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Museum of Russian Icons presents 'Playground of the Autocrats'

Press release submitted by the Museum of Russian Icons

Darling Godsonny: Ivan the Terrible Advises the Infant Stalin. Anne Bobroff-Hajal, acrylic paiint and digiital images on canvas and board, 2017.

"Playground of the Autocrats," an exhibition by contemporary artist and historian Anne Bobroff-Hajal, draws from the visual languages of iconography and graphic art to create a large-scale visual commentary on Russian socio-political history. On view October 4, 2020–January 24, 2021 at the Museum of Russian Icons, Bobroff-Hajal's paintings form stunningly complex triptychs and polyptychs that represent a secular art tradition directly influenced by orthodox iconography, animation, political cartoons, graphic novels, and icons–all of which tell stories in pictures and words. 

The detailed and whimsical visual stories symbolize the powerful human motivations of love, greed, grief, competition, and fury shaped by the geographic landscapes in which those humans live. Bobroff-Hajal has developed a complex process of repeatedly layering paint on digital images in her paintings and photographs. She uses the pleasures of art and humor to engage viewers with complex issues of Russian society's autocratic history from the fourteenth century through today, and its interface with the rest of the world. In each comical yet deadly-serious polyptych, she paints hundreds of 3-inch-high portraits of people—from slaves and serfs to autocrats—at moments of intense struggle to achieve their particular social system goals. Viewers of her art are accompanied across centuries by fanciful tour guides: self-delighted, arrogant flying Tsar "godparents" singing their advice to a swaddled, mustached infant Stalin in his cradle.


Artist Anne Bobroff-Hajal has drawn on animation techniques, icons, and formats such as graphic novels to tell stories of Russian geography and history from Ivan the Terrible to Catherine the Great, from Peter the Great to Stalin (and Putin). Satirical commentaries on how Russia's ruling elites have historically taken advantage of their unique geographic situation to amass and maintain power, she means for her art to honor and serve the dispossessed and forgotten.

Says Bobroff-Hajal of her work, "My extensively researched satirical polyptychs about Russia...revel in the crazy-quilt intersection of art with academic history and geography."  

A resident of Westchester, NY, Bobroff-Hajal has a Ph.D. in Russian history and is the author of the scholarly volume Working Women in Russia Under the Hunger Tsars.  Her artwork has been widely exhibited and is held in private collections internationally.  Most recently, Columbia University's Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies had a solo exhibit of her art about Russia titled "Peasants, Clans, and Effervescent Absolutists!"  


Virtual Panel Discussion with artist Anne-Bobroff-Hajal & M.I.T. Professor Elizabeth Wood

Saturday, November 21, 1:00 pm E.S.T. | Members free, Nonmembers $5
Registration required by Friday, November 20. The Zoom link will be sent to participants on the morning of the program. 

How do artists convey complex ideas about society through visual means? In a two-part discussion, Playground of the Autocrats artist Anne Bobroff-Hajal and professor Elizabeth Wood explore this question by examining Soviet imagery and contemporary representations of Russia's leaders. Registration and more information at museumofrussianicons.org/event/playground 


The Museum of Russian Icons inspires the appreciation and study of Russian culture by collecting and exhibiting one of the world's largest collections of Russian icons — sacred paintings used for worship in the Orthodox tradition. With more than 1,000 icons and related artifacts spanning six centuries, the Museum offers a unique and personalized experience rich with art, history, and culture. 

The Museum serves as a leading center for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies and other institutional collaborations. It is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to Russian icons, and it is the largest collection of icons outside of Russia.

In order to safely welcome visitors to view the newly reinstalled permanent collection and special exhibitions, the Museum will be implementing new hours, timed ticketing, and a variety of protocols. A maximum of 20 guests will be allowed in the Museum during each time slot. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Visitor Services at 978.598.5000. As well as limiting hours and number of guests, the Tea Room and Auditorium will be closed since there is not enough room for safe social distancing.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 am-5 pm.  Closed Monday–Thursday

Four daily time slots: 11:00am-12:30pm; 12:30-2:00pm; 2:00-3:30pm; 3:30-5:00pm.

Admission: Adults $10, seniors (59+) $7, Students $5, Children (3-7) $5, Children under 3 Free. 

Follow the Museum of Russian Icons on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram and Youtubefor the latest updates on the Museum, spotlight tours, children's storytime, and read what the docents are saying about individual items from the collection. 

Visit the website, www.museumofrussianicons.orghome of the Online Collection (including research papers on individual icons), a virtual tour of the Museum, the Journal of Icon Studies, and the British Museum's Catalogue of Byzantine and Greek Icons.  

MEDIA CONTACT: For more information, high-res images, or to set up interviews, please contact Nina J Berger, ninajberger@gmail.com, 617.543.1595.

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