Exploring the art of the Russian Revolution, 100 years after it shook the world.
It is one of the idiosyncrasies of cultural life in Britain that a gallery with royal patronage can stage a show celebrating the overthrow of capital and hereditary wealth. The early signs from Burlington House are that the Royal Academy will treat the world’s greatest outburst of revolutionary fervour, rather well.
There was perhaps never a better time and place for the avant grade than between 1917 and 1932 in Russia. Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich put their considerable talents at the service of the new regime. Tatlin planned his famous tower, and strangely a scale model of this has already appeared in the RA’s courtyard only five years ago.
For 15 years the new republic presided over a golden age in the visual arts. It was only with the advent of Stalin that Russia saw a crackdown on abstract, theoretical, constructivist or otherwise difficult works. In their place came the monumental portraits of a burly-armed proletariat. And so one idealistic style gave way to another. The show offers a rare chance to see social realist and modernist styles side by side, not to mention a chance to see many significant works for the first time in the UK.
Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 has kept a lot of art historians very busy. The entire show takes its shape from a 1932 exhibition at the State Russian Museum in Leningrad. It is also the first time since 1932 that a gallery filled with more than 30 paintings and architectons by Malevich can be seen together as the artist intended.
Such attention to historical detail will underline the fact that it is by now 100 years since the world’s most far-reaching revolution. Perhaps socialist art will fare well n 2017.