Variations on Monumentality: Laboring Figures of Post-Stalinist Socialist Realism in the Romanian People’s Republic
Although widely used in discourses of art and architecture in the Romanian People’s Republic during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the term “monumentality” (“monumentalitate” in Romanian) was not clearly defined. Often applied to architecture, the term also described works of art that signaled the ostensibly stable and durable qualities of traditional monuments. Interestingly, however, the term was only implicitly used in regards to representations of human figures, although socialist realist depictions of laboring figures frequently depict human bodies as proportionally large and powerful. This dissertation analyzes representations of laboring bodies by Romanian artists working within a bourgeoning state socialist system, considering the centrality, but also the variability of the concepts of monumentality in such representations. This dissertation argues that such conceptions involved—and even depended upon—not only the semantic flexibility of monumentality, but also the unstable tendencies of scale as a relational quality. Thusly exploring monumentality as an unstable and fluid set of concepts, rather than monolithic and historically transcendent, the present study focuses on the work of three Romanian artists: the collaborating sculptors Zoe Băicoianu (1910–1987) and Boris Caragea, (1996–1982), and the painter Corneliu Baba (1906-1997). All three artists rose to prominence in the RPR during the 1950s, and each navigated the RPR’s official relationship with Soviet cultural influence and the parameters of socialist realism. Approaching conceptions of monumentality as distinct from—if also overlapping with and often closely tied to—conventional monuments, the project seeks to understand how political and artistic discourses linked monumentality with ideas of power, permanence, and stability in periods of global upheaval and uncertainty, while also challenging characterizations of the quintessential socialist worker as a robust and muscular colossus.