By David Franchi (credits Teatro Studio Grosseto, Italy)

Wednesday, 7th January 2015

Costume design for We, 1919-1920, Alexander Rodchenko © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

Costume design for We, 1919-1920, Alexander Rodchenko © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

The exhibition “Russian Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913 – 1933” is very intriguing, at the V&A Museum, London.

The V&A Museum exhibition spans from 1913 until 1933 and it presents more than 150 radical designs for theatrical productions. During these two decades, Russian leading artists and designers worked together, producing one of the most renowned movements of the theatre history.

Despite the Bolshevik revolution and the First World War, the best artists of their times worked together, including Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovski, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexandra Exter, El Lissitsky, Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova.

Russian Avant-Garde Theatre exhibition explores this extraordinary point in Russian culture during which artistic, literary and musical traditions experienced deep transformations.

The theatrical productions demanded innovative design solutions and benefitted from an unprecedented symbiosis of artists, musicians, directors and performers which characterized this Russian moment.

It was a sort melting pot of artists who worked in a variety of mediums, including painting, architecture, textiles, photography and graphics. These artists all together collaborated on theatrical productions and produced a great range of design which then was conveyed to wider artistic practices through the avant-garde.

This is a very unusual aspect of that period and, besides, not often something similar happened in the history, such a grouping of minds. Experimental artists and directors were pioneering and developing new concepts relating to time, movement, space, colour, light and body. They re-imaged classical and traditional dramatic subjects and applied their courageous ideas to the disciplines of poetry, cabaret, dance, opera, folklore, and circus.

The Russian Avant-Garde Theatre exhibition is a unique opportunity to explore the significance of this work to the art and theatre today.

The exhibition Russian Avant-Garde Theatre has recreated a sort of labyrinth to disorientate visitors and to recall the way the theatre stages were made by Deconstructivism. Visitors will be bombarded by sounds and colours.

The V&A Museum exhibition has not an organized itinerary. A first room is ‘War’. It is focused on the situation of the

Costume design for Life for the Tsar, 1913-1915, Vladimir Tatlin © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

Costume design for Life for the Tsar, 1913-1915, Vladimir Tatlin © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

first years, the First World War, the disastrous war results of the Tsarist Empire, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the Bolshevik Revolution. It was the first mechanized war and this aspect was promptly assimilated and reworked by artists.

Another room is ‘Revolution’ which contemplates the impact of the falling of the Romanov family, and the end of the Russian Tsarist Empire, the birth of the USSR, and the rise to the power of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

‘Design’ is a room focused on the production of Russian avant-garde artists, who also tried to avoid going to the war zone. They innovated the tradition with their new theatrical approaches. The Russian Avant-Garde is now recognized as a stylistic concept defined by a complex synthesis of radical innovation. Many members of the movement were actually Ukrainians, Georgians, Belarusians, or Latvians. Differently defined as Futurists, Constructivist, and Suprematist, these artists applied their theoretical ideas to the more physical theatre. For Malevich, Popova, Rodchenko and Tatlin it was a way to experiment new ideas separated from the external world.

The room ‘Mirror to life’, gives an idea about the dramatic transformations of Russian society, in the beginning of the 20th Century, referring to Anton Chekov works and to Stanislavsky, who brought them on stage in Moscow. These transformations led to the 1917 revolution. The Russian theatre during the early Soviet Union was made of small amateur groups. Significant were the numerous Bleu Blouse troupes groups which innovated the tradition of the clownery.

Costume design for Sten'ka-Razi, 1923, Konstantin Vialov © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

Costume design for Sten’ka-Razi, 1923, Konstantin Vialov © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

The room ‘Directors and Designers’ focuses on director Konstantin Stanislavsky, a great innovator, who used the psychological Realism on stage, which paved the way to his pupil Meierkhold. They elaborate a new system of biomechanics. This new acting style was paralleled by an impressive shift in the use of theatre stage and space.

The design and display in the room ‘Performing art’ reveals an extraordinary range of performance genres and media, showing how the Avant-Garde worked across disciplines and explored diverse ideas. Malevich experiments, Constructivists following forms and not function, Gamrekeli and Tatlin innovation of classics are the significant displays of this room.

An entire room is dedicated to ‘Meierkhold’. The life and work of Vsevolod Meierkhold symbolise the spirit and ambition of avant- garde movement in theatre before it came to a catastrophic end during the era of Stalin. He collaborated with many famous artists, including Mayakovski, Rodchenko, and Popova. After the Lenin death in 1924, the return of Realism obscured the avant-garde. Stalin established the Socialist Realism regime and many artists fled the country. Meierkhold refused to adopt the new style and stayed in the USSR. In 1938 his theatre was closed down, he was arrested in 1939 and in 1940 executed by firing squad. At the Russian Avant-Garde Theatre there is a panel running quotes, of which the one related to Meierkhold is: “The real tree next to the painted one seems crude and artificial because it evokes a sense of discord.”

The room of ‘Bio-mechanics’ explores this technique, starting from Meierkhold reaction against the Stanislavsky method of using realism and emotion in performance. Meierkhold believed that function was to act as a magnifying glass focusing on particular moments of reality, following Mayakovski idea: “Theatre is not a mirror but a magnifying glass”.

Meierkhold restructured plays into fragments and scenes that would engage audience rationally and not emotionally, as in Stanislavsky. He worked on the body of the actors accentuating the expressivity, looking to cause an audience reaction. The students of Meierkhold learnt from a wide variety of skills, such as gymnastics, dancing, juggling, and bio-mechanics which was an acting philosophy and a set of exercises that taught the actors the economy of movement, awareness of the body on space, and rhythmic expressiveness. Words were less important than body language, performances became more physical demonstration that psychological experience. Many of these productions have never been restaged and are unfamiliar to the British public.

The ‘Legacy’ is the title of the homonymous room. Today, the audacious spirit and energy of the artists, together with

Set design for Victory Over the Sun, 1913, Kazimir Malevich © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

Set design for Victory Over the Sun, 1913, Kazimir Malevich © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

their aesthetic, is still influencing many, across disciplines and internationally. Their authority can be easily documented and continue to inspire contemporary artists and designers.

Works on display in Russian Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913 – 1933 were drawn primarily from the A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum (Moscow) and St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music. It is part of the Russian Year of Culture.

The display is curated in collaboration with the A.A Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, Moscow and supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture.

The exhibition designer is Professor Sergei Barkhin, formerly chief designer at the Bolshoi Theatre and Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre. The assistant exhibition designer is Vasilina Ovchinnikova, chief designer at the A.A. Bakhrushin State Theatre Museum.

The exhibition “Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913 – 1933” is ongoing until the 25th January 2015 at the V&A Museum, South Kensington, London.


Tuesday, 4th November 2014.

All images © Davide Monteleone, VII Photo, for the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award

All images © Davide
Monteleone, VII Photo, for the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award

It was a very interesting exhibition, Spasibo by photojournalist Davide Monteleone, at the Saatchi Gallery, London. Organised by the Carmignac Foundation, the exhibition Spasibo presented photographs illustrating life in Chechnya. The Saatchi gallery exhibition was by Italian photojournalist Davide Monteleone, who won the 4th edition of the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award. Monteleone was funded to work in Chechnya between December 2012 and April 2013.

An outcome of the collaboration between the Saatchi Gallery and the Carmignac Foundation, the exhibition Spasibo celebrates launch of this very important photography award in the UK. It is the first time the images of Monteleone about Chechnya have been shown in the UK.

The work of Davide Monteleone explores the social, political and economic realities of Chechnya, which was destroyed by war and extreme violence under the autocratic regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic. Spasibo is the Russian word for “thank you” and can be seen as an ironic gesture of gratitude to Chechnya’s oppressors. Highlights of the exhibition include Rada, 14, trying on a wedding dress, as well as Monteleone’s arresting image of wrestlers in a gym being watched by Vladimir Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov and Akhmad Kadyrov, whose portraits hang overhead.

Davide Monteleone (born 1974) began his career in 2000, when he became an editorial photographer for the Contrasto agency. The following year he moved to Moscow as a correspondent. Since 2003, Monteleone has lived between Italy and Russia, pursuing long term personal projects. His projects have brought him numerous awards, including various World Press Photo prizes and several grants such as ‘Aftermath’ and the European Publisher Award. In recent years he has carried out projects for leading international magazines, foundations and cultural institutions, exhibiting and teaching.

The Carmignac Foundation launched the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award in 2009 with the aim of supporting and celebrating photojournalism.

Edouard Carmignac, one of the world’s leading asset managers, has been collecting contemporary art for more than 25 years. His strong and variegated collection is housed in the Carmignac Gestion offices on Place Vendôme in Paris and in its international subsidiaries. The Carmignac Foundation was created in 2000. It is led by Gaïa Donzet.

The Foundation runs the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award, an exploratory photojournalism award indicative of the Foundation’s enlightened approach. This distinctive award funds an emerging photographer to visit areas of the world at the centre of geostrategic conflicts, where human rights and freedom of speech are often violated.

The Carmignac Foundation collaborates with the winner throughout the entire project by financing a monograph and curating an international touring exhibition to prestigious locations, including Paris, Milan, Arles, Frankfurt and, finally, London (a new touring destination for 2014). Another commitment is to buy four photographs from the winner’s portfolio, which then enter the Carmignac’s celebrated art collection.

The 6th award is currently open for entries and the theme is Lawless areas in France.

The exhibition Spasibo by Davide Monteleone was at the Saatchi Gallery, Sloane Square, London, from 11th October until 3rd November 2014.


Tuesday, 30th Spetember 2014

Canaletto (1697-1768) Portico with lantern, c. 1741-1744 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Canaletto (1697-1768)
Portico with lantern, c. 1741-1744 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

The prints exhibition Bruegel to Freud showed works that are not on permanent display, at the Courtauld Gallery, London.

The Courtauld Gallery put on show some works on paper coming from its major collections, which is one of the most important in Britain, with approximately 7,000 drawings and watercolours and 20,000 prints ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century. The second Summer Showcase provided visitors with an introduction to the largest but least known part of the Gallery’s outstanding collection – its holding of prints. This selection of some thirty particularly remarkable and intriguing examples spanned more than 500 years and encompassed a variety of printmaking techniques.

The display opened with The Flagellation of Christ (around 1465-70), by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna, an ambitious engraving which reinvents this often depicted Passion scene. By contrast, the grand scale of a ten-part engraving after Michelangelo’s celebrated Last Judgment by French printmaker Nicolas Béatrizet exemplifies the ability of a print to reproduce a monumental work of art in spectacular fashion.

The 15th and 16th century printmaking are ruled by subjects of Christian iconography, but from early on were accompanied by secular topics, due to a strong demand of new imagery coming from collectors. An excellent example of this situation is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Rabbit Hunt (1560), the only print executed by the artist himself. Bruegel chose the etching technique, nearer to drawing, which gave him the possibility to depict the scene with extraordinary naturalism.

In the following centuries the chances of printmaking were much more. Prints could record historical events such as battles or pageants, as in

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) The Jockey, 1899 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
The Jockey, 1899 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

the exquisite etchings of Jacques Callot and Stefano della Bella. The ability of Canaletto to render the Venice views of 18th century is well-known. On display also the conspicuous architectural inventions of Piranesi. The 19th century in France saw avant-garde artists embracing printmaking, with Edouard Manet’s homage to Old Masters, Paul Gauguin’s revival of the woodcut and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s brilliant adoption of the newer technique of lithography for his evocative depictions of Parisian entertainment such as his dynamic Jockey from Samuel Courtauld’s collection.

In the 20th century Pablo Picasso’s and Henri Matisse’s tireless experimentation helped ensure the vitality of printmaking in the art of their time. The display concludes with prints by Lucian Freud, now widely acknowledged as a modern master of the medium, and with more recent work by Chris Ofili whose prints, both figurative and abstract, have continued to reinvent printmaking in the 21st century.

The Courtauld Gallery prints collection grown up by a series of outstanding individual gifts, including the prints coming from Samuel Courtauld alongside his collection of French Impressionist paintings and drawings, and Count Antoine Seilern’s Princes Gate legacy which brought many of the most famous individual sheets into the collection. By far the largest portion of the collection came from Sir Robert Witt, who established the Witt Library as an image bank for art historians. While the majority of the Witt prints reproduce works of art in other media, his collection also included artists’ prints of outstanding quality, including unique impressions of proof states by the 16th century artists Jacques Bellange and Johannes Stradanus.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper, The Courtauld Gallery.

The “Summer Showcase: Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery” was on show from 19th June to 21st September 2014, at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London.


David Franchi - Thursday, 7th August 2014.

M.F. Husain, Three Dynasties, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

M.F. Husain, Three Dynasties, 2008-2011. Courtesy of Usha Mittal, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For the first time this summer, the final nine paintings by the celebrated Indian artist, M.F. Husain (1915- 2011) went on public display at the V&A Museum, London. The Indian Civilization series comprises eight monumental triptych paintings, each measuring 12 feet wide by six feet high, which represent Husain’s vision of the richness of Indian culture and history. They capture India’s vibrant cities, colourful Hindu festivals, iconic figures and historic events.

These magnificent, large-scale artworks were exhibited alongside a single painting of the Hindu god, Ganesha, which serves as the symbolic beginning of the series.

M.F. Husain is regarded as one of the leaders of the modern art movement in Indian painting. Born in Pandharpur, his early years were spent in Indore. Husain began his career as a painter of cinema hoardings after attending art school in Bombay (now Mumbai). Using freehand drawing and vibrant colour, he depicted Indian subject matter in the style of contemporary European art movements, particularly Cubism.

The Indian Civilization series, also known as Vision of India through Mohenje Daro to Mahatma Gandhi, was commissioned by the Mittal family in 2008 and have never previously been on public display. Mrs Usha Mittal has lent the paintings to the V&A, where the artist completed a residency in 1990, to showcase the final works of this remarkable artist, often dubbed ‘the Picasso of India’.

Mrs Usha Mittal said: “Spanning mythology, architecture and popular culture, the Indian Civilization Series is the final achievement of M.F. Husain, an artist whose work was continually inspired by the traditions of India. I was privileged to see this series as it was created and am delighted that it will be shown at the V&A, a lasting tribute to Husain Sahib and his vision.”

The paintings were made in London, where Husain spent his final years immersing himself in books about Indian history, which fed into the varied themes of the paintings. Each panel explores a different theme, together creating a personal vision of India, which Husain called ‘a museum without walls’. Interweaving religious and symbolic iconography with historic figures and events, the paintings also incorporate memories from the artist’s own life. Indian Civilization is a tribute to the country Husain loved but had to leave after his life was threatened for portraying Hindu deities in the nude. He lived in London and Qatar in self-imposed exile from 2006. The artist’s initial intention was to paint 96 panels exploring the breadth of Indian culture; unfortunately he died before he could achieve this ambition.

Husain’s handwritten notes, describing his ideas, themes and stories for each painting and explaining the scenes depicted, will be included in the exhibition guide. A short film directed by Husain, Through the Eyes of a Painter (1967), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, will also be shown.

M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting were composed of 24 panels which make up the eight triptych paintings portray the following:

Hindu Triad – Husain depicts the Trimurti, the three principle gods of the Hindu religion. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu its protector and preserver and Shiva is its destroyer.

Three Dynasties – This triptych celebrates three ruling dynasties from India’s long and tumultuous history. Husain places the ancient Mauryan civilization centrally between two invading rulers, the Muslim Mughal dynasty (1525-1857) and the British Raj (1858-1947).

Tale of Three Cities – Husain presents three of India’s greatest cities: Delhi represents India’s nationhood, Varanasi its spiritual centre and Kolkata its culture and activism. Indian Dance forms – Husain captures the regional diversity of Indian dance forms, an integral part of high culture and festival ritual. Reflecting his love of both dance and the cinema, Husain explores how movement is captured on film.

Traditional Indian festivals – Husain portrays the colour and spirit of Indian festivals Holi, Tulsi Pooja and Poorima. These ancient celebrations and rituals reflect the passing of time and show the enduring role of religion and tradition in Indian culture.

Language of Stone – Husain uses the words of the poet Rabindranath Tagore to pay tribute to India’s great sculptural heritage. ‘How the language of stone surpasses the language of man.’

Indian Households – Husain reflects on the domestic lives of India’s citizens, showing the daily routines of three ordinary urban families.

Modes of Transport – This triptych presents the multiple journeys of India’s citizens as a metaphor for the journey of life.

A single painting of Ganesha opens the exhibition. Known as the remover of obstacles, Ganesha is a patron of the arts and letters, worshipped at the beginning of any endeavour.

M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Paintingexhibition was at the V&A Museum, London, from 28th May until 27th July 2014.