Socialist Realism in Albania: A visit to the National Gallery of Art

I took the digital photos in the gallery below in 2014 when I was on a three-week trip through six countries in the Balkan area of Eastern Europe. One of those countries was the oft overlooked Albania, where I spent two days in the capital city of Tirana. I won't go into general detail about post-soviet bloc Albania, or Tirana, suffice it to say the country has a growing economy in Europe and the tales of lawless society are pure myth. It is definitely not a wealthy country, but Tirona was bustling little city, full of life and new construction everywhere. However when I was there I was specifically looking for the remnants of the soviet-era Albania, and I found the gold standard: The National Gallery of Art in Tirana.

 Photo by Dritan Mardodaj, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 Photo by Dritan Mardodaj, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The modest sized building housing the collection is in the city center - surprisingly the architecture is solid 60's modernism, not the concrete brutalism that one would expect of a state institutional building in a soviet bloc country. It's a smaller, less-flashy version of the National Historical Museum (with the massive realist mosiac adorning the front), which is less than half a kilometer away. 

The collection itself is 50% nondescript pre-socialist painting and sculpture, and 50% socialist realist paintings, housed across six galleries. It's an amazing collection of socialist realist art and the pieces themselves are beautiful. For an amatuer "scholar" in socialist realist art such as myself that had never seen a single example of the style from Albania, It was truly wonderful to be able to finally see what the socialist realism of Albania looked like, up close and personal. 

When you look at these pieces, it's immediately apparent that the Albanian artists developed a very unique response to the world of Socialist Realism. While the pieces from 1940 - 1950 are examples of typical formal realism painting, The propaganda work from 1950 - 1970 is where the divergence is plainly evident.  Some of the work is reminiscent of Diego Rivera's stylized surrealist-realist frescos, while other work combines a design approach to the composition with angular, futurist-inspired figures in motion. It's all quite fantastic, and the time-capsule nature of the museum itself (I was the only visitor in the musuem for the hour I spent there) only added to my sense of wonder. You can see many more pieces at the museum's website here.