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Revolution with Chagall and Malevich. Russian Art 1917-1932 is on view in London

The Royal Academy of Arts in London marks the historic centenary of one of the most momentous events in modern world history by the project Revolution: Russian Art 1917−1932. Unordinary research of this period will be on display to public: exhibition comprises famous and rarely exhibited art works by Kandinsky, Malevich, Brodsky, Chagall, Rodchenko and other artists.
Renowned artists have witnessed the fateful turn of history in 1917, which ended centuries of Tsarist rule and shook Russian society to its foundations.
Boris Kustodiev. Bolshevik
1920, 101×140.5 cm
Amidst the chaos of Civil War, within the art environment, the debates swirled over what form a new "people's" art should take. But the optimism was not to last: by the end of 1932, Stalin’s brutal suppression had put an end to the creative freedom for long years.
Konstantin Yuon. New planet
New planet
1921, 71×101 cm
Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin. Lenin, in his coffin

Curators of the Royal Academy of Arts took inspiration from a remarkable exhibition shown in Russia just before Stalin’s clampdown. The organizers focused on the 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when possibilities seemed limitless and Russian art flourished across every medium.

Left: Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Beside Lenin’s Coffin, 1924.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917−1932 is an unprecedented opportunity to survey the entire artistic landscape
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of post-Revolutionary Russia. It encompasses boldly innovative compositions of Kandinsky and the dynamic abstractions of Malevich up to the emergence of Socialist Realism
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, which was defined as the only art style accepted by the Communist regime.
  • Wassily Kandinsky, Blue Crest (detail), 1917.
  • Pavel Filonov, Formula of the Petrograd Proletariat, 1920-1921.

Exhibition includes photography, sculpture, filmmaking by pioneers such as Eisenstein, and evocative propaganda posters from a 'golden era' of graphic design.

Curators have tried to recreate the mode of life in apartments designed for communal living, filling the space with everyday objects ranging from ration coupons and textiles to brilliantly original Soviet porcelain.

Left: Unknown artist, Advertisement 'Of course, cream-soda!', 1926.

Place of honor is given to the selection of works by Kazimir Malevich, beginning with his bright 'Dynamic Suprematism Supremus' and ending with his subversive Black Square that floats on a white background, — the most dynamic antithesis of figurative paintings.
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, filling the world with their geometric constructions and concentric circles.
  • Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915.
  • Kazimir Malevich, Red Square, 1915.

How was the post-revolutionary peasant to be depicted on canvases? In films, he was a hero tanned by the Soviet sun, singing merrily home after a day in the fields or grinning at the sight of a newfangled milking machine. But in paintings he might be different: from a war-scarred veteran to… an array of dazzling rectangles.

Malevich’s Red Square is one of such examples. In 1915 exhibition catalogue it had a subtitle: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions.

Left: Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, After the Battle, 1923.

Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka. Textile workers
Barefoot, strapping and headscarved, 'Textile Workers' (1927) by Alexander Deineka look like sci-fi robots. This feeling is stressed by the rows of spools placed vertically and horizontally, as well as by suspended ceiling.
Russian official post-Revolutionary state art sometimes idealized the proletariat in grotesque forms. The hero of Boris Kustodiev's 'The Bolshevik' (see illustration above) carries the giant red banner stomping through a snowbound city and nearly treading on the crowd. This crowd, by the way, contains not one single portrait of a human being.
Revolution: Russian Art 1917−1932 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London captures both the idealistic aspirations and the harsh reality of the Revolution and its aftermath. The exhibition is on display until 17 April, 2017.
Written by Vlad Maslow on materials of the Royal Academy of Arts and The Guardian.