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updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

10 + 10: CONTEMPORARY SOVIET AND AMERICAN PAINTERS

Before Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev opened a window to the West, his countrymen only caught glimpses of modern American art. Their exposure to the American avant-garde was generally limited to the rare magazines and catalogs brought in by Western visitors.

Americans have been equally untutored about experimental Soviet artists, who have rarely been esteemed in their own nation. "Jackasses...we are declaring war on you!" Nikita Khrushchev once bellowed at radicals who refused to paint in the state-decreed social-realist mode.

This mutual ignorance makes 10 + 10 a historical event in the annals of cultural exchange. The first joint show of Soviet and American art, it will travel to museums in both countries. There are 36 works by 10 Soviet artists and 30 by 10 American artists. All the artists are under 40.

The range is exciting, the choice eclectic. Some of the Americans, such as David Salle and Ross Bleckner, have world reputations. None of the Soviets do—yet.

Many of the Soviet artists have only been able to exhibit in apartments and ramshackle studios outside official art channels. Inevitably, their works have been shaped by their experience in a police state. Take Sergei Shutov, 34, who as a young man entered a psychiatric hospital rather than join the army. Now he carries a card certifying he is insane. In Identity Card (1988), over a background of bright pink and blue loops he sketches a man wearing a fedora and dark glasses. Outlined in black, it is a tragic mug shot.

One of the group's visual poets is Muscovite Andrei Roiter, 39. In a Proustian series, he evokes memories of an olive-green radio he listened to as a boy. Konstantin Zvezdochetov, 31, mixes wacko humor with social comment in a series of oils about a fantasy city, Perdo, where suppression is part of the landscape. (In Russian, perdo means flatulence.)

Another talent is Alexei Sundukov, who has reshaped the language of socialist realism for his own ends. In The Substance of Life, he creates a strong indictment of post-Chernobyl Soviet society. As a group of Soviets stand in a queue, a hellish vision above their heads consumes the rest of the canvas. Bodies and faces disintegrate in the swirling smoke. But distinct images emerge: an animal caught in the lethal mist, a man's open mouth, church spires, and higher in the smoke plumes, missiles and hundreds of eyes. The eyes bear witness.

The American works are less political. Annette Lemieux, for instance, creates a sophisticated send-up in Something for the Boys (1988), wrapping a photo of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee with a red-white-and-blue ribbon. It matches her garters. In Pears on a Branch February 3, 1988, still-life master Donald Sultan turns what could be a decorative piece into a work that hints at a deep vitality shadowed by a background as black as death.

The show's most enchanting image is Yurii Petruk's half-abstract Laika the Dog (1988). Laika, shown in profile against a yellow-brown sky, was sent into space in Sputnik II in 1957, but because the Soviets didn't have the technology to return her to earth, she was killed after experiments were completed. In Petruk's portrait, the dog has ears shaped like pyramids. One eye is a red sputnik. A little green man from the moon dangles above her nose.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture of the U.S.S.R., InterCultura of Fort Worth and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 10 + 10 is on display in Fort Worth until August 6. It moves to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (Sept. 6-Nov. 4), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, (Nov. 18-Jan. 7, 1990), the Milwaukee Art Museum (Feb. 2-March 25) and Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art (April 21-June 24). After its U.S. tour, the show goes to Moscow, Tbilisi and Leningrad.

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