On the centenary of the October Revolution, a major new exhibition explores the contribution and reaction of artists during this momentous period in Russian history.
The year 1917 brought the Bolsheviks decisively to power, overthrowing centuries of tsarist rule and ushering in an era of unprecedented political and social upheaval, hope and tragedy.
This exhibition documents the revolutions, the ensuing civil war and later Stalin’s reign of terror through the work of artists, designers and photographers. It also shows how art itself was revolutionised. A new dawn ushered in new popular art forms such as posters, leaflets and banners to spread the word among millions of citizens. The posters of artists such Adolf Strakhov, Valentina Kulagina and Dmitrii Moor championed the heroism of workers, and ‘agitprop trains’ loaded with printing presses flaunted vividly painted murals as they toured the country.
The Soviet Union took its proud new culture to the rest of the world in the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques in Paris. Although destroyed at the end of the exhibition, a huge mural by Aleksandr Deineka formed the centrepiece, and the large-scale preparatory studies for this work can be seen here.
Of course, the Bolshevik experiment foundered and eventually plunged into disaster. One area of the exhibition is dedicated to the millions who died during Stalin’s purges and includes prison mugshots of some of those executed such as the poster artist Gustav Klutsis, whose work continued to be used for propaganda. There are also examples of the manipulation of images by the state. Political figures who had fallen foul of the regime were removed from official photographs by airbrushing.
The 250 exhibits are taken from a collection of Soviet and Russian material that includes over a quarter of a million pieces. One of the most comprehensive collections in the world, it was assembled over a lifetime by the late graphic designer David King. Many works are on public display here for the first time.