and soviet avant-garde
artists - kandinsky
Linda Nochlin. "Matisse" and its other. (comparing the paintings of
Henri Matisse to Russian avant-garde artists) Art in America, May 1993 v81 n5
p88(10) - text
"On the one hand we have modernism, with its emphasis on
originality, individualism, self-expression and the self-revelation of the
medium without reference to the world outside of art, as well as its assumption
of a knowledgeable, elite audience. On the other we have the avant-garde (as
Peter Burger has defined it), with its rejection of artistic tradition, its
emphasis on the collective and the popular, its political engagement and its
search for a mass audience.
The Matisse of legend, is, in effect, the great capitalist entrepreneur
himself, or rather, the culturalist justification of capitalist
"The Great Utopia," instead of women as the objects of art -
naked, stereotypical - we saw women as makers of art.
What counts here is that taken as a whole, this work constitutes visual
production of the most innovative sort, and a production that calls into
question art's separation from life - that accepted antithesis between formal
investigation and social engagement characteristic of so much of the Western
Socialist charm" is most evidenced by a whole group of works, some
of them practical, some of them not, which are characterized by a seductive
consumability, perhaps increased by the passage of time and nostalgia for what
was never to be: the very earmark of the utopian."
Tupitsyn, Margarita. At the dawn of Russian modernism. (painting, Mikhail
Vrubel, traveling exhibition) Art in America, Oct 1997 v85 n10 p96(6) - Text
But it was just these attitudes that helped to position him in the minds
of the next generation as the first uncompromisingly avant-garde figure in
This first evidence of Vrubel's taste for unorthodox stylistic gestures
and extreme iconographic twists was soon eclipsed by his absorption in projects
that involved restoring original murals, as well as painting new decorations,
for several churches in Kiev.
This period also formed Vrubel's double image: it turned him into a
subject of ongoing controversy among his contemporaries while raising him to the
status of radical outsider and formal inventor for future generations.
Alhough the uneven character of the current exhibition does not entirely
convince the viewer of the fairness of Benois's assessment, it does reveal that
Vrubel's art was essential for the next generation's leanings toward abstract
forms with roots in folkloistic and religious iconography.
Vrubel's decision to endow even his most formally adventurous works with
a striking iconography drawn from a variety of sources -- music, literature,
philosophy and the popular arts -- proved influential, as did his readiness to
turn from painting to the utilitarian application of his abilities in ceramics,
theatrical costumes and stage decors. In this way he laid the groundwork for a
creative paradigm which in one form or another manifested itself in much
subsequent Russian and Soviet art. Among the rare exceptions to this particular
model of modernist practice, one can point to such purely formal experiments as
Tatlin's counter-reliefs produced shortly before the Revolution and the works of
Rodchenko, Popova and Vesnin executed immediately after it.
Boris Groys. On the ethics of the avant-garde. (Russian avant-garde's
connection to the Bolshevik Revolution). Art in America, May 1993 v81 n5 p110(4)
Russians' unlimited radicalism and utopianism actually deny traditional
Western rationalism, and with it the distinction between art and life, and even
life and death. This play of identity and difference forces the Western viewer,
according to the classical laws of defamiliarization, to see the entire Russian
avant-garde as a purely esthetic phenomenon. Despite the initial interest
provoked by recognition of Western ideological, political and artistic conceits
and devices, the Russian avant-garde is still, in the last analysis, seen as
something which happened "over there" among those not quite
E. Bowlt. Utopia revisited. (Guggenheim Museum's exhibit of
Russian avant-garde painting). Art in America, May 1993 v81 n5 p98(8) text
Furthermore, the degree and nature of avant-garde artists' political
commitment was very inconsistent. Even though some writers and artists such as
Vladimir Mayakovsky and Rodchenko were eager to offer their art in the service
of politics and made this clear in vociferous statements in the 1920s, many
other artists did not. There is no real evidence to assume that such important
artists as Exter, Gabo, Kandinsky, Matiushin, and even Popova and Nadezhda
Udaltsova regarded the political events as anything more than a strategic
opportunity for disseminating their own ideas.
Cristina Lodder. Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the
Balkans Ca. 1890--1939.(Review) (book review) - Europe-Asia Studies. March, 2000-Mansbach,
Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the Balkans Ca. 1890--1939.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, xvi + 384pp., [pounds]40.00
"Defining the quintessential features of avant-grade activity in
the 1920s becomes particularly problematic if you underplay (as Mansbach does)
the role of discourse, along with the utopian ideals and universalist
aspirations that it expressed. The author's lack of interest in theory is
exacerbated by the fact that movements such as Cubism, Dadaism, Suprematism and
Constructivism are not defined with enough precision, either in their original
or local variations."
Alan G. Artner Painting a revolution - text
The most progressive painters in St. Petersburg and Moscow fit the
definition of an avant garde better than artists in the majority of Western
capitals, but Russians rarely used the term and, as important, belonged to no
single cohesive movement that might have embodied it. Instead, for more than 25
years, there was a tumble of contradictory and often incoherently expressed
currents that fought each other less to become the advance group in aesthetics
than to become the great integrator of artists within society.
Russian artists looked to the West, specifically Paris, at the beginning of
the century, the forms they adopted were seldom for the sake of art alone.
Usually there was an awareness of how forms said something profound about the
community that produced them.
So what was borrowed was immediately transformed into something uniquely
Russian. It had to be. Modern art there was always wrapped up with ideas about
the homeland and social impulses that grew from them.
The great example was how the most advanced forms of painting consistently
were intended for the people, being linked from the 1880s onward to such
communal enterprises as opera, dance and theater. To be sure, Russian modernism
frequently showed a desire to shock, but the greater desire was to engage.
Robert Hughes. Modernism's Russian front: the birth of abstraction is
illuminated in the energetic work of two compatriots. (Liubov Popova, Kazimir
One should think of Malevich as an iconmaker. He did. He was a very
Russian Russian, a kind of starets, or holy man, filled with chiliastic dreams
of the future of art, with an eye for promotion and a remarkable ability to get
under the skin of other artists. His decisiveness was amazing.
However cloudy Malevich's voluble theories are, his Suprematist
paintings are as decisive as razors: those forceful, exquisite arrangements of
planes, asserting their aesthetic self-sufficiency on a white ground have an
almost heroic daring, which he would push still further in the plain black
crosses and black squares of the '20s.
His last picture, from 1933, is a realist self-portrait in which the
primary colors of Suprematism are shifted into the panels of the costume he
wears. He looks like Christopher Columbus, as well he might.
All the same, Popova's talents as a painter could hardly have grown as
fast and as confidently as they did without the security of her liberal,
upper-middle-class background, the way of life the revolution mercilessly
A gifted colorist, she wanted to explore what illusions of visual depth
and energy a flat surface could contain. One sees this ambition unfolding phase
by phase with a steadfast, though unprogrammed, logic.
But generally the keel of feeling is even, the track straight as an
arrow. Here was a determined young painter following her nose, with a passionate
sense of the edge where formal research bursts into sparks and arpeggios of
Alexandra Smith. The Last Soviet Avant-Garde: OBERIU - Fact, Fiction,
Metafiction. / (book reviews) - Europe-Asia Studies, Sept, 1998 - Text
"The discussion of Lipavsky and Dreskin is particularly
illuminating inasmuch as it opens up scope for recognising more forms of
representation in modernist culture, which may be seen as more sophisticated
alternatives to Socialist Realism. Thus Roberts points to Druskin's
understanding of writers as messengers (vestniki) embodying the imagery world
of representation and believing that they existed and did not exist at the
Such disruption of the linear perception of temporality had been
observed by Jakobson and members of Opoiaz in their description of Futurist
texts, and Roberts's observation reinforces the importance of looking at the
joint development of theory and practice of the avant-garde. The analysis of
Vvedensky's work is just one of the many vivid and impressive examples of
Roberts's confidence when it comes to tackling complex theoretical issues. On
many occasions Roberts successfully deconstructs the OBERIU authors' intention
to play with the structure and semantic perceptions of their texts.
This is a successful book which could lead to a re-assessment of the
ideological stances of some theoreticians of the avant-garde, but S.
Sheshukov's Neistovye revniteli (Moscow, Moskovskii rabochii, 1978) should not
be overlooked in relation to Chuzhak and Brik. It would be useful to have a
brief summary of the genres preferred by the OBERIU authors. It appears that
dramatic performance was their main preoccupation. In this case their
suppression of the author as such should not be seen as revolutionary, since
any dramatist would try to submerge his or her identity in the characters and
it becomes difficult to establish the writer's opinions in the play. Roberts's
frequent references to Bakhtin obscure generic differences of OBERIU work for
the sake of the metafiction concept.
Greta Slobin. Russian Modernism: The Transfiguration of the Everyday.(Review)
- Europe-Asia Studies, Dec, 1998 (Stephen C. Hutchings. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997 [pounds]40.00.) - text
"By blurring the distinctions between the aesthetic and the
counter-aesthetic, the modernists overcome the division between self and
other, while retaining the primacy of 'the word' in Russian culture as icon
rather than sign. This distinguishes Russian modernism from the
Swept Up Into the Calamity of History -
("Full Speed Ahead" (Mit voller Kraft ), Hamburg's Museum fьr
Kunst und Gewerbe, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000
"First, the Soviet utopia deteriorated into despotism, then, its social
and economic fabric disintegrated. Nevertheless, we remain captive to its
To this day, the art business is enthralled by the formal concepts and social
models of the Soviet avant-garde. The 20th century stands or falls with them.
This avant-garde movement, which existed between 1915 and 1930, impulsively
suggested, invented or anticipated practically everything the second half of
the century had to offer -- including its heroic abstractionism.
Even Malevich's metaphysical ideas and Suprematist concepts returned to earth
as ornamentation gracing every-day objects, furniture, mass-produced tableware
and textile patterns. This can be interpreted either as the enforced
subservience and subjection of ideas or as a sacralization of the functional
sphere with utopian emblems pulled down from Malevich's heaven. The exultation
over conquered reality echoes through the entire century.
They doubtlessly experienced and supported a negative social process. Still,
the result was great art -- the sole positive residue of many historical
catastrophes. Only art and culture are adequate to a theodicy of history. Art
alone has the remarkable privilege of being immune to confutation by history,
morality, false consciousness, false theories, methods or practices -- even
the most dreadful consequences."
Boris Groys. Artforum, Dec, 1999
"The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde,
1915-1932" (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1992)
After the Revolution the
dream seemed to be within reach, at least in Russia, but ultimately neither
the political powers nor the democratic consumer wanted to give the artists
the freedom to design the world around them according to their own taste. Now,
at the end of the century, a relatively uniform aesthetic style has
established itself, but its origin is anonymous--and one doesn't even know
whether this style is pleasing to the masses, in whose name it was
established. And how does the beginning of the century compare to the end?
Well... it's d ifficult to say. Malevich's late-'20s Black Square is certainly
as impressive as ever, but the McDonald's sign doesn't look so bad either.
Laura Cumming. Red squares. The Bolsheviks loved modern art. But it was no
match for Stalin’s airbrush technique - Guardian Unlimited, Sunday May 9,
The first of many schisms within the avant-garde is a battle over apples and
icons: whether to stay with the West and its bourgeois still lifes, or revert to
the East and update the primitive, didactic art of the icon. Larionov hovered
briefly between the two - his 1912 Venus may be a folksy pigtailed peasant, but
she reclines in a Matisse interior. Peasants, blacksmiths and sailors were the
sanctified subjects, painted in crude outline against the glowing colours of the
icon. Even when Malevich produced his 1915 Black Square, a totem of pure
abstraction, he liked to place it in the popular tradition as "an icon
without a face".
Malevich's Museum of Artistic Culture was set up, in the revolutionary idiom,
"for the enlightenment of the Soviet people". At the Barbican,
you can go from kitschy Chagall to cubist balalaikas via yards of propaganda in
which half-blind veterans raise a gnarled salute to the productivity of the
When futurism came to town, the Russians processed its machine-age aesthetic in
12 months - the first and last Futurist Exhibitions both took place in one year.
The revolutionary moment really does come with Malevich?s Red Square -
incidentally more of a parallelogram, its hard scarlet edges vibrating against a
pure white ground. Theoretically, this ought to be static, empty and banal. In
reality, it is astonishingly active, its surface a mass of vivid marks still
quick with the living hand of the artist. It is no wonder the rivalrous
Rodchenko tried to put out Malevich?s fire with his sombre and voluminous Black
State suppression of the avant-garde not only stopped the clock on an aesthetic
revolution, it distorted the history of modern art.
Montgomery. Lenin's little helpers. Futurists,
Fauvists, Suprematists... they all wanted a part in the Russian revolution. But
the Bolsheviks had other ideas – Guardian,
Thursday April 29, 1999 Text
While Lenin and Trotsky were moulding the ideas of Marx and the Paris Commune to
fit Russia's peasant society, Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Tatlin, Natalia
Goncharova, Chagall and Pavel Filonov were combining Post-impressionism, Fauvism
and Cubism with traditional Russian folk styles taken from icon-painting, lubok
prints, and peasant wood carving to forge a unique artistic movement:
As a contemporary put it, 'Malevich looked like a hermit, Tatlin a martyr, and
Filonov an apostle'.
Strange, then, that Malevich began collecting an archive of works by the artists
who heralded the new era, intending to exhibit them in a 'laboratory', which
would trace the development of a distinctly Russian, as opposed to a simply
European-influenced, aesthetic for a new generation of 'artist-scholars'.
Only now, after St Petersburg's Russian Museum has meticulously trawled through
its archives to reassemble Malevich's Museum of Artistic Culture and create a
'museum within a museum', can one see the full spectrum of Russian avant-garde
art, its growth and its influences in context, and understand that the shock of
the new, which seemed to explode in Russia with the birth of the revolution, had
been gestating for years.
If Malevich were able to wander through the Barbican Gallery, he might want to
thank the old-fashioned curators of the Russian Museum for preserving, and now
liberating, the 'factory of the human spirit', which was caged by the Bolsheviks
for more than half a century.
Mark Brown Unsocialist realism. Guardian, Saturday May 1,
In an otherwise excellent article on Kasimir Malevich, currently on show at the
Barbican, London (Lenin's little helpers, G2, April 29), Isobel Montgomery
concludes that his work 'was caged by the Bolsheviks for more than half a
century'. Given that Malevich's avant-garde was the cultural mirror image of a
political radicalisation to which Bolshevism was central, her conclusion is
Malevich, one of the greatest artists of the century, did not create artificial
barriers between culture and society, and nor should we. The repression of the
Russian avant-garde has a political, historical explanation. It lies not in
Bolshevism, but in the defeat of Bolshevism, and in the rise of that misnamed
Stalinist cultural monstrosity 'Socialist Realism'.
George Ortiz. Two-way archetypes. (Russian art) - History Today, June 1993
"Russia's political future (and that of her surrounding republics) may
look more cloudy than ever, but at least this two-way cultural exchange, born of
the last years of Gorbachev's glasnost, is making a significant contribution to
deepening the cultural and historical exchange and understanding of East and
West. George Ortiz at least is satisfied; 'after forty-three years of
collecting, I feel the different strands of my interests have finally come
together with these exhibitions'.
Margarita Tupitsyn. After and Double After - THE MODERN SOVIET CITY:
(Abstract of a paper to be presented at the Conference, Russia at the End of the
Twentieth Century (Stanford University, November 5-7, 1998).
"The Moscow photographs demonstrate an expanse of collective energy and
no alienation. In its comprehensive survey of a variety of city locations and
everyday routines, Rodchenko's city images convey a sophisticated modern life
determined by a concrete time and place rather than adhere to a utopian vision
of a future Soviet city. As a result, we observe the physiognomy of the city
which no longer exists; Moscow had been transformed several times since then.
Dissertation's pictures (by Mikhailov) are of a reality that can be defined
post-utopian with respect to the factography of the 1920s, and post-mythographic
with respect to the photo-staging of the subsequent decades. Here the plus/minus
dichotomy of "before" and "after" is supplemented by
minus-utopia of the "double after."
wassily kandinsky (see <<<reference
|Magdalena Dabrowski Kandinsky and Music. - Excerpted from "Kandinsky:
Compositions" - text|
He goes on to discuss diverse elements of the Compositions in overtly
musical terms, clarifying his understanding of a melodic composition as being
that in which the objective element is eliminated to leave only the basic
pictorial form-such as simple geometrical forms or a structure of simple lines
that create general movement. The movement is either repeated in the
individual parts of the painting or is varied by using different lines or
forms. These are compositions that possess a simple inner soul; their creation
and perception occur on a less complex level, where the perceptual and
spiritual elements are fairly simple.
For Kandinsky, if that objective element of a painting were taken away,
the building blocks of the composition would reveal themselves to cause a
feeling of repose and tranquil repetition, of well-balanced parts.
|Michael Taussig. Wassily Kandinsky. Three Sounds (Drei Klange), 1926 -
Artforum Sept, 2000. text|
That was 1984 and few people in my field had written on terror, much less on
its relation to healing with hallucinogens.
Hugo Ball, who had passed through Kandinsky's Munich, especially caught my
eye with his Magical Bishop performance and Futurist sound poems that broke the
language apart, and this connection was, incidentally, made stronger for me by
that footloose proto-postmodernist William Burroughs, who was in the foothills
of the Putumayo in the mid-'50s drinking yage with shamans and writing letters
about his experience to Allen Ginsberg.
Now Colombia has become immeasurably more violent, and the use of Dada-like
uncertainty to control populations has become as much an art form as was that
invigorating anti-art form.
If there is a way out of this dialectic that binds violence to art, it lies
for me in the controlled yet mysterious beat I found in Three Sounds as an echo
of Putumayo shamanism and as a way of traveling, magical in its own right,
between the known and the unknown. Of course this works best when unthought and
unsaid. Only now has that statute of limitations passed and memory been allowed
to speak as its mediation disappears into the things mediated.
kazimir malevich (see <<<reference
|RICHARD M. PRICE. Kazimir Malevich and
the Art of Geometry. - The British Journal of Aesthetics, Oct 1998 p429(1) Text|
(The Black Square) /…/ its surface soon deteriorated and is
now a criss-cross of irregular white lines (a particularly ironic fate for
picture intended to be the last word in stark simplicity), but it was always
the concept of the painting, not its execution, that mattered.
Roslavets and Malevich, with a readiness to propitiate the ogre
that spelt spiritual death, immediately adopted more conservative styles;
but their `conversion' was too late, and both were eclipsed and discredited.
The current surge of scholarly and public interest in Malevich
has been assisted by the fall of communism but is justified by the sheer
quality of much of his work.
The insistence by many Russian futurists on the laws of
mathematics, plus the alliance with communist tyranny, invited the satire of
Zamyatin, who in We drew a horrifying picture of a society where everything
and everyone is reduced to numbers. But Malevich used geometric regularity
not as an iron law that was not to be broken but as a norm that gave meaning
to its infringement.
Such paintings belong neither to the self-advertising
experimentalism of some Russian modernists nor to the insistence of the
party ideologues on the application to the arts of the laws of scientific
|Charlotte Douglas. Suprematist
embroidered ornament. Art Journal, Spring 1995 v54 n1 p42(4) - text|
We know that Malevich had been seeking broad application of his
new style since the previous spring, so it is possible that Suprematist
works first appeared in public not as paintings, but as needlework or
sketches for needlework in the Modern Decorative Art exhibition.
The mythic energy unleashed by Malevich's Suprematism was
especially strong when it was applied to decoration.
Like the cosmic and spiritual associations of folk motifs,
Suprematist forms on fabric carried a meaningful element. Just as in the
paintings, the colored rectangles were meant to indicate an advanced
consciousness of the universe or to be emblematic of an unseen world. Not
only did the Suprematists aspire to make completely objectless painting, but
they also immediately decided to remake the entire visual world in the
Suprematist mode, an idea that after the Bolshevik revolution would acquire
|Arthur C. Danto Supreme being in Russia.
(Suprematist art movement in 1915 Russia) - The Nation, April 8, 1991 v252
n13 p452(5) - text|
Suprematism, beyond which, accordingly, nothing could be
imagined that was art. Something beyond art, however, and higher than
art--for which what we might call "suprematizing" was the way and
the means--could be imagined.
I take it that they were meant as more than abstract
illustrations of a spiritual condition, however. They were meant to be
liberating for the viewer, who was, through them, to find a way into those
very spaces, to float, in effect, among other forms. So it was, beyond a
system of artistic practice, to be understood as a system of spiritual
It is, I think, exceedingly difficult for a viewer of today to
see these often gaily colored showers of form, distributed like confetti
across white canvases, pleasing to the eye and to the sense of design, as
being dense with the kinds of meanings and means to the states of awakened
spirituality that Malevich expected them to be.
And this history inevitably mutes their energy, and diffuses it,
as we view them through the subsequent evolution of abstraction as an
Because Suprematisms are almost always handsome and bright, they
suffer the sort of dilemma a particularly beautiful man or woman must who
really wants to be taken seriously as a thinker.
Icons and Suprematisms express the same order of immanence, and
if indeed there is a passion for formal purity, this is but a transformed
and deflected passion for purity of a different order altogether.
<<<reference page >>>
Brooks Adams. Rodchenko's Revolutionary Vision.(artist Aleksandr Rodchenko
has distinctive modernists style). Art in America, Dec, 1998 - text
This early modernist zeal was somewhat muted in an exhibition that tried to
be nuanced and well-balanced and that, while beautifully honed, was also
codified and almost willfully abbreviated.
Rodchenko's art is applied and formalist right off the bat. It also carries a
powerful erotic charge, visible first in the highly tactile handling of
materials and finally in the almost fetishistic imagery of workers and athletes.
We immediately sense a certain heat in Rodchenko's relationship to Stepanova: he
tall and quizzical, with his swaggering poses and radical uniforms, she short
and feisty, full of can-do energy and libidinal fun.
The originator of the shaved-head look amongst his revolutionary friends,
Rodchenko is characterized in the MOMA show as a fin de siecle dandy in Soviet
clothing. From the catalogue, we glean that he had a performative flair, a
talent for technical know-how (his father was a theatrical properties man, his
mother a laundress) and a genius for serf-promotion that would stand him in good
stead in the heady days that were to follow.
Otherwise the little enamel flight pins designed for Dobrolet seemed to belong
to the same artisanal tradition as Faberge eggs.
One feels hem both a radical stripping away of old motifs and a decorative
piling up of new ones: after the revolution, as with Jacques-Louis David in the
1790s, new orders and new totems had to be designed right away.
This eerie vision of the delirium of social equality would seem to lead straight
to 1940s Italian Neo-Realism and Roma, Citta Aperta.
His glowering head shots of the Soviet boy and girl scouts known as
"Pioneers," their silhouettes shot from below against the sky, were
vilified at the time as being deformed and ugly by Stalinist critics. Now they
strike me as weird cyclopean blobs, latter-day Symbolist medusas.
Yet such photos have already rewritten the canon of 20th-century male beauty. At
the very least, they have totally informed the later history of Olympics
photography;, today both Leni Riefenstahl and Bruce Weber seem indebted to
In the maelstrom of the 1920s, Rodchenko did not have time to mature as an
artist, although he was wildly active as a curator, arts administrator, teacher,
layout man, photojournalist, set and costume designer for both film and theater,
even actor (with Stepanova) in a film test for Sergei Eisenstein's 1926 movie
Old and New. The MOMA show also makes the point that Rodchenko rather gamely
tried to make a go of collaborating with the Stalinist regime, but that he
repeatedly failed according to the new criteria of Socialist Realism.
H. Barr, Jr., who visited Moscow in 1928 and was much impressed by the Museum of
Maybe Rodchenko's problem was that he never actually designed a product, only
advertising for products. Clearly his galvanic abilities as the first great
20th-century ad man/artist, not to mention photo-propagandist, were never given
adequate scope by the Stalinst regime.
Alexandr Rodchenko - text
He was one of the first photographers who realized the most dramatic way of
photographing glass is to pass light through it — and shoot from the 'shadow'
Crude as it may be, in this case placing a non-diffused photo flood lamp behind
the water caraf, Rodchenko's experiments with glass pointed out a critical
lighting property: glass is not so much illuminated with the brightness of light
as it is dramatically defined with darkness of shadow.
It's not always glass that requires oblique and/or dramatic lighting. To better
define the 'coldness' and shape of these cogs, Rodchenko opted for diffuse
overhead lighting instead of direct frontal illumination. The gear teeth of the
cogs are 'suggested', but it's the tops of the individual units that quickly and
dramatically define the shapes.
In another situation, the lighting formula is reversed. Rodchenko wanted to
emphasize the dominance of the cog teeth in the photo,
"Cogwheels". He decided, rightly so, that frontal lighting was
paramount to the drama of the photograph.
This was one happy family. Not! However, it was the cultural revolution that
called all these people together, demanding that they produce their fruits of
labour, demanding that they put their personal lives second to the creative
needs of the Revolution.
Lest anyone think that photomontage is a "lesser art", you are invited
to try your hand at it. It is difficult to say the least. It's fun, but it's
hard to come up with photos just the right size, neatly cut out to avoid edges
and then the toughest challenge: coming up with a superior graphic design. Once
you've attempted such a construction you will better appreciate the motivation
behind the creation of Adobe Photoshop.
Arthur C. Danto. 'Art into life': Rodchenko - a portrait of the artist as an
advertising man. (Aleksandr Rodchenko; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY). The
Nation, Sept 21, 1998 v267 n8 p31(4) - text
Like Warhol and Harvey, Rodchenko was a commercial as well as a fine
artist. Unlike Warhol, he began as fine, but unlike Harvey, his downshift into
visual rhetoric was not a pis aller--a matter of having to make a living.
My sense is that the idea of this being the Last Painting has to do with
the thought that each of the panels has the shape of an easel painting, into
which any subject can be fitted. And the colors are the basic colors every
painting will combine. These being the ultimate colors and the shape being the
ultimate shape, painting has been resolved into its ultimate components. We
now, analytically, know what painting is. And having broken through to this
level of self-consciousness, we are liberated to put art to work in the
service of the proletariat. With the whole of painting behind him, Rodchenko
left the artistic life of bourgeois culture and, like a butterfly leaving a
cocoon, he emerged as--well--an advertising artist. What would our leftist
denouncers of advertising as crass say to that?
Advertising was not regarded as in any sense a sellout in the new
society. Rodchenko, with inventiveness and damped gaiety, flourished.
I am reasonably sure that our own distinction between fine and
commercial art makes a tacit reference to Hegel, but with artists like
Rodchenko and Warhol, I think we find that "high" and
"low" fuse. Warhol expressed the defining ideals of American life as
Rodchenko did the defining ideals of communist life--and this is precisely the
office of art in its highest vocation.
And now for the tragedy Miraculously, given his politics, Rodchenko died
a natural death. He made some wonderful photographs, showing the streets from
a perspective high above the action and symbolizing the distance between the
artist and the society he had hoped to enhance.
In a photograph of 1947 we see Rodchenko seated beneath a painting,
titled Clown With Saxophone, that must have meant a great deal to him, since
he shows himself together with it. Given what painting meant to him under
Marxist analysis, this was a sad effort to mm back history.
The life, as a whole, requires these final paintings, even if they are
not among the "best work." From a human point of view, they are
testimony to the kinds of straws this master grasped as his world
disintegrated into terror and his life into neglect.
P.C. Smith. Stenberg Brothers at MOMA. (New York, New York)(Review of
Exhibitions) - Art in America, Nov 1997 v85 n11 p124(1) Text
The Stenbergs reconceived the film poster as a mix of narrative drama and visual
abstraction.Their compositions shift modes of representation between two or more
images, as in Gossip (1928), where a diagonal bar divides a male figure from a
closeup of a woman's face. The Stenbergs were attracted to exaggerated
perspectives, and they projected stills with a homemade device that allowed them
to distort axial orientation.
The Man from the Forest (1928), a dramatic triangle is formed by overlaying a
lime-green woman's face with anguished men depicted in orange and purple.
Yet theirs are among the most complex and finely crafted visual works of
modernism. Their simplified, bold renderings reflect a precise machine esthetic
that embraces subtle portraiture and tonal modeling.
Donald Kuspit. Naum Gabo – Art Forum, february 2000
“Though often seen as such, Gabo's constructions are not simply triumphs of
technology (a very personal technology, by the way; for all the appearance of
machine-made precision, the artist threaded his wire by hand) but are also
intensely expressive. In fact, the more one looks at the works, the more one
becomes aware of the tension holding them together: the excruciating tautness of
the wires, rhythmically repeated to hypnotic effect
His kinetic constructions, as he called them, are in effect linear constructions
of lightvirile carvings in cosmic space, full of its radiant emptiness. They may
lack mass (a sculptural quality Gabo renounced), but they are filled with light.
Whereas the heads are finite forms, the space constructions are fragments of the
infinite. The transition is from tragic introversion to the spiritual
illumination that dispels it: The heads look inward, but the constructions look
outward to the luminous structured cosmos beyond the dark self.
It is striking that many of these sculptures were made during the heyday of
Minimalism, when geometric abstraction was dumbed down into simplistic gestalts
in turn mystified by theory into supposedly profound meaning. The spiritual
intelligence and intricate aesthetics of Gabo's geometric constructions have no
need of theory to attain their depth and profundity.
exhibition and book reviews
Marek Bartelik. The Soviet Photograph: 1924-1937. (book review). - Art
Journal, Winter 1997 v56 n4 p90(4). text
"Extending beyond an initial focus on the avant-garde, current
scholarship reaches into the later decades of the century, including Socialist
Realist production previously labeled by such formalist critics as Clement
Greenberg as ideologically charged kitsch.(1) More recently, a growing number of
scholars have begun to examine Soviet Conceptualism of the 1970s and 1980s, <…>
interpreting this movement as a stylistic formation that brought back to Soviet
art the originality of the early twentieth-century avant-garde.
However, while the gap between methodological approaches favored (or
imposed) in Russia and the West - a one-partyline-formalism versus adversarial
pluralism - seems to narrow, the "ideological" departure point for the
critical evaluation of Soviet avantgarde practice, in particular, in large part
remains diametrically opposed to the one embraced in the West.
In other words, Groys suggests that for Russians, in contrast to
Westerners, the early twentieth-century avant-garde has been generally viewed as
closely allied with Communism-turned-Stalinism.
(Margarita Tupitsyn) The emphasis on the importance of the Soviet
avant-garde in the eyes of both artists and politicians serves Tupitsyn as a
rhetorical springboard for making connections between art and politics but also
alludes indirectly to the ethos of the Soviet artist as demurrer, giving him or
her license for serious historical consideration.
In her book, Boym makes an interesting observation on Greenberg's
"Avant-Garde and Kitsch": "Greenberg's example of kitsch is Ilia
Repin's battle scenes, which, he claims, merely imitate the effect of artistic
battles and battles of consciousness and turn into didactic objects of official
Stalinist art. Much as one might agree with his assessment of Soviet reframing
of Repin's art, however, the fact is that Repin never painted any battle scenes.
Possibly Greenberg is confusing Repin with another painter or rehearsing someone
else's cliches and effects of criticism. Clearly, particular examples of kitsch
change from country to country, from one historical context to another, and an
uncritical choice of kitsch artifacts can turn the critique itself into
Christina Kiaer. Photographs for a Russian future. (exhibition of Russian
photography at Oxford Museum of Modern Art) - Art in America, May 1993 v81 n5
The history of the 19th-century Russian empire and its transformation
into the Soviet Union is no neutral topic these days, as Russians look to
their prerevolutionary past to fomulate a new, post-Soviet identity.
Both the avant-garde and proletarian photographers of the 1920s and '30s
valued the snapshot - rightly or wrongly - as a pictorial form which
encourages in the viewer a response of identification rather than distanced
"consumption" of the class, ethnic or feminine Other.
Many Soviet artists and photographers, believing themselves to be
supporting a socialist state (and the degree of willful self-delusion on this
point is of course open to question), relinquished the critical distance that
characterizes radical artists working in bourgeois societies.
Yet the continued production by avant-garde photographers of images
documenting positive aspects of the new Soviet life of the early to mid-'30s
signals not cynicism or hypocrisy, as I see it, but a hope that a real
workers' state, or at least something better than capitalism or fascism, might
still emerge from the morass of the Stalin period.
The overall effect was to collapse the early Soviet period into
Stalinism and to obscure the real struggles, ideological and artistic, of
leftist photographers who attempted to work under the Stalin regime.
For example, the sublimation of sexuality and eroticism into more
acceptable collective and athletic forms of bodily togetherness was a highly
orchestrated and complex feature of Stalinist culture.
|Donald Goddard. Amazons of the Avant-Garde: Alexandra Exter, Natalia
Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda
Udaltsova - Art Review - NewYorkArtWorld.com|
"In this plethora of activity and relationships, the art of men becomes
more interesting, from pre-Revolution through Revolution. Malevich's Red
Square and Tatlin's Monument to the Third International are no longer the
unchangeable or inviolable symbols of a new order, but moments of idealistic
confabulation in a constantly changing history.
There is something doctrinaire and absolutist about Malevich's devotion to
the square, and the whole period in art (and in politics) was certainly
characterized by battles of doctrines, but there was also a lot more going
on, even in his own work, and that can be understood by partially
circumventing the idea of Supremus and focusing on the work of women
artists. That is something like going around American Pop Art and Minimalism
to get to the work of women artists in the 1960s and '70s."
Jonathan Marks. A fire in the basement. (exhibitions on Russian stage design
between 1913 and 1935). American Theatre, July-August 1992 v9 n4 p40(2) - Text
"The very freedom of their imagination was anathema to the Stalinists, and
the campaign to exterminate their energy was soberingly successful.
Whatever their politics, their aesthetic orientation was wholeheartedly
revolutionary. The shape of the stage, the relationship to the audience, the
function of decor, its dimensionality, its fixity--even the shape of the human
body--all were up for reconsideration.
How do actors fit into these costumes? How do they move in them? And how do
these abstract scenic designs translate into concrete playing platforms on which
actors can function? Three-dimensional models and sepia photographs provide some
clues, but often questions are left hanging in the air.
The unstated irony embedded in this exhibit lies in the influence of Soviet
theatrical art on our own, for it was precisely at the moment of Stalinist
repression that American theatre artists turned to Russia for inspiration, and
to seek the tools to revolutionize our own theatre. At that time, in the face of
the evident breakdown of capitalism in the Depression, we sought our inspiration
in the idealism of the Left. Unhappily, we found its embodiment in the figure of
Stalin; it was not entirely by chance that our new theatrical icons were his.
Our eyes were closed to what Stalin suppressed. By the time we opened them,
there was nothing left of this post-realist art to see; it was under wraps in
MAIRI BEN BRAHIM Hammer and Paintbrush. An exhibition shows six of
Russia's most talented female painters at the height of their powers - TIME
EUROPE, DECEMBER 13, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 24
"Rozanova also anticipated some aspects of the Minimalist movement, as
shown in her extraordinarily simple and clear Green Stripe (1917). The painting,
a vertical translucent green tube on a shimmering white background, is described
by Matthew Drutt, associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, as
"one of the most remarkably adventurous and visually stimulating paintings
of that era."
Paul Bond. A brave New World -not that you'd know it. Amazons of the
avant-garde. Аn exhibition at the Royal Academy, London - World Socialist
Web Site, www.wsws.org
G. Jurek Polanski PAINTING REVOLUTION. Kandinsky, Malevich, and the
Russian Avant-Garde. (Chicago Cultural Center)
"Poet Alphonse Lamartine (1790-1869) in his History of the Girondists
quoted the French revolutionist, Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud (1753-1793):
"There was a reason to fear that the Revolution, like Saturn, might devour
every one of her children." To which, a former Yugoslav Vice-President,
Milovan Djilas, was to add: "It is necessary for the revolution not only to
devour its own children, but -- one might say -- devour itself."
<...> As Tom Wolfe noted in The Painted Word (Bantam: 1976), others now
had Public Relations and they ran with it. It has descendants here. And, as
French actor, Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-) said -- "Art is permanent
Louis Menashe. Film posters of the Russian Avant-Garde. (book reviews),
Cineaste, Wntr 1997 v23 n1 p60(1) -
"Additional, recurring elements also explain why the designs catch
your attention: they seem to be in motion, emphasizing diagonals, busy with
montages that integrate stills, drawings, credits typography, multiple planes
and perspectives, and they are usually splashed with very bold solid hues in
odd color juxtapositions."
Kerin Hope. Russian avant-garde 1910-30: the George Costakis collection..
Europe, March 1996 n354 p46(2) - text
But the Stalinist clampdown brought disgrace to abstract artists, who were
forced to hide their work from the 1930s or switch to producing naturalistic
paintings and sculptures in the approved style of socialist realism.
Costakis' salary, paid in hard currency, left him a little more than $100 a
month to spend on his collection. Given the lack of interest in avant-garde art,
it was more than enough.
By the early 1970s, however, the atmosphere had changed and foreign
residents in Moscow would go to Costakis' apartment to view his collection,
though its existence was still ignored by Soviet culture apparatchiks.
Costakis' passion for collecting extended beyond paintings to designs for
stage sets, several of which have been reconstructed for display.
Steve Nicholson. Theatre as Action: Soviet Russian Avant-Garde Aesthetics.
(book reviews) - Theatre Research International, Autumn 1994 v19 n3 p276(2)
"The diagrammatic generalizations of stage/auditorium relationships also
seem rather laboured and unrevealing, by contrast with actual if idealized
examples, such as Tretyakov's call for a theatre 'that takes a running jump from
the aesthetic trampoline of the stage and then continues in a spiral'. At its
best, however, the writing successfully combines empirical and theoretical
approaches, as with the challenging debate over how far Socialist Realism can be
read as a direct continuation of the avant-garde; Stalin's perception of writers
as 'engineers of the human soul' does not seem too distant from Tretyakov
specifying a 'unanimous reply from the auditorium', or from the avant-garde's
elaborate charting of audience responses and its use of neurologists to help
'organize the subconsciousness of man' in order to transform 'crowd' into
The insights come from such details as the observation -- striking in relation
to more recent history -- that in depictions of the October Revolution 'the
bourgeois state was often shown as a wall which after the final struggle was
"razed to the ground"'.
Georg Imdahl. Russian Futurism Through the Murk - Text
The choice of Burliuk as the figurehead for the movement is difficult to
justify because the quality of his painting is barely more than mediocre.
Burliuk himself apparently sensed this when, following his emigration to the
United States in the 1920s, he backdated a few of his works in order to lend
them topicality. As a theoretician, he may well have been a trailblazer of the
Futurist movement in Russia, but in the 50 paintings included in this
exhibition, he emerges as an epigone.
Margarita Tupitsyn. Shaping Soviet art. (two German exhibitions; various
artists; Doucumenta-Halle, Kassel, and Kunsthalle, Cologne) (Report From
Germany) Art in America, Sept 1994 v82 n9 p41(4) text
Despite the fact that the two cultural eras are both referred to as
"avant-garde," the exhibition draws no stylistic or contextual
parallels between them. Instead, the show portrays Soviet art as a culture of
ruptures rather than continuities (and the installation emphasizes this reading
by physically separating the two sections). For the most part, this position is
historically correct because by the time unofficial art began to emerge in the
late 1950s, the gap between these two generations was impossible to bridge: the
"first avant-garde" had long been completely suppressed and was
largely unknown to younger artists. Their initial attempts to reintroduce
modernism into Russian culture during the Thaw were nourished not by their own
historical past, but by the European and American art shown in Moscow at the
For instance, comparison of Boris Ignatovich's aerial shots of Leningrad
monuments and industrial sights with his later photographs of swimmers and
bathers (both included in the show) effectively illustrates the shift that took
place around 1935, as both artists and photographers moved from structurally
complex and thematically reductive subjects to more formally conventional and
Sidney Monas. Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-garde and Cultural
Experiment. - CLIO, Fall 1997 v27 n1 p149(8) (Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian
Avant-garde and Cultural Experiment. Edited by John Bowlt and Olga Matich.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. xviii + 359 pages.) text
They are also aware that an individual artist cannot, if he or she is a
real artist, be summed up by the group or movement to which he or she may have
for awhile belonged. Every essay has something fresh and interesting to say on
the subject with which it deals. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to treat
individual artists in terms of more general tendencies, and especially in terms
of a relationship to the cultural-continuity thesis posited by Paperno and
Groys does not fail to point out that in the 1920s Russian avant-garde
groups vied with each other both in pursuit of state support and in denunciation
of rivals. The entire volume under review is predicated on the notion that the
Russian cultural avant-garde and Stalinist Social Realism had far more in common
than has been assumed by participants and by scholars who studied them, and that
both are rooted in a utopianism that goes back three hundred years in Russian
Lynn Mally. Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural
Experiment. (book reviews) Europe-Asia Studies, Sept 1997 v49 n6 p1137(2) text
Groys contends that socialist realism was in fact the realisation of
avant-garde experiments. Both movements were anti-democratic and even
'totalitarian', aiming to impose a unified vision of art on an unwilling
populace. Both aimed to erase the dividing line between life art and life. This
revisionist view, which sees avant-gardists as the architects not the victims of
socialist realism, is at work in many of the essays.