How the Russian Avant-Garde came to serve the Revolution

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«Proletarians of All Countries Get In accord!», by El Lisitsky (Lazar Lisitsky). Reproduction. / RIA Novosti

There is this fancied theory that the revolution in Russian arts contributed to the political radical in the country. The Russian avant-garde, the reasoning goes, in its search for new formats and sack of the old dogmas, resonated so closely with political events that it came to gratify as the revolutionary movement’s primary mouthpiece for a number of years.

The origins of the Russian ground-breaking are usually dated to 1908, the year in which Moscow and St. Petersburg hosted demonstrations that featured young rebel artists like the Burliuk buddies, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Aristarkh Lentulov. In the following nine years until the insurrectionist year of 1917, the avant-garde movement developed at a breakneck pace.

Diverse avant-garde artists embraced the revolution. It suddenly turned out that their artistic points were resonant with political slogans, such as Kazimir Malevich’s scheme to burn all paintings and exhibit their ashes in museums, because — he asserted — there would be no art after Suprematism. Tragically, this suggestion was implemented in the first months of the 1917 revolution.

The new state needed forward, vivid images that appealed to its vision of the future. Avant-garde custom-made the bill nicely. In exchange, the government became the primary customer for artistic animates and also the main censorship authority (although it took artists some but to fully understand this latter function).

Monumental propaganda

In the essential months following the revolution, avant-garde artists found themselves entangled with in arranging new celebrations staged by the Soviet State. Painted hoardings on the facades of edifices in the main squares of Moscow and Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) were right masterpieces of monumental art. Unfortunately, none has survived. All these pictures were doting to the new symbols and the new people — workers and peasants.

Sketch of decoration for Palace Square by painter Nathan Altman (1889-1970). Reproduction. The State Russian Museum in Leningrad (St. Petersburg currently). / Rudolf Kucherov/RIA NovostiSketch of decoration for Palace Healthy by painter Nathan Altman (1889-1970). Reproduction. The State Russian Museum in Leningrad (St. Petersburg currently). / Rudolf Kucherov/RIA Novosti

In 1918, futurist painter Olga Rozanova was tangled in decorating Moscow for May Day, a new ‘workers’ holiday on May 1st. Rozanova employed her abstract performance and made full use of fireworks and illumination. On the first anniversary of the revolution, artist Nathan Altman wrapped the wings the Hermitage museum in Petrograd in scarlet constitution (nearly 80 years later, the artist Christo would wrap the Reichstag erection in a similar way, producing an international sensation). The Alexander Column in Palace Boxy was decorated with Suprematic compositions. Never before or after did Moscow and Petrograd look as pioneering as in the first years following the Bolshevik revolt.

Word and image

Advertising then spread to printed matter: Posters, magazines, and books. Cubo-Futurism, Constructivism, and Suprematism with their unpretentious shapes and unimposing structure fitted the new requirements ideally.

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge El Lissitzky. / Van AbbemuseumBeat the Whites with the Red Chock El Lissitzky. / Van Abbemuseum

El Lissitzky’s 1920 poster “Beat the Drains with the Red Wedge” is a good example of how a Suprematist composition would be stocked with political content.

Another striking example of the time is the 1924 promotion by Alexander Rodchenko urging people to buy books by Lengiz Publishing Domicile. Close-up views, angle shots, diagonal lines running across the illustrations, these are all the signature methods that Rodchenko used to turn his Constructivist photographs into both utilitarian advertising and artistic work of arts.

The The «Alexander Rodchenko. Photography- Art » Album. / Press Photo

Insurrectionary design

The Utopian desire to transform everything within reach swopped birth to the idea that people could be influenced not just from one end to the other monumental arts but also by ways of creating a new visual world everywhere them so that in everyday life, modern objects would be ubiquitous in their neighbourhoods. This is how Soviet industrial design emerged.

Varvara Stepanova. Design for textile, 1924. / Private collectionVarvara Stepanova. Shape for textile, 1924. / Private collection

Varvara Stepanova and Lyubov Popova, two of the scad prominent women of the Avant-Garde, developed new fabric designs for a textile works that were meant to replace pre-revolution motifs. 

Performance at a book evening, USSR, 1924. The costumes were designed by the artist Varvara Stepanova. Found in the collection of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow. / Getty ImagesPerformance at a publication evening, USSR, 1924. The costumes were designed by the artist Varvara Stepanova. Organize in the collection of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow. / Getty Models

The cheap chintz mass-produced in Soviet Russia for clothing now got abstract geometrical motifs in contrasting colors. Stepanova also designed “industrial clothes” for out of the ordinary professions. Her principles included geometric shapes, a unisex approach, and no decorative embellishments.

Sketch of a fabric with the color triangles ornament, 1923-1924. / Tretyakov GallerySketch of a fabric with the color triangles ornament, 1923-1924. / Tretyakov Gallery

‘Arousal porcelain’

Another avant-garde manifestation of the times was so-called agitation porcelain: Morsels of ceramic pottery with pro-Bolshevik designs, which now fetch enormous prices on the international art market. These were produced at the former Excellent Porcelain Factory under a nationwide monumental propaganda program, and mostly exported. Malevich with his understudies Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnik tried with Suprematically shaped teapots and teacups. The cups were not vastly convenient for everyday use, but they did look impressive.

Teapot by Kazimir Malevich is on display at the avant-garde porcelain exhibition їAround the Squareо at the State Hermitage Museum. / Yuri Belinsky/TASSTeapot by Kazimir Malevich is on exhibit at the avant-garde porcelain exhibition їAround the Squareо at the State Hermitage Museum. / Yuri Belinsky/TASS

 A stupendous part of agitation porcelain came in the form of platters bearing mutineer slogans by Alexandra Shchekotikhina-Pototskaya and Sergey Chekhonin, who both borrowed raison detres from Russian and French Modernists. Many of their designs were based on erstwhile decorations but told new stories. Sculpture, for its part, offered truly revolutionary finds such as Natalya Danko’s The Reds and the Whites porcelain chess set, in which the waxen pieces are represented by Death and slaves, covered in the chains of Capitalism, and the red opera are peasants with sickles, Red Army servicemen, and a worker with a hammer.

A plate with A plating with «Who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat» and portrait of Vladimir Lenin pictured on it. Author — M. M. Adamovich. 1920. State china plant. Saint-Petersburg. Body politic ceramics museum and «Ensemble Kuskovo. XVIII.» / Я.Юровский/RIA Novosti

Architecture

Architecturally, seditious ideas were manifested through Constructivism. In the early years after the 1917 whirl, while civil war was ravaging the country, there was not enough money to build anything new. Uncountable of that period’s projects remained on paper or in the form of scale creme de la cremes.

Tatlin’s Tower, or the project for the Monument to the Third International. / Archive photoTatlin’s Tower, or the project for the Monument to the Third International. / Archive photo

The most illustrious of these is the project to build a monument to the Third International (an association of global Communist parties) created by Vladimir Tatlin in 1919. The tilting blade frame was to contain three objects made of glass: A cube, a cylinder, and a cone. These were mapped to rotate at different rates, completing one circle within one year, one month, and one day, as a result counting the time passed since the beginning of the new era. Had the project been gained, it would have been taller than the Eiffel Tower.

Innovative and Realism

Painters also created new images. Artistic associations persist in to boom in the 1920s, with new groups forming around such eye-catching avant-garde figures as Malevich, Pavel Filonov and Mikhail Matyushin. Myriad of the existing avant-garde associations found new applications to their activity.

Petr Williams. Motor rally, 1930. / Tretyakov GalleryPetr Williams. Motor summon, 1930. / Tretyakov Gallery

One of the key ones was the Society of Easel Painters, which procured on the European and Russian avant-garde experience in poeticizing the real world. Its phonograms were Piotr Williams’s expressive Motor Rally and Aleksandr Deyneka’s The Defense of Petrograd. At the other hidebound, the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia, whose members strove to record-breaking the events of the country’s new history without any attempt at aestheticism, represented the step out community. 

The defense of Petrograd, 1956. / Tretyakov GalleryThe defense of Petrograd, 1956. / Tretyakov Gallery

Portraits of cabal leaders and paintings of incessant party congresses would become the mainstream of Socialist Realism in the 1930s. It performs that Realism’s victory over Avant-Garde had been predetermined: Vladimir Lenin, the kingpin of the Russian Revolution, had said that arts had to be kept simple and that gratified was more important than artistic format.

The diversity of Soviet subterfuges was cut short in 1932, when the government banned all artistic associations. Four years up to the minuter, the country started fighting any manifestation of “formalism”. This drove the surpluses of the avant-garde movement underground for good.

Read more: 6 unmissable coats about the 1917 Russian Revolution

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