Muralist Art as an Exotic Source of Inspiration for Soviet-era Art and for Intelligence Officers: The Artists and the Explorers of Their Work

  • Ramutė Rachlevičiūtė
Keywords: soviet art, Mexican muralists, large and small art field of the Soviet Union, “progressive” artists, pre-Columbian art, artists and art historians


The article discusses some exotic sources of artistic inspiration in the Soviet Union, Soviet-era Lithuanian art, and the works inspired by them. It focuses on a non-European source of art – the work of Mexican muralist artists – three greats, los tres grandes, members of the “progressive”, Communist Party José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), Diego Rivera (1886–1957), and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974). Even if only partially, taking advantage of the creative achievements of Mexican artists was one of the opportunities to realise some of the aspirations of modernisation during the Soviet era in the form of art, either through sincere admiration or under the guise of socially-engaged interest. The focus is on the mutual Latin-American- Soviet ideological, political, and cultural contexts at the time and the pre-Columbian art that inspired Mexican muralists. It touches on Cuba’s unique role in the socialistcamp as an important mediator between the USA, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union and on the enigmatic figure of Roger Garaudy, the French prophet of modernisation. It presents knowledge that has not come to the attention of scholars, which emerged after glasnost and perestroika or relatively recently, especially through the publication of memoirs of some declassified Soviet intelligence missions, residents, and stories related to these Latin American artists, especially to D. A. Siqueiros and to the researcher of his work, Iosif Grigulevich, an NKVD killer with origins in Lithuania. He had an incredible career as an intelligence officer: after World War II, he led the NKVD residencies in Latin America and did serious diplomatic work representing a foreign country, Costa Rica. His Karaite appearance and the legend he had created made him a Costa Rican citizen, the son of a millionaire, and led him to an incredible career in Costa Rican diplomatic service by becoming an envoy to three countries, Italy, the Vatican, and Yugoslavia. In 1952, Pope Pius XII awarded him with the Order of Malta, and the President of Venezuela with the Order of Francisco de Miranda; he received the highest state awards of Chile, Bolivia, and Uruguay. In 1953, Beria recalled him from Latin America in order to methodically “handle” the experienced Soviet intelligence officers. In the Soviet Union, Grigulevich was left without even a minimum pension, but he did not give up and started writing books, publishing some 20 biographical books about famous people in Latin America (Simon Bolivar, Salvador Allende, and others). In 1965, he defended his dissertation for the degree of candidate of sciences (the equivalent of the doctorate). Before the KGB declassified the information, he was only a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union (1979), a writer, a noted atheist and an art critic who published a book on Siqueiros. The intelligence officer was lucky: he died in his homeland, in bed at his home.