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Art on the Sly: Hollywood action star Sylvester Stallone receives retrospective exhibition of his work at prestigious Russian Museum in St Petersburg

Decision to show paintings from the Rocky and Rambo star in mainly national state art gallery leads to anger from some in country’s Communist party

The Hollywood actor Sylvester Stallone has opened an art exhibition at the Russian Museum in St Petersburg – where the main attraction is a retrospective of 40 years of his own work.

The collection of “very serious paintings from a very serious artist” has been entitled simply: “Sylvester Stallone. Painting. From 1975 until Today”, and features pieces such as “Finding Rocky”, “Hercules O’Clock” and “Untitled (Michael Jackson)”.

There have been murmurs of discontent among the more conservative branches of the Russian art world, who see it as something of an outrage that a hobbying painter – particularly one whose most famous films have been described as outright anti-Soviet propaganda – could be given pride of place in one of Russia’s most prestigious museums.

The collection of 36 original Stallones will appear in the Ludwig arm of the museum, alongside pieces from “his contemporaries” Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

“If my visit is a challenge for somebody, let it be so,” Stallone said at a press conference heralding the start of the exhibition.

The museum has a heavy focus on Russian art, making it all the more surprising that it should feature work from a man more famous for starring in the Rambo, Rocky, and The Expendables film franchises.

While promoting his latest film Escape Plan in which he co-stars with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone himself told Good Morning America it was a “really odd” decision.

“It's very, very flattering because there are so many great artists in the world,” he said. “But for some reason, they chose me to go over there and show this 40-year retrospective of all the paintings from the beginning up until now.”

He told an assembled audience of curators, critics and privileged early visitors on Sunday: “I love all of you,” and added that if he had to choose, he would prefer to spend his life working on his painting and sculpting rather than starring in action movies.

The listing for the exhibition on the Russian Museum website explained how, long before “his ascension to the cinematic Mount Olympus”, Stallone had attended an art course in Switzerland and had wanted to pursue it as a career.

The museum added: “Stallone's paintings can seem beautiful or savage, skillfully done or not, but they do not leave viewers indifferent, as within them lives the mystery of experience.”

This is not the first time Stallone’s work has appeared at a major art gallery – some pieces of his sold for between $50,000 and $120,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach 2009, a fleeting annual exhibition satirised for its excesses in the Tom Wolfe novel Back to Blood.

Museum director Vladimir Gusev said Stallone’s paintings “show the character of a passionate man”, and were not simply “the work of an amateur”.  According to AFP, he told journalists: “This is a real artist.” The exhibition will run until 13 January 2014.