Art and the 1917 Russian revolution

This video is called Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde (Pt1 Malevich).

This video is called Architecture and the Russian Avant-garde (Pt2 Tatlins Tower).

From British daily The Morning Star:

Art and the revolution

(Monday 10 September 2007)

IN PROFILE: Soviet art

CHRISTINE LINDEY asks what happened to art after the Bolshevik revolution.

This autumn, it will be 90 years since the Bolshevik revolution. How did this momentous event affect art and artists?

It did so at every level. Art education, production, patronage, distribution and reception were all transformed. Fierce debates about the form and function of art in the new workers’ state raised fundamental issues. From these stemmed so rich a flowering of the visual arts that its influence is still alive.

The revolution was itself partly the work of artists. Some had worked towards social and political change since Russian artists had taken the role of social critic in the 19th century. In the 1870s, the Wanderers‘ paintings had exposed social injustice in daily life.

By the early 20th century, a well-informed Russian avant garde was in touch with Paris and Munich, the epicentres of innovatory art. Embracing modernism, it debated how to transform and modernise tsarist Russia. Some, such as Natalia Goncharova, adopted the vivid colour and formal simplifications of “primitive” Russian peasant art, rather than those of African art favoured by the French and Germans.

Russian futurists engaged in antibourgeois activities. By 1913, Kasimir Malevich had rejected all representation as antiquated, arguing that his revolutionary abstraction equated modern times.

October 1917 brought radical cultural change. No longer for bourgeois and aristocrat, art would now be for the people. The art market was abolished and museums nationalised – the worker’s state became art’s patron.

Initially, most avant-garde artists welcomed the revolution because Lenin’s idea of a political avant-garde as an agent for social change legitimised their own calls for radical action to combat conservative attitudes to art and society.

For Marxists such as Vladimir Tatlin, here was an opportunity to make real and meaningful change. He recalled: “To accept or not accept the October Revolution. There was no such question for me. I organically merged into active creative, social and pedagogical life.”

Others, such as Wassily Kandinsky, were not sympathetic to Bolshevik politics, but welcomed the artistic freedom which it brought, while aesthetically and politically conservative artists feared a loss of private patronage and critical status.

Contrary to Western propaganda, no artist was sent to the salt mines. Lenin and Lunacharsky, who was commissar of enlightenment from 1917-1929, pursued a pluralist arts policy. Nevertheless, for the first time in the world, avant-garde figures were appointed to positions of power. Despite the material hardships and shortages of war communism (1917-1922) it launched into a dynamic transformation of art and its institutions.

Tatlin headed IZO, the visual arts section of Lunacharsky’s commissariat. Recognising Kandinsky’s international status as an innovator, IZO gave him the important role of reorganising art education and museums.

A brilliant exhibition on Russian theatre design 1913-33 reflects a ‘shock of the new’ which still resonates, says TRUDI GURLIN: here.

Lenin and Kautsky: here.

Between 1918 and 1920, the fledgling workers’ state in Soviet Russia was engaged in a life and death struggle against a series of counter-revolutionary “White” armies backed by expeditionary forces marshalled by fourteen states that had fought as part of the British-French-US-led “Allies” in the First World War and which landed forces in Baku, Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostok. Among the belligerents was Canada: here.

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21 thoughts on “Art and the 1917 Russian revolution

  1. I think the USSR periode was an absurd situation and a perfect breeding groud for abstract art.
    The normal painters painted just what they wanted so the past and not the bright future of the politicians.
    See my articles on search anne visser or Lenin or women.
    Good info it was a terrible time.
    Kind regards, Anne Visser

  2. Hi Anne Visser, not so: abstract art started before the USSR was founded (in 1924), and even before the February and October 1917 Russian revolutions. Do you see abstract art as “abnormal”? That view has an unsavoury history.

    In the 1950s, abstract art was on the rise in the USA and other NATO countries: were they, in your view, equally “absurd”?

    By the way, the search engine on the site which you mention is not working. What is worse, that nationalist site condones ethnic cleansing of Ossetians and Armenians.

  3. You are right. abstract art started early. I just was saying the the real life was absurd and just sociialist realist painting painted this and is just a reflextion of reality. Abstract art was different.

  4. Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context
    By Lars T. Lih, Haymarket Books, Chicago 2008, 840 pages

    Review by Barry Healy

    If a spectre haunted 19th century Europe, as Marx said of the embryonic
    communist movement, then the name of Lenin was no ghost for the 20th
    century bourgeoisie, it was a terrifying reality. For the capitalists,
    with Leninism the communist phantom came howling out of the underworld,
    beginning with the 1917 Russian Revolution, sweeping whole continents
    clean of capitalist rule.

    * Read more

  5. Dear administator
    I just mean that realist painting in the ussr developed apart of international movements and abstract art was forbidden in the USSR from 1934. Both styles abstract and socialist realist painting have their own merits. If we see this art nowadays we only see the painting and the politicians have disappeared. Out of the context it shows today how prejudices and stereo tying works. See for my articles about the socialist realist painting movement. This rich and wide ouevre is always sit aside by art critcs but was and is art made for the people. We can learn historic lessons from it.
    Anne Visser

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  12. Judenitsch Planned Pogrom in Leningrad, Revel Archives Reveal

    February 15, 1928

    Riga (Feb. 14)

    (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

    The Jewish community in Petrograd would have been the prey of pogromists and Jewish property would have been distributed among the soldiery if the plans of General Judenitsch, head of one of the White armies, had not been frustrated.

    This was revealed today when interesting documents from the archives of the Reval kehillah were made public.

    The documents revealed that in 1919 General Judenitsch when marching upon Petrograd, issued an order promising the soldiers the property of Petrograd Jews and “freedom of action,” after the city would be taken.

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