“In Russia in the early twentieth century, far-reaching artistic innovation and intense social and political turmoil were inextricably intertwined. During the early 1910s, under the tsarist autocracy that had ruled for three centuries, avant-garde artists sought to overthrow entrenched academic conventions by experimenting with complex ideas that would transform the course of modernist visual culture. In 1915, as World War I raged, an abstract mode of painting called Suprematism abandoned all concrete pictorial references, while the “transrational” poetic form zaum explored the insufficiency of language to describe reality, freeing letters and words from specific meanings, emphasizing instead their aural and visual qualities.
With the October Revolution of 1917, Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik party took command and instituted Marxist policies. Enthusiastic about the new government’s socialist goals, avant-garde artists put individual expression aside and developed a structured abstract language called Constructivism that they hoped could be embraced by the masses. Constructivists rejected easel painting in favor of practical objects like ceramics, posters, and logos. They adopted mechanical reproduction in place of the artist’s unique hand. And they embraced film, design, theater, and photography, which, in their potential to reach mass audiences, embodied the Revolution’s initial democratic tenets.
By the late 1920s, the government, now headed by Joseph Stalin, had placed restrictions on all aspects of life, including the arts, and was commissioning artists to produce propagandistic books, posters, and magazines touting Soviet achievement. Utopian goals were forced aside, and, in the early 1930s, Socialist Realism was decreed the sole sanctioned style of art, abruptly ending a period of pioneering experimentation. This exhibition spans the years 1912 to 1935 with works drawn entirely from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. Conceived in response to changing socio-political and artistic conditions, these works probe the many ways that an object can be revolutionary.” — Introductory Wall Text
Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924). Untitled. c. 1916-17. Gouache on board, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2″ (49.5 x 39.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation.
Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881–1962). Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest. 1913. Oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 19 1/2″ (54.6 x 49.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation.
Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886–1918). The Factory and the Bridge. 1913. Oil on canvas, 32 3/4 x 24 1/4″ (83.2 x 61.6 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation.
Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935). Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying. 1915. Oil on canvas. 22 7/8 x 19″ (58.1 x 48.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange).
Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892–1956). Flight of Forms. 1919. Gouache and pencil on paper, 51 1/8 x 51 1/2″ (129.7 x 130.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890–1941). Proun 19D. 1920 or 1921. Gesso, oil, varnish, crayon, colored papers, sandpaper, graph paper, cardboard, metallic paint, and metal foil on plywood 38 3/8 x 38 1/4″ (97.5 x 97.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katherine S. Dreier Beques.
El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941). Proun 1 D. 1920. One from a portfolio of eleven lithographs, composition: 8 7/16 x 10 9/16″ (21.5 x 26.9 cm); sheet: 13 1/2 x 17 5/8″ (34.3 x 44.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vincent d’Aquila and Harry Soviak Bequest, by exchange, Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund, Orentreich Family Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment, Mrs. Sash A. Spencer, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Peter H. Friedland, Maud I. Welles, Deborah Wye Endowment Fund, Riva Castlemen Endowment Fund, Lily Auchincloss Fund, Monroe Wheeler Fund, and John M. Shapiro. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895–1954). The Man with the Movie Camera. 1929. 35mm film (black and white, silent). Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund.
El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941). Record. 1926. Gelatin silver print, 10 1/2 x 8 13/16″ (26.7 x 22.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956). Pro eto. Ei i mne (About This. To Her and to Me).1923. Book with letterpress cover and illustrations. Overall (closed): 9 1/16 x 6 1/8 x 1/8″ (23 x 15.5 x 0.3 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation.
Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891–1956). Cover design for Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts, no. 1. 1928. Letterpress, page: 9 1/16 x 6″ (23 x 15.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation.
Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956). Pioneer with a Bugle. 1930. Gelatin silver print. 9 1/4 x 7 1/16″ (23.5 x 18 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Rodchenko Family.
Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia). Memorial to Fallen Leaders. 1927. Cover with lithographed photomontage illustrations on front and back, 13 1/2 x 10 1/4″ (34.3 x 26 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation. © 2016 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933). Symphony of a Big City. 1928. Lithograph, 41 x 27 1/4″ (104 x 69 cm).The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marshall Cogan Purchase Fund.
Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897–1954). Teapot. c. 1923. Porcelain with overglaze painted decoration, 5 1/2 x 4 1/2″ (14 x 11.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Estée and Joseph Lauder Design Fund.
A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; with Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.
Images courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.