SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia: Art lovers lined up Sunday at the world's biggest museum of Russian art in Saint Petersburg, where US film star Sylvester Stallone unveiled a retrospective of his abstract paintings.
Work by the Hollywood action man won praise from the curators at the State Russian Museum although some critics denounced Stallone for his anti-Russia character "Rambo" and said such art had no place in the venerable institution.
Stallone was all smiles as he unveiled the exhibition, entitled matter-of-factly "Sylvester Stallone. Art. 1975-2013", and said it was an honour to show his works in Russia's historic capital.
"I hope you will like my pictures," he said at a press conference. "I love all of you."
The 67-year-old star of blockbusters such as "Rambo" and "Rocky" said that if he had a choice, he would spend his life drawing and sculpting instead of starring in action hits.
"If my visit is a challenge for somebody, let it be so," he said when asked what he thought of some furious comments, notably by some in the Communist party, who thought that exhibiting Stallone at the Russian Museum was a travesty.
Museum director Vladimir Gusev said Stallone's paintings "show the character of a passionate man" and were not simply "the work of an amateur".
"...This is a real artist," he told journalists. "The Russian museum does not show weak artists."
The exhibit attracted a crowd of about 1,000 intrigued people who stood in line on opening day to enter the museum in the centre of Russia's second city.
"I watched Stallone's movies, I'm not surprised that such a macho man can make paintings. I want to look at them," said Natalia Akimova, 49.
Others were curious but dismissive. "I'm sure these paintings wouldn't be up if someone else produced them," said Igor Savenko. "It's a commercial trick, not art."
Stallone, an Academy-award nominated actor as well as a director and screen-writer, had studied art before his film career took off, and has also had shows in Switzerland and Miami.
The museum website describes Stallone's works as "comments on the events in his creative and personal life" that focus on the use of bright colours.
"Fierce forms and colours contribute to the energetic interpretation by the artist of people around him or famous movie actors."
Stallone arrived in Russia on Saturday evening and was shown on television posing in a leather jacket for photographs with border control employees, who gave the camera exuberant smiles and thumbs-ups.
"Absolutely nothing," he told journalists when asked what he knows about Russia's tsarist capital.
He said he had not expected his works to be shown at the Russian Museum, a revered institution established by Russia's last tsar Nicolas II in 1895.
The museum is heavily focused on Russian art so the decision to exhibit contemporary works by a Hollywood star has raised some eyebrows.
The curators have argued that Stallone's 30-piece show is on display not in the museum's main building, but at one of its branches, which boasts a modern art collection including works by Western artists like Andy Warhol.
Some visitors, particularly fans of Stallone's muscle-man image, were nevertheless perplexed.
"Maybe he painted this when he was emotional," a Russian bodybuilder and fan of Stallone's early movies said as he looked at one painting, television footage showed.