100 Years of the Russian Revolutioin (1917-2017)
At this exhibit we tried to recreate the “ideal” image of the revolution - the view artists had of it for half a century (from the 1930s to the 1970s). They created art, graphics and posters on the subject, many of which fit with the official iconography of the time. Others, however, unexpectedly move outside of the realm of typical soviet artwork. Attitudes towards the revolution changed over time, and this is apparent in the artistic changes as well.
Artists transformed their style and touched upon new mythology. Well-known figures and forms began to transform. Even the descriptions of iconic events changed, not only based off the different angles in perspective or the goal an artist was trying to achieve, but simply in the passing of time.
One of the best pieces in this exhibit, The Dearest Grandfather (1975) by Eduard Borisenko, demonstrates this transformation. A young girl hugs a mourning portrait of Lenin. It is immediately apparent that Lenin’s face features in place of Stalin’s portrait. In 1975 it was impossible to exhibit art that included Stalin. A formal change had occurred, in which the ideological program, focused on revolutionary continuity, broke. The 1905 revolution, Lenin’s bust at the bureau and Stalin’s mourning portraits - these all echo the Stalin period. The portrait of the girl, stained with ink, is so convincing that it transforms the art from propaganda to a stark childhood memory. An ideological change is evident here, and this piece is a rare and interesting example of the later reminiscence of a Stalin utopia.
The task of uniting an artistic and a social utopia was never easy. Soviet artists rarely depicted the revolution as a historic event. They almost always presented it as a legend or myth: depicting great battles, spectacular celebrations or carnivals in which common figures - the sailor, the soldier, Lenin - featured, replacing the people. The public enthusiastically embraced the time’s radical political slogans, but could not accept the radical avant-garde with its belief in the transformative strength of a new artistic style. The art created by socialist-realists in an effort to continue the russian tradition of realism attempted to make peace with this new reality by either revolutionizing or poeticizing their scenes. In the 1970s all of these artists gradually lose steam. By the 1980s, loneliness and doom governed the national sentiment. A new artistic language formed, in which parodying revolutionary scenes became an important defense mechanism against the social world.
It’s been a hundred years since the Russian revolution, but how many years of artists attempting to understand it? From looking at Russian avant-garde to 1930s art, to the tradition of socialist-realism art and to the long pause that followed, we understand just how disparate the artist view of the revolution was from the revolution itself. Nevertheless, artists played a large hand in our understanding of the revolution and in creating the language we use to discuss it. The new cultural bounds of today’s society offer a wide spectrum of worldviews. Among them is the opportunity to understand the art that has come before us in a new light.