On February 11, 2017, to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the Royal Academy of Arts in London opened Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932. This landmark exhibition focuses on a momentous period in Russian history between 1917, the year of the October Revolution, and 1932 when Stalin began his violent suppression of the Avant-Garde.
The exhibition features Avant-Garde artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich and Tatlin alongside the Socialist Realism of Brodsky, Deineka, Mukhina and Samokhvalov, amongst others. Photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain are featured alongside paintings.
It presents this unique period in the history of Russian art, when for fifteen years, barriers were opened and the possibilities for building a new proletarian art for the new Soviet State were extensive. With over 200 works, the exhibition includes loans from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow as well as some of the most significant international private collections. Many of the works have never been seen in the UK before.
A century after the 1917 October Revolution, this turning point in Russian history remains a major event in modern consciousness. Although there have been a number of exhibitions of 20th century Russian art, these have focused on either the Avant-Garde or Socialist Realism as separate entities.
Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932 takes as its starting point the major exhibition of 1932, which was presented in 33 rooms at the State Russian Museum in Leningrad and orchestrated by prominent art critic and curator Nikolai Punin. The 1932 exhibition presented a wide spectrum of Russian art from those first fifteen years after the revolution. The Royal Academy's exhibition follows that example with a wide sweep of works that, for the first time in the UK, combine and contrast the diverse array of art that flourished during this complex post-Revolutionary period.
The exhibition is arranged around broad thematic sections, each of which explores the complex interaction between art and politics in the turbulent yet dynamic period of modern Russian history. Salute the Leader examines Lenin’s rise to power; his cult status after his death followed by the advent of Stalin.
Man and Machine focuses on proletarian worker heroes – both women and men whose physical effort promoted the success of industry and technology, powerfully recorded in painting, photography and film.
Brave New World sets the scene for the new cultural world and Fate of the Peasants looks at the impact of collective farming on traditional rural life. Eternal Russia shows how images of old Russia persisted as signs of national identity even in revolutionary times. New City, New Society concentrates on the new city life-styles, the diversity of social types, some wealthy and some poor, under Lenin’s New Economic Policy in the 1920s and Stalin’s Utopia features Stalin’s grandiose public projects and the dark reality of his utopian vision of progress.
Highlights include a gallery dedicated to over 30 paintings and architectons by Malevich. These works are seen together for the first time since 1932 in an exact reconstruction of the original hang designed by the artist for the Leningrad exhibition.
A room is also dedicated to the work of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Woven throughout the galleries are original films, photographs and documents, many of which have never been exhibited before. Among the outstanding paintings on view are Marc Chagall’s Promenade, 1917 – 18 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), Wassily Kandinsky’s Blue Crest, 1917 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev’s Bolshevik, 1920 (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s Fantasy, 1925 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), Alexander Deineka’s Textile Workers, 1927 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) and Kazimir Malevich’s Peasants, c.1930 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg).
Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932 is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Authors include co-curators of the exhibition John Milner and Natalia Murray together with Faina Balakhovskaya, John Bowlt, Masha Chlenova, Ian Christie, Christina Lodder, Nicoletta Misler, Nick Murray, Evgenia Petrova and Zelfira Tregulova.