Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Revolution: Russian Art (1917 – 1932) at the Royal Academy from 11th February to 17th April 2017 

Exhibition Review – Revolution: Russian Art (1917 – 1932) at the Royal Academy from 11th February to 17th April 2017 

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To commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the Royal Academy of Arts presents Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932. The exhibition explores one of the most momentous periods in Russian history between 1917, the year of the October Revolution, and 1932 when Stalin began his brutal suppression.

The exhibition will feature artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich and Tatlin alongside the Socialist Realism of Brodsky, Deineka, Mukhina and Samokhvalov, amongst others. Other media including photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain is featured alongside paintings. 

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The exhibition has over 200 works, which includes loans from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of the works have never been seen in the UK before.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932 takes as its starting point the major exhibition of 1932, which was presented in 33 rooms at the State Russian Museum in Leningrad, the 1932 exhibition presented a wide spectrum of Russian art from those first fifteen years after the revolution.

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The Royal Academy exhibition explores the complex interaction between art and politics in this turbulent period of Russian history. The first room explores the cult of the leader and how Lenin and Stalin were portrayed to the Russian people, in this room is a painting of Lenin in his coffin by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin which has rarely been exhibited and spends most of its time in storage at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

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If Russian art before the Revolution looked to the west and followed European styles, after the revolution the proletarian worker became the heroes. The room entitled Man and Machine  illustrate how artists glorified physical effort, industry and technology, recorded in painting, photography and film.

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The next room, Brave New World provides examples of how the Revolution had led artists to turn their back on the past and look for new and modern expressions of Russian art. One of the main pioneers was Kazimir Malevich who explored different aspects of abstract geometricism inventing Suprematism which proposed the visual phenomena of the objective world are meaningless. Malevich’s canvases were full of dynamic shapes, full of colour and energy.  

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The role of the peasants in the Brave New World was problematic and artists were commanded to portray the workers and peasants in a realistic, heroic manner. With practical problems of feeding a population, the Bolsheviks in mid-1920s began to disapprove of modern Russian art. The room entitled Eternal Russia show how the old Russian culture was used as a sign of national identity. dscn3094

The final two rooms show that Lenin and Stalin’s New Economic Policy in the 1920s and 1930s masked a country in crisis and any opposition was ruthlessly crushed. The exhibition included a reconstruction of El Lissitzky’s 1927 plans for the perfect apartment. These rather utopian ideals were encouraged by Stalin whose frantic modernization of the Soviet State masked the full reality of progress.

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Some of the highlights of the show include Marc Chagall’s Promenade, 1917 – 1918, Wassily Kandinsky’s Blue Crest, 1917, Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev’s Bolshevik, 1920, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s Fantasy, 1925, Alexander Deineka’s Textile Workers, 1927 and Kazimir Malevich’s Peasants, c.1930.

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This intriguing exhibition provides evidence how the 1917 Revolution provided a massive impetus for artist and others to create a brave new world. Like many revolutions, the original optimism is replaced by the practical realism of transforming a society. Many of the artists who tried to create a modern Russian art paid a heavy price for their endeavours.

Dates and Opening Hours  Open to public: Saturday 11 February – Monday 17 April 2017  10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm)  Late night opening: Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Our Video review available here

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here

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