In pictures: Russian visual culture, 1905-1955

Marking 100 years since the October Revolution, a new Tate Modern exhibition Red Star Over Russia charts the dramatic visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union from 1905 to the death of Stalin…

 Fascism - The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascis

Marking 100 years since the October Revolution, when Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and Russia became the Soviet Union, the Tate Modern will host new exhibition Red Star Over Russia from 8 November 2017. 

Aiming to show how the seismic political events of the early 20th century inspired a wave of innovation in Russian art and design, the core of the exhibition comes from the collection of the late David King, a photographer and graphic designer who first began amassing his huge collection of Soviet-era artefacts in 1970 when he was the art editor of the Sunday Times Magazine.

“[In 1970] David was asked to prepare a special edition of the supplement dedicated to Leon Trotsky,” explained Natalia Sidlina, curator of Red Star Over Russia. “He began looking for images of Trotsky and to his astonishment, found none available. He received permission from his editor to go to the Soviet Union to find some images. While there wasn’t much success on this first trip, he learned that some of the images could be more easily found outside of the Soviet Union. For instance, he had much greater success working with the Trotsky family in Mexico and with booksellers in Paris.”

King’s extensive collection was acquired by Tate in 2016 and the exhibition is filled with propaganda posters, prints and photographs – some bearing traces of state censorship. “It’s a commemoration of David’s dedication to making visual history accessible to millions of people, through publications and exhibitions,” Sidlina added.

Here, we take a look at a few of the exhibition’s remarkable objects…

 


(Print on paper, purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate)

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1920, printed in 1966) by El Lissitzy (1890-1941). The Civil War, which started soon after the Bolshevik coup of October 1917, dominated the country’s social and political life until 1922. During the conflict between the Bolshevik Reds and the White Army which opposed unelected Bolshevik power, visual propaganda was of great importance to the Bolshevik party, resulting in a massive production of posters, leaflets and front-line newspapers.

 


(Lithograph on paper, purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate)

Emancipated Woman – Build Socialism! (1926) by Adolf Strakhov
. Certain pieces in the exhibition aim to show how the transformation of the role of women was central to the revolutionary project. The female worker depicted in this image is holding a red banner, which curators explain shows her portrayal as an integral contributor to socialism.

 


(Lithograph on paper, purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate)

Raise Higher the Banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin! (1933) by Gustav Klutsis (1895-1938). The illustration and montage style show the new, intense and precise forms emerging in agitation art. 

 


(Lithograph on paper, purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate)

Fascism - The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascism (1941) by Nina Vatolina. The invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 directed the propaganda effort towards mobilising citizens to action. Nina Vatolina’s poster, by contrast, addressed potential enemies at home.

 


(Gelatin silver print, purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate)

Soviet soldiers raising the red flag over the Reichstag, May 1945 by Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997). Photography was used for propaganda and poster design, as well as to document heroic and catastrophic wartime events. This famous scene of the red flag hoisted by a Red Army soldier over the bombed-out Reichstag in May 1945 is likely staged.

 


(Photomontage from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Catalogue of the Soviet Pavilion at the International Press Exhibition, Cologne 1928)

The Task of the Press Is the Education of the Masses by El Lissitzky (1890-1941) and Sergei Senkin (1894-1963). This photomontage uses enlarged press photographs interspersed with red triangular dividers, which aim to flag zones that illustrate Soviet industry, military prowess, leisure and sport.

 
 

(Oil paint on canvas, Perm State Art Gallery, Russia)

Stakhanovites: A Study for The Esteemed People of the Soviets’ Mural for the USSR Pavilion, 1937 International Exposition in Paris by Aleksandr Deineka
. Deineka’s painting fused reality with aspiration, as a depiction of a parade of Soviet nations on Red Square included the gigantic (unrealised) Palace of the Soviets in the background.

 

Tate Modern's exhibition Red Star Over Russia explores how Russian and Soviet artists created a unique visual identity over five decades. The exhibition opens on 8 November 2017 and runs until 18 February 2018.

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