Russians in London (ish)

Walking though the city the other day, I came across this sculpture set into the wall of the BBVA bank at 108 Cannon Street:

Sensing a certain Russianness about it, I stopped for a closer look, and discovered that the sculptor was none other than Zurab Tsereteli, monument builder extraordinaire and president of the Russian Academy of Arts (the mind boggles), to whom I’ve referred in a previous post. My first reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief that this piece was not on the scale of some of his better known efforts, and only then realized quite how curious it was. The plaque provides some detail:

Does the title, ‘Break the wall of distrust’, refers to the growing bonds of friendship between Britain and the USSR, and presage the end of the Cold War? If that’s the case, why was it commissioned by Speyhawk, which was apparently a property development company (now long gone)? The idea of a People’s Artist of the USSR taking on a commission for a PLC  seems incongruous, to say the least, but at least it’s matched by the different elements of the sculpture: the rippling muscles of the socialist realist hero, in front of a cross and with a couple of rather Orthodox angels above his head. The symbolism of the whole ensemble, particularly as it now adorns a bank, is striking: a communist artist (I use the word ‘artist’ loosely in Tsereteli’s case), a capitalist context, and a quasi-religious theme. There are many indications in Soviet and post-Soviet history that communist ideology was so much window dressing (the fact that today’s oligarchs were yesterday’s Komsomol leaders suggests that the country’s elite, official and otherwise, wouldn’t look so very different if the USSR still existed), but this statue may be the perfect realization of that idea.

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