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  • Anthony King

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  • Anthony King

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Division of Arts and Humanities Receives 12-piece Collection of mid-20th Century Soviet Art

Gift from longstanding campus supporters Ann and Joel Reed to be on display in the new North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood

Twelve pieces of art from the Soviet Impressionism and Socialist Realism periods will find a new home in the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, thanks to longtime UC San Diego Division of Arts and Humanities supporters Ann and Joel Reed.

art piece titled Tomato Picking

"Tomato Picking" (1949) by Zinaida Mikhailovna Kovalevskaya (1902-1972). All photos courtesy of Reed Family Trust.

Contributing to the Campaign for UC San Diego, the first-of-its-kind gift to the division will be installed in the new Arts and Humanities Building to benefit all who visit the new neighborhood, from faculty, staff and students to visiting scholars and the greater San Diego community.

“This premier collection of fine art generously donated by the Reeds is an important contribution to UC San Diego’s ongoing physical, intellectual and cultural transformation,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “These paintings are rare treats not only for our students but also for the San Diego community at large. These artworks—and many others on our campus—help UC San Diego fulfill our goals to become a true living and learning environment and a preferred destination for art and culture.“

The 12 pieces constitute half of the Reed family’s Soviet Era Russian Art Collection, and are valued at more than $2.7 million. The gifted works are by 12 different and diverse artists, and span 55 years from 1949 to 2004. They represent a rich cultural, artistic and historical record of everyday Soviet and Russian life, with the potential to engage the community in the arts and as well as enhance future scholarship.

“This unique gift of art will provide all scholars the opportunity to really investigate a slice of contemporary Russian life not yet explored to its fullest. My wish is that students, faculty and visiting scholars will take advantage of this art and its rich history,” said Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta, “and as a public university, we welcome the entire community to engage with and explore this collection with us.”

The Reed family are continuous, loyal supporters of the university’s educational mission through gifts like this collection, endowed funds for creative and academic enhancement, and their valued time. With their support, the university established in 2015 the Reed Family Presidential Chair in Music, currently held by Steven Schick. In 2017, the Reeds provided generous annual gifts and created an endowment for permanent support for the UC San Diego Institute for Practical Ethics, administered by the Division of Arts and Humanities.

art piece titled Friends.

"Friends" (1964) by Valerian Mikhailovich Formozov (1921-2004).

“Ann and Joel Reed graciously share their passion for advancing knowledge, and their commitment to helping our students and faculty, each and every day. We are grateful for their vision, and look forward to recognizing them in person in the new building,” Della Coletta said.

The donation of the 12-piece collection expands on the family’s commitment to accessing art and culture throughout the entire region, and they welcome a future exhibition bringing all 24 pieces in the two collections together. This gift, they said, is very personal.

“We love these paintings, and we decided it was time that we share them with a much larger audience,” said Ann and Joel Reed. “We hope that it will cause people to become more interested in the Russia of the 20th Century, and perhaps develop a greater understanding of the Russia of the current century.“

The Reed family began collecting Soviet-era paintings after moving to California in the mid-1990s, preferring figurative paintings over equally impressive landscapes. The focus of their collection, they said, is on individual, everyday people and represents an important contribution to the cultural heritage of the former Soviet Union countries.

Official state artists—including those who painted works given to UC San Diego—were instructed to create large, monumental works that exalted the Soviet existence, Joel Reed said. Many of these propaganda pieces were destined for government buildings, factories, schools and other public areas.

“But everyone needs rest, and time when one can do something other than work,” he said, acknowledging that these artists took time off from their official government duties, but not their art. “When not working, they would still often paint, but paint what they saw in their homes and on their strolls. They painted what made them happy.”

artwork titled Girl with Apple.

"Girl with Apple" (1949) by Antonina Fedorovna Sofronova (1892-1966).

The paintings of families, harvests and celebrations that help to define these works stand in juxtaposition to the rhetoric of the Cold War, and the Reeds said they often thought back to their own childhoods, when the political discourse against the Soviet Union was at its highest. Through this art, they found more similarities than differences.

“We came to realize that what was once one of the most repressive regimes in the world, the Russian populace was actually comprised of many functional families that played and worked, enjoying their limited time together,” the Reeds said. “These paintings depict the indomitable nature of humankind, and begin to ever so gently lift the cover of the enigma called Russia.”

Pieces in the gifted works for the Division of Arts and Humanities include “Friends” (1964) by Valerian Mikhailovich Formozov and “Girl with Apple” (1949) by Antonina Fedorovna Sofronova. “Tomato Picking” (1949) by Zinaida Mikhailovna Kovalevskaya, valued in November 2020 at $1.5 million, is one of the largest and most impressive in the collection, and depicts a growing infatuation between a young woman and man.

Another piece particularly special to the Reeds—though the family’s discussion of each work conveys a deep sense of history and respect for each artist and each piece—is “Takya,” a 1968 work by the celebrated Soviet painter Arkadi Plastov (1893-1972). Plastov was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1946 and two Orders of Lenin, the highest civilian award given by the Soviet Union. He died after receiving the official title of “People’s Artist of the USSR.”

“He loved to wander around and paint the scenes of children in the midst of playing or other activities, and in the case of ‘Takya,’ simply capturing the wary stare of a young girl sitting outside her log-cabin house,” the Reeds said. “That canvas, while not grand, may tell more of the times than all of the state works for which Plastov was decorated.”

Installation planning for the art in the new Arts and Humanities Building, with recognition given to the Reed Family, is currently underway. The Arts and Humanities Building will be the home of the Office of the Dean, the humanities departments of Philosophy, History and Literature, the Analytical Writing Program, and the Institute of Arts and Humanities.

artwork titled Takya.

"Takya" (1968) by Arkadi Aleksandrovich Plastov (1893-1972).

The institute in particular brings together scholars and students in 15 individual academic programs in regional, ethnic and thematic studies, including the Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies Program. Interdisciplinary by nature, the program provides a broad range of courses in the history, language, literature, and social and political life of Russia before, during and after the Soviet period.

“We believe that the Russian artists of this period were some of the most highly skilled artists of their time,” the Reeds said. “We hope that thousands and thousands of people may enjoy the experience of understanding the times during which these paintings were created, and the beautiful spirit of the artists that remains in the canvas.”

Philanthropic gifts, like the art collection from the Reed family, contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego, a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. Learn more about supporting the Division of Arts and Humanities.

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