into a romantic fairy tale. It was exhibited at “Along the Native Land” exhibition for the first time. Moreover, it was reproduced in newspapers and magazines many times and became a distinctive calling card of Alexander Sheltunov.

He was conferred Josef Utkin award of Irkutsk komsomol for the series of works “The Angara Coastal Fields” and “We are building BAM”.

He exhibited his works at numerous exhibitions at the end of the 1970s and the 1980s. Those exhibitions were different in their significance and themes. His ability to work was very astonishing and amazing. One Sheltunov’s quality became clear which is not common for every artist’s creativity i. e. the viewer’s attitude either an amateur or a professional was always very important to him. Merry, energetic, active but vulnerable Alexander painfully put up with the criticism which concerned him. He felt it keenly, thought it over and upgraded his skills. But that tense creative work was hidden from the public. Along with external indifference to opinions he always listened and heard interlocutors. That is why he was constantly on the search and in the process of continuous development and renovation.

The text writer: Iraida Fedchina