100 Years of the Russian Revolution 1917-2017
September 28-November 5, 2017, NB Gallery
This exhibition contains an interesting collection of paintings and drawings which go some way to explain the methodology used to create the ‘ideal’ image of the 1917 Revolution. Attitudes towards the revolution changed over time, and this is apparent in the artistic changes displayed in some of the pictures on display. Exactly why the exhibition is called …2017 was lost on me.
During the Soviet period, curator Natalia Bykov explained, artists could not invent a subject for himself or herself, rather draw from a set list of scenarios. One of the most common subjects was Lenin talking to common people. Each painting has its own story, some are the result of reworks, and there is one oil sketch for a painting which has the recommendations of a special commission still attached.
This note recommends that Lenin’s shoes be changed, that there should be two glasses of water on the table and not one, because Lenin was not to be seen as a drinking water alone.
Another favourite theme was Lenin with children, and there are a series of paintings in this exhibition which show Lenin with a lot of different children, Lenin with the Christmas tree and children etc. But in Central Asia, Christmas trees at New Year were not very common, so new subjects had to be invented. There is a painting of Lenin of a young man which has to be seen to be believed.
A large canvas; ‘The Dearest Grandfather’ (1975) by Eduard Borisenko, demonstrates the importance of symbols in Soviet official art. A young girl hugs a mourning portrait of Lenin Although really she is mourning the loss of Stalin. In 1975 it was impossible to exhibit art that included Stalin.
With the exception of a series of interesting graphic works by the work on display is mainly representative of the ‘Russian realism’ style. This exhibition, is arguably more significant as an explanation of the workings of the Soviet machine in the field of painting, which reveals the importance that the Soviet regime placed on the visual arts than the artistic merit of the paintings. Having said that, some of them are superbly painted by master painters; well worth acquiring.
From the gallery’s brochure: ‘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 defence 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.
NB Gallery: http://www.nbgallery.com/en/