November 23, 2017 by AK
The organizers of Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 – the London show mentioned in this post – seem to believe that Russian arts burst into dazzling blossom in 1917 as the revolutionary spring ushered in a kingdom of liberty:
…we will mark the historic centenary by focusing on the 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when possibilities initially seemed limitless and Russian art flourished across every medium.
Russian art was already flourishing across every medium in 1913, before the great wars and revolutions. Since the London exhibition seems to focus on Malevich, it’s worth remembering that the first version of The Black Square appeared in public in 1913, as part of the stage set for Victory over the Sun, an avant-garde opera by Mikhail Matyushin (music) and Alexey Kruchenykh (libretto).
As I’ve said in one of the Someone 1917 posts, the events of 1917 broke out in the midst of a golden age for Russian visual and performative arts. Actually, the Moscow exhibit makes it more or less clear that relatively few creators perceived the revolution as a chance to finally start some artistic project impossible under the old regime. It also helps to bear in mind how many artists left or declined to return to Russia in 1917-1932.
On the other hand, enough of them stayed behind for the cultural milieu to linger on for a while and to raise a new generation of competent artists to serve the needs of the Soviet state. The unasked question is how Russian arts would have fared in 1917-1932 under a less murderous and divisive regime.