The Desert of Forbidden Art | Chicago Reader

The Desert of Forbidden Art

Documentary makers Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev turn over a large stone in 20th-century art history, beneath which lies a stunning collection of modern paintings that miraculously survived 70 years of Soviet censorship. Born in 1915 to a Russian aristocratic family, Igor Savitsky arrived in western Uzbekistan in 1950 and began collecting the region's ethnic folk art; in 1966 he conned the Soviet bureaucracy into funding a museum in the remote republic, and eventually he expanded its collection to include avant-garde works that fell far outside the orthodoxy of Soviet social realism. Among the stunning work showcased in the film are paintings by Alexander Volkov, who combined cubism and oriental art; Mikhail Kurzin, whose expressionistic paintings exposed Stalinist repression; and Aleksei Rybnikov, whose haunting, colorful works suggest Chagall and Kandinsky. The documentary wraps up with a scene of piercing irony as paintings by Volkov—who died in poverty in 1957—are snapped up in an international auction. In English and subtitled Russian.



  • Tchavdar Georgiev
  • Amanda Pope


  • Edward Asner
  • Sally Field
  • Ben Kingsley


  • Tchavdar Georgiev
  • Amanda Pope

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