Due to special exhibitions, the collections of the Russian Avantgarde ore only partly on display. At the moment, we show a presentation about "Propaganda and Art under Stalin. Aspects of the Russian Russische Avant-garde Collection"
In 1927 Josef Stalin (1878-1953) established a totalitarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union. With the aid of his five-year plan, production in industry and agriculture was to be massively built up. This led to a brutal forced collectivization of farming and the mass relocation of the rural population. Crop procurement was implemented in order to finance the industrialization of the Soviet Union, which resulted in vast famines. The ambitious program, especially in the areas of mining and heavy industry, helped to advance the USSR, industrially underdeveloped up to then, to an industrial and military power.
Photo reportages published in newspapers and magazines conveyed the "successes" of these uncompromising policies. One of the first pictorial reportages, 24 hours in the life of the Moscow working-class family Filipov, shows the supposedly "high" living standard of Soviet working-class families: enough to eat, a nice apartment, and shared rest periods. Such images glorify the Socialist ideal of the community, which subordinated the individual completely, and which was also exemplified in parades and sports events. Using photomontage, the photographer Gustav Kluzis lauded propaganda campaigns, industrious workers, and Stalin himself.
The cult of personality that Joseph Stalin created around himself helped to consolidate his dictatorship. Numerous portraits exalt the merciless dictator and represent him in the role of the "benevolent father."
The Russian avant-garde was one of the great creative movements in 20th-century art. The name spans the developments in art in pre- and post-revolutionary Russia from around 1905 to the beginning of the 1930s, during which time the country underwent an unparalleled upsurge in intellectual and creative energy. These new departures in Russian art were given wing by the inspiring pre-revolutionary climate. Young artists drew power and dynamism from the forward-looking utopia of an art that was to be placed in the service of a new, classless society. Soon after the turn of the century, a lively exchange established itself with the Western avant-garde movements, in which the artists nevertheless felt attached to their own cultural roots. Already before 1910, trail-blazing works by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso could be seen in private collections in Moscow. Any number of artists undertook study trips to the art centres of Europe. In Paris they could see the latest works by the Cubists, in Munich they made contacts with the Expressionist artists of "Der Blaue Reiter" around Wassily Kandinsky, and in Italy with the Futurists around the poet F. T. Marinetti. And heading the enormous process of cultural and social renaissance in Russia was an unusually large number of women artists. The first Russian avant-garde gave rise to a number of different art movements that sometimes existed parallel to one other: Neo-Primitivism, Cubo-Futurism, Rayonism, Suprematism and Constructivism.
The name Neo-Primitivism refers to a particular exploration of non-academic, "primitive" folk or ethnic art which also drew on local traditions. Its agenda was drafted around 1907 as a movement of change, and it brought individual aspirations and contemporary encounters with French modernism, especially the "wild" painting of the Fauves, together with the archaic, religious or profane motifs of Russian folk art and traditional icon painting. A renewal of their own cultural heritage was a major point on the agenda. Natalia Goncharova, together with the Burliuk brothers, Mikhail Larionov and Kazimir Malevich, was a leader of the movement. By contrast, Cubo-Futurism was, as its name suggests, a synthesis of French Cubism with its facetted depictions of objects and its use of basic geometrical forms, and Italian Futurism, which proclaimed technical progress as the paramount principle for injecting a new dynamism into art and life. As a literary, artistic and political movement founded in Italy in 1908 that rejected all handed-down traditions, Futurism had a significant influence on Russia's art intelligentsia.
Cubo-Futurism came at the transition point to pure abstraction, as pursued by Natalia Goncharova, Alexandra Exter, Liubov Popova and Kazimir Malevich, among others. Rayonism was a short-lived movement. It was developed around 1910/11 by Mikhail Larionov from elements of Cubism, Futurism and Orphism (a form of painting which regarded and depicted objects as reflections of coloured light), and went through a process of resolving the painted subject into bundles of concentrated light beams and rays (as in the French word ‘rayons') to arrive at non-representational painting. Innovatory here was the way the artists drew on scientific research on the physical nature of light. In 1915 Malevich announced his revolutionary Suprematist theory of "pure non-objectivity" in art. For Malevich, Suprematism referred to the "supremacy of pure feeling in the visual arts". The repertoire of forms in Malevich's Suprematist painting consisted of flat abstract shapes in an endless kaleidoscope of compositions.
Constructivism was an art movement that emerged from Suprematism and was proclaimed in 1921 by Alexander Rodchenko and others in the wake of the political and economic revolution. It was seen as an apt expression of a new world ruled by science and technology. The emphasis on technological developments and on producing art with a practical orientation was given top priority. The Constructivists called for an end to easel painting. As "life engineers" they worked on the greater social goal of merging art and politics and bringing art into everyday life. Many former adherents of Suprematism, including Liubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova and Ivan Kliun, turned to this and to "productive art".
The revolutionary verve of the avant-garde already began to flag after a few years. Many artists (Goncharova and Larionov, Marc Chagall and Kandinsky) left the country during the confusions and political realignments ensuing from the revolution to work in France or Germany.
The avant-garde began to fall into disfavor following Lenin's death in 1924. In August 1934 the doctrine of Socialist Realism was proclaimed in the Soviet Union under the dictatorship of Stalin. The artists who refused to bow to this edict were prevented from working or were hounded, arrested or deported. The situation only changed with Stalin's death in 1953. With the changing atmosphere brought about by the so-called "Khrushchev Thaw", a second Russian avant-garde was able to develop clandestinely from the late 1950s on. In 1972 the Moscow artist duo Komar & Melamid came up with the concept of Sots Art in an ironic allusion to the ideas of Pop Art and Sots Realism (the popular abbreviation for Socialist Realism). Sots Art subtly criticized the Soviet propaganda machine, making, for instance, ironic and provocative comparisons between the "surplus of ideology" in the Soviet Union and the "surplus of consumer goods" in the West. Erik Bulatov and Ilya Kabakov were part of the first generation of the Sots Art movement. Not until Gorbachev introduced his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) did the artists and their works enter the focus of the Western art scene's attention.