Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 at the Royal Academy of Art

 “Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935”

“Successful exhibition of Soviet Art”

David Franchi – Monday, 7th November 2011

Richard Pare, Shabolovka Radio Tower, 1988 © Richard Pare, Courtesy Richard Pare and Kicken Berlin

Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915–1935” is another successful exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Entering the Royal Academy of Arts courtyard is possible to be grabbed immediately into “Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915–1935.” Here stands, in fact, a spiral tower, vibrant and asymmetric. It is a 1:40 scale model of the Tatlin Tower. The ‘Monument to the Third International’ was conceived by Vladimir Tatlin in 1919-20 as a 400m high monument to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Tatlin’s Constructivist tower was to be built on the Neva river in St. Petersburg from industrial materials: iron, glass and steel. In materials, shape, and function, it was considered a towering symbol of modernity. It would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It is the first time that many of the works have been shown in the UK. “Building the Revolution” brings together artworks of the Russian avant-garde architecture made from c. 1922 to 1935. It was supposed to built the new Soviet Socialist language. It was a short-lived period which, however, had a consistent production on construction and design. Unfortunately, Soviet art was put in the shadows by Constructivism – appeared in Russia from 1915.

The debate about the modernisation of the Russian society in the beginning of the 20th Century was made by progressive socialist artists and architects including Kazimir Malevich, Liubov Popova and Moisei Ginzburg. Their ideas were that cultural, political and social changes should be brought on altogether.

During the difficult moments of Russian Civil War in 1917-22 artists focused on speculative research and revolutionary art education creating Modernism. Malevich exhibited works of geometric figures in 1915 declaring the death of the traditional painting caused by the photography. In 1919 he dedicated to create futuristic architectural models and drawings. He spread his ideas through the Unovis group and the Vitebskart school inspiring designers, engineers and architects including El Lissitsky and Nikolai Suetin.

In the meantime the Constructivist group was formed in Moscow by Vladimir Tatlin, Alexandr Rodchenko, Popova and other artists teaching in ground-breaking art schools. This group opposed to the bourgeois conception of the artist as individual genius but rather they consider themselves as artist- engineering similar to art-workers. Their icons were workers and peasant of whom, through their artwork, they would improve the material, cultural and spiritual life.

Unfortunately, Constructivism shadowed Modernism. The drive to forge a new Marxist – Socialist society in Russia gave scope to a dynamic

Vladimir Tatlin's, Monument to theThird International © London Art Reviews.com

Vladimir Tatlin’s, Monument to theThird International © London Art Reviews.com

synthesis between radical art and architecture. This creative reciprocity was reflected in the engagement in architectural ideas and projects by artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Liubov Popova, El Lizzitsky, Ivan Kluin and Gustav Klucis, and in designs by architects such as Konstantin Melnikov, Moisei Ginsburg, Ilia Golosov and the Vesnin brothers. European architects including Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn were also draught in to shape the new utopia. Their novel buildings – streamlined, flat-roofed, white-walled and with horizontal banded fenestration – appeared alien among the surrounding traditional low-built wooden structures and densely developed nineteenth century commercial and residential blocks. They left a distinctive mark not only on the two most prominent cities in what was then the USSR, Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also on other urban centres such as Kiev, Ekaterinburg, Baku, Sochi and Nishni Novgorod.

The Royal Academy exhibition is well organised as it puts side by side large-scale photographs of existing buildings with relevant Constructivist drawings and paintings and vintage photographs. It is also a good idea that better allows visitors enjoy the exhibition as Russian architecture with its industrial design is slightly monotone and oppressive.

The images of Richard Pare provide an eloquent record of the often degraded condition into which the building have fallen. Important contributions are present from the Costakis Collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art of Thessaloniki. The Shabolovka Radio Tower was an icon of that period, the first symbol to be built after the 1917 Revolution. Standing 150 metres high the tower is still in use today.

The conclusion of the Civil War in 1921 heralded tight Communist Party control over government and communications. The First World War and the Civil War were financially disruptive. During the 1920s USSR was determined to be one of the world leading nations. Trough the New Economic Policy, the collectivisation of agriculture and the push of industrialisation generated an exodus from the rural areas to the cities.

Therefore, the architecture design of the cities changed. The Bolshevik government also was driven to eliminate illiteracy and built worker’s club and schools providing free education.

“Building The Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935″ ends with a room dedicated to Lenin Mausoleum, by architect Aleksei Shchusev in the Red Square, that signed the end of the Revolutionary ideas by almost deifies Lenin figure.

Showing from 29 October 2011 until 22th January 2012

At the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD