EXHIBITION: Revolution – Russian Art 1917-1932
Royal Academy London – February 2017
This year marks 100 years since the Russian Revolution which swept Vladimir Lenin and the socialist Bolshevik Party to power and ended the centuries of rule by the Tsars. Shortly afterwards, civil war broke out as the Reds (Communists) and the Whites (tsarist Russians) fought for control. After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin came to power and freedom of the individual was crushed in favour of collective ideology.
This was a very informative exhibition and it gave me an understanding of the years following the extraordinary explosion in art during the period from 1863 to 1922 which I’d read about in ‘The Russian Experiment in Art” by Camilla Gray. It was interesting to me as well because I’d just finished reading Julian Barnes’ latest book, “The Noise of Time”, in which he describes so vividly the life which Shostakovich endured during this period of Stalin’s rule. In one of the exhibition rooms called Brave New World, one wall was filled with photographs of the avant-garde – remarkable people of talent in art, theatre, music, architecture and literature – who at first were filled with the euphoria of the revolution but as early, as 1921, began to feel the repression of the regime. Avant-garde art was suppressed and finally vanished.
I left the exhibition with an overwhelming sense of the importance of art! The final room focused on Stalin and his utopian vision for a politically unified Soviet Union. Such a vision could only be achieved by the complete and utter suppression of the individual and it was so interesting to hear that , with this goal in view, he feared ‘ART’ above all else. This period of unopposed tyranny was from 1932 until his death in 1953. It was fascinating to think that this period in Russia was followed in America with the Abstract Impressionists, a movement of intense personal freedom and creativity.