JOURNAL DECEMBER 2012 Featuring the prize-winning and finalist essays from ourÂ postgraduate writing competition
CONTENTS 03 |!
Welcome from Evgeny Lebedev
Russian Art and Culture Writing Competition
Alise Tifentale (City University of New York) - First Prize
The Peasant Woman Leads the Dance: Some Ambiguities Presented by Vera Mukhina’s S! culpture
Maria Starkova-Vindman (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) - Second Prize
Us or Them? Sovietisation of Non-Russian Children in Early Soviet Periodicals
Margarita Vaysman (Wadham College, University of Oxford)
Komar and Melamid’s Chernyshevsky concept
Charlotte Gill (University of Durham)
Kandinsky: A Shamanic Seer or a Mystical Cynic?
Yana Myaskovskaya (Smithsonian Institution/George Mason University, Washington D.C)
A Return to Tradition: The Role of the Russian Folklore Revival in Fedor Rückert’s Miniature Enamel Paintings
Amy Martin (Courtauld Institute of Art, London)
Olga Rozanova: Queen of the Folk Amazons
Russian Art and Culture / Journal, December 2012 / Front cover artwork: Natalia Goncharova, Backcloth design for the Finale, The Firebird, c. 1926 (Collection of Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky) / Page 4 artwork: Mikhail Larionov, Stage design with group of dancers and mask on floor, Le Soleil de Nuit, 1915 (Collection of Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky) / Design: rdgsmith.co.uk Contact: (Theodora Clarke) email@example.com / Website: www.russianartandculture.com
WELCOME FROM EVGENY LEBEDEV I am delighted to be supporting the first ever ‘official’ Russian Art Week, the Postgraduate Writing Competition and this Journal which is being launched alongside it through ‘Russian Art and Culture’. I want to thank you for your interest in what – if you are reading this - I am sure is a mutual passion of ours for Russian culture and its place at the heart of the London Arts scene, and indeed as an important element within the wider cultural life of Britain. You might well wonder at the fact that - despite the nations of Russia and Great Britain having ancient, historic and longdeveloped ties - there has been no Russian Art Week in modern times. It is for exactly this reason that I believe this exciting new initiative is bound for significant success and to become a staple of London’s annual arts calendar – it certainly deserves our full support and encouragement! I look forward to seeing you at the auction houses, online forums, lectures and other events that will come together this November to make Russian Art Week 2012 such an exciting one. Sincerely
добро пожаловать Я рад приветствовать первую Неделю русского искусства, конкурс аспирантских работ, а также появление этого журнала, издаваемого организацией Russian Art and Culture. Коль скоро вы держите в руках это издание, позвольте поблагодарить вас за проявленный интерес. Он, я уверен, предопределён нашей общей любовью к русской культуре, которая заслуживает быть представленной в самом центре лондонской культурной площадки. Несомненно, это событие явится важной частью культурной жизни Британии. Удивительно, что, несмотря на давние и разносторонние связи между Россией и Великобританией, недели русского искусства до сих пор не стали традицией. Именно поэтому я уверен, что эта отличная новая инициатива обречена на успех и в скором времени станет одним из главных событий в культурном календаре Лондона. Безусловно, она заслуживает нашей поддержки и поощрения! Я с нетерпением жду встречи с Вами в аукционных домах, на Интернет-форумах, лекциях и других мероприятиях, которые пройдут в рамках Недели русского искусства в ноябре 2012 года и сделают её незабываемой. Евгений Лебедев
Mikhail Larionov, Stage design with group of dancers and mask on floor Le Soleil de Nuit, 1915 (Collection of Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky)
EDITOR’s INTRODUCTION As Editor of Russian Art and Culture I am delighted to present our new journal dedicated to Russian and Soviet art. The aim of this online publication is to showcase and support the writing of up and coming graduate students in history of art. We wanted to give them an opportunity to have their academic work published. It has always been difficult to get your first piece of research published and in today’s tough economic climate even more so. This new publication therefore offers a unique platform for graduates to have their work recognised and read by leading academics and members of the public. It has been heartening to see how popular the study of Russian art remains around the world. Young scholars are constantly appearing. Excellent Masters’ programs at universities, such as at the Courtauld Insitute of Art and the University of Southern California, are producing a new generation of academics each year. For this writing competition we received entries from as far afield as Hong Kong and Budapest. This year’s winner is from New York and our runner up is based in London. The remit of the competition was deliberately wide. Candidates could address any period or subject within the field of Russian/Soviet art. This meant they could write on painting, sculpture, architecture, film, design or photography. As a result the submissions covered a wide range of subjects. Essays ranged from The Wanderers, Moscow Conceptualists and religious iconography to studies on specific artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Alexander Bogomasov. We decided to launch the Russian Art and Culture Journal this November to coincide with Russian Art Week in London. We are fortunate in having sponsorship for this new publication from Evgeny Lebedev, the proprietor of The Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers. He has been a great supporter and champion of Russian art and culture. We are also lucky in having such a distinguished panel of judges which consisted of Professor John Milner from the Courtauld Institute of Art, Dr. Maria Mileeva and Dr. Natalia Murray, from the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre. Theodora Clarke
RUSSIAN ART AND CULTURE WRITING cOMPETITION First prize this year has been awarded to Alise Tifentale, a PhD student at the City University of New York. Her essay ‘The Peasant Woman Leads the Dance’ focused on the ambiguities present in the Soviet female sculptor Vera Mukhina. Second prize was awarded to Maria Starkova, a PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Her essay ‘Us or Them?’ focused on the Sovietisation of non-Russian children in early Soviet periodicals. “Tifentale’s essay is a lively reappraisal of an able and important sculptor whose work was dominated by Stalinist interpretations. However, underlying it was an original and powerful modern sculpture. As women and sculpture are underrepresented in art history as a whole, it makes it useful to have a fresh view now that Communism is over. This essay also gives Mukhina an international context”. Professor John Milner "Her essay has a good analysis of the role of peasant woman in Soviet Russia. It should provide an interesting and exciting read to anyone interested in Russian art and culture”. Dr. Natalia Murray "Starkova’s essay is an intensively erudite piece of writing. It is a precise, meticulous analysis of Soviet cultural aims since through the lens of the Pioneer movement. This essay is impressive in its analysis of material. It is an original, very under researched subject. Also I appreciated how very difficult it was to condense such a large body of material from a PhD thesis and to reshape for a general audience.” Professor John Milner “Her essay was of a very high standard”. Dr. Natalia Murray
JUDGING PANEL Professor John Milner has been engaged with Russian art since completing his PhD at the Courtauld Institute in the 1970s. His book on the constructivist Vladimir Tatlin opened up the poetic and speculative aspects of Tatlin’s work and personality. John Milner has also written on Malevich, on Rodchenko and various other Russian themes, and has also curated a major display of work by El Lissitzky at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. In 2010 he curated an exhibition at the ArtSensus Gallery in London of Rodchenko and his Circle, focussing on Rodchenko’s photography in the context of contemporary, professionally trained photographer-journalists who worked for Novosti and other Soviet agencies. He has for a number of years taught Masters and doctoral students in Russian art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and in 2011 together with Dr Rosalind Polly Blakesley of the Department of Art History at Cambridge University, he founded the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre to encourage collaboration on the study of Russian art through conferences, including Art in Exile as well as Utopia I, II and III in 2011-12, which have attracted many scholars from Russia, from across Europe and the United States. But CCRAC also encourages contacts with Russian scholars, curators, and mutual study visits that encourage research in this field.
Dr. Maria Mileeva has recently completed her PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she currently teaches courses on Russian twentieth century art at both graduate and undergraduate level. Her doctoral thesis examined exhibitions of Western art in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s with a particular focus on the history of the State Museum of New Western Art (GMNZI), Moscow. Previously, she read Art History at Jesus College, Cambridge. Maria has also worked as an Assistant Curator of ‘Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970’, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in autumn 2008. Her research interests include cultural exchange between Russia and the West over the course of the 20th century, with particular focus on the politics of international exhibition design and the construction of art historical narratives as a means of defining national identity and cultural policy. Her latest research project explores the discourse of centre and periphery in Soviet cultural and institutional history by looking at a network of regional art museums in the peripheral outposts of Tbilisi, Yerevan, Baku, Kiev, Kharkov, Saratov and Kazan. She is the administrator of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC).
Dr. Natalia Murray was born in St Petersburg where she read Art History at the Academy of Fine Arts before taking the PhD course at the Hermitage Museum. In 1998 she moved to England; over the past five years she has been lecturing on XIX-XX c. Russian Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art and at the University of Sussex. Natalia’s biography of Nikolay Punin, The Unsung Hero of the Russian Avant-Garde. The Life and Times of Nikolay Punin (1888-1953), was published by Brill Academic Publishers in June 2012.
Theodora Clarke is Editor of Russian Art and Culture and founder of Russian Art Week in London. She is an art historian and lecturer specialising in Russian art and European modernism. She lectures widely on twentieth-century avant-garde painting and sculpture to audiences across the UK at museums, galleries, universities and associations. She has previously lectured at institutions which include the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Britain, Harvard University, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the University of Bristol and Cambridge University. Theodora has also taught adult art history courses at the Royal West of England Academy. Theodora previously worked at Christie’s and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol. She did her Masters at the Courtauld Institute of Art (2008) and obtained a First at Newcastle University for her undergraduate degree. Harvard University awarded her a dissertation grant in 2011.
The Peasant Woman Leads the Dance: Some Ambiguities Presented by Vera Mukhina’s Sculpture Alise Tifentale (City University of New York) “Male art is rather weak in the show, / Where to flee from the female domination? Mukhina’s baba overcame everybody / By sole might and with no effort.” Leonid Sobinov1 Russian sculptor Vera Mukhina (1889-1953) is most widely known as the artist of the grandiose stainlesssteel sculpture Worker and Collective Farm Woman (1937), which crowned the Soviet pavilion in the Paris International Exposition of 1937, strategically located opposite the German pavilion. However, Boris Iofan, the architect of the Soviet pavilion, should be credited for the idea of the sculpture; Mukhina won the competition for the implementation of Iofan's sketch and supervised its technical realization (together with two other female sculptors, Nina Zelenskaya and Zinaida Ivanova). Nevertheless, Mukhina’s interpretation was revolutionary.2 Therefore most of what has been published on Mukhina during the last decades, both in her native Russia and in the West, focuses on the Soviet pavilion in Paris,3 although it has not yet inspired such a rigorous and enlightening study as Karen Fiss’s book on the German pavilion.4 At the same time, the scope of contemporary research dealing with Mukhina’s oeuvre in general or with artist’s other works is rather limited.5 One of rare exceptions is an article by Bettina Jungen, “Vera Mukhina: Art between Modernism and Socialist Realism,” published in Third Text in 2009. This essay focusses on a sculpture by Mukhina, Peasant Woman (1927). As the previous most recent considerably detailed analysis of this work published in English dates back to 1953,6 Peasant Woman presents several challenges for an art historian. In this article I am addressing some of the issues raised by Jungen, especially the opposition between the formalistic and politicized readings of the Peasant Woman. In addition, this article views Mukhina’s sculpture in terms of gender and class notions of the ideological background from which it emerged. Finally, I also discuss the artist’s relationship with the official art establishment in these terms as well, considering Mukhina’s upbringing in a pre-Revolution bourgeois family and her career as one of few female artists in the theoretically emancipated but in reality largely patriarchal Soviet officialdom. By identifying some ambiguities in the current criticism and interpretations of Soviet official art, I hope to propose some perspectives for further inquiry that would lead to a thorough understanding of the contradictory and multilayered history of the official art in the Soviet Union. Vera Mukhina’s sculpture Peasant Woman is a commissioned piece for the exhibition held in Moscow in 1927 in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Do works commissioned by statesponsored institutions automatically become carriers of this state’s ideology, even when no direct political or ideological message can be clearly read from the work? Formally speaking, there may be nothing unequivocally “national socialistic” in Arno Breker’s idealized female and male nudes, nothing specifically “fascist” in the rows of obelisks of Via della Conciliazione in Rome, as well as nothing unambiguously “soviet” in Mukhina’s Peasant Woman. As Jungen has put it, “the formal solution is neither a specifically Russian nor Soviet one.”7 At the same time, Jungen points out that “the artist did not originally conceive the sheaves of grain with the sickle; these were demanded later by the competition commission as attributes of agricultural labor.”8 This discovery becomes of utmost importance when discussing relationships between artist and patron in a totalitarian regime. Indeed, Soviet official art in the West usually is analyzed in political terms.9 Even if the ideological
connotations of official Soviet art, which leading scholars of the field have discussed at length,10 are dismissed in this particular case, the integration of art within the functions of state and party plays a significant role. The fact that a competition committee could intervene directly in an artwork’s content and form, contradicts the modernist idea of artistic autonomy and individual creative expression in art, and seems to support politicized and ideological readings of all Soviet official art, including Peasant Woman. Yet, Jungen rightfully warns about the “danger of understanding such works of art solely in the context of Soviet ideology.”11 The author mentions Olga Kostina’s essay where she “perceived the ‘hypertrophic brutality of massive form’ and the ‘almost aggressive self-confidence’ of the Peasant Woman as an ideological sign of the totalitarian era and an anticipation of the kolkhoz peasantry.”12 To oppose this politicized reading, Jungen suggests that Mukhina’s Peasant Woman should be interpreted as a modernist work of art, especially in “the neoclassical tendencies of French and Russian modernism.”13 Mukhina definitely was exposed to French neoclassicism during her stay in Paris (1912-1914), when she worked in Antoine Bourdelle’s studio. After returning to Russia, Mukhina also was familiar with avantgarde ideas developed by her contemporaries. Artists such as Gustav Klutsis, El Lissitzky, and others rejected representation and experimented with sculpture and three-dimensional objects.14 Some critics have argued against a Paris-centered view in this period and declared that the first two decades of the 20th century was the first time when Russian artists did not follow influences from the West. Instead, they themselves “formed part of the avant-garde of world culture” oriented against realism.15 An example of Mukhina’s exploration of sculptural language outside the neoclassical tradition is the Flame of the Revolution (1923), a proposal for a monument to Yakov Sverdlov, communist party leader and the head of Soviet Russia (1917-1919). However, similar Cubist and Futurist influence16 would not reappear in Mukhina’s sculpture again. Mukhina’s preference of less radical approach in the late 1920s seems to coincide with neoclassicism in general assuming a leading position in Soviet official art, a tendency that eventually will lead to the establishment of Socialist Realism dogma as the method of Soviet art in 1934.17 In this context, Peasant Woman can be seen as a proto-Socialist Realism achievement.18 At the same time, it is possible to view it as a neoclassicist work. Jungen turns attention to the archaic trend in works of Mukhina’s teacher Bourdelle, among whose sculptures “many heavy-limbed and heroic female figures could be found.”19 Jungen particularly refers to Bourdelle’s Penelope (1907-1912).20 Although Mukhina’s Bather (1927) shows Bourdelle’s influence, the Peasant Woman stands out. The confrontational, selfassured, and maybe even ironic image of the Peasant Woman seems to be rather removed from Bourdelle’s inward-looking, contemplative, and melancholic Penelope and majority of his female figures. Vera Mukhina had mentioned her respect for the work of Aristide Maillol.21 Jungen in her article points to Maillol’s Pomona (1910). Even though some formal affinities between Pomona and Peasant Woman are obvious, so are their differences, especially in their respective methods of gender construction. The grace and nudity of Pomona and other visually pleasing Maillol sculptures could be seen as corresponding to mostly male viewers’ fantasies of total possession of a woman’s body, rendered submissive and available for infinite observation. Quite contrarily, Mukhina’s Peasant Woman is neither graceful nor nude, and absolutely not submissive. Her stance seems independent, active, and thus even threatening to a male viewer, her crossed hands and exaggerated feet implying a dominating presence. At this point it even seems possible to agree with some Soviet art critics, Mukhina’s contemporaries. For instance, Petr Suzdalev characterized the Peasant Woman as “promoting a new and idealized view of the beauty of the Soviet working woman of the 1920s.”22 David Arkin openly juxtaposed Mukhina’s work to that of Maillol, whose Pomona he called “a fanciful blend of early 20th century Paris and neoclassicism,” victoriously noting that “Peasant Woman was free of all such stylization or affectation.”23 Peasant Woman succeeds in avoiding a direct reference to the classical canons of female beauty as expressed in works of Bourdelle, Maillol, and other Western male sculptors. It appears as an exception in the endless row of nude and draped female figures produced in the classical guise of Venuses and
Aphrodites. Mukhina’s sculpture does not replicate the classical Western idea of femininity. It rejects softness, melancholy, eroticism or sensuousness, fragility, weakness, and elegance of the classical female figure. Rather it is an image of a certain independence and empowerment of a woman. It also can be seen as an idealized embodiment of Soviet policy of emancipation and thus a device of ideological propaganda. As Jungen has put it, “The official view was that Mukhina’s Peasant Woman supported the concerns of Soviet politics. She was seen as the embodiment of a healthy, strong and proud peasantry that stood for her country. She also represented the Soviet woman’s new self-confidence and willingness to give her heart and soul to her land.”24 Curiously enough, some of the comments made by male contemporaries betray the still patriarchal society where emancipation and gender equality was just another theoretical construction, not yet accepted or understood. For instance, painter and teacher Ilya Mashkov’s comment that “such a woman gives birth while standing, without uttering a sound”25 does not seem to praise the sculpture itself, it rather expresses male viewer’s reaction to an image of superhuman, almighty idea of Soviet femininity. The poem by Mukhina’s brother-in-law, famous opera singer Leonid Sobinov also does not seem to comment on the sculpture’s artistic merit but instead comments on the obviously unexpected masculinity and strength of the female image: “Mukhina’s baba overcame everybody by sole might and with no effort.”26 Quite untranslatable Russian word baba in Sobinov’s poem opens up whole avenues of further discussion. Baba is a colloquial word,27 generally used by male speakers describing females. It has a pejorative sound, and is used also as a swearword to address a man whose behavior is unmanly, or woman-like. Even more important, baba brings in volumes of Russian history and innumerable layers of gender, social, economic, and political constructions that were challenged right at the time when Mukhina created her Peasant Woman. The figure’s attire and especially one significant detail – her headscarf knotted under the chin – could have encouraged contemporaries to call her a baba. Jungen refers to iconography of Soviet mass propaganda imagery from the late 1920s as studied by Victoria Bonnell and argues that “the progressive peasant woman was characterized by a headscarf knotted at the back, the way it was usually found in the iconography of women factory workers.”28 Peasant Woman with her scarf knotted under the chin seems to ignore the current attributes of a progressive Soviet peasant woman. Furthermore, during this decade a peasant woman alone could hardly embody a progressive idea – if women appeared in Soviet political visual communication, then only as secondary and subordinate to men, and most often as urban factory workers, not peasants.29 According to Bonnell, “the peasant woman presented the most complex and controversial image in the lexicon of Soviet political art.”30 Thus Peasant Woman presents herself as an exception in the context of Soviet popular imagery of the decade – a rather heroic female image in time when male role models dominate, and a peasant among factory workers. The headscarf of Peasant Woman refers to the traditional, pre-revolutionary peasant woman or the baba who would not have invoked idyllic associations. Scholars agree on the deprived status of rural women in Russia before and also after the Revolution that had created the baba.31 The baba was a symbol of “the ‘darkest,’ most backward layer of the Russian population, a dead weight and a potential source of counterrevolution,”32 or, in other words, “the baba was not perceived as the fairer sex, but as the darker sector of the already dark peasant masses.”33 Lynne Viola adds that the baba is “illiterate, ignorant (in the broader sense nekul’turnaia [uncivilized]), superstitious, a rumor-monger, and, in general, given into irrational outbursts of hysteria.”34 Bonnell concludes that baba “signif[ied] the wretched, brutal, and patriarchal world of the peasant wife, who was subordinated to husband, priest, and police. When someone proposed outlawing the word baba at the first All-Russian congress of Women in November 1918, the audience roared its approval.”35 Clearly, the taboo word baba in post-revolutionary Russia connoted not only gender, but also class. The year when the Peasant Woman was created and exhibited “marked the beginning of the end of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the reemergence of repression as the basic modus operandi for Soviet rule in
the countryside.”36 Lenin’s class struggle ideology, originating from Marx’s and Engels’ observations in the industrial city, was projected onto Russian rural communities, thus legitimizing the elimination of economically more successful peasantry (so-called kulaks)37 and leading to collectivization. The reform “aimed at breaking down the old byt’ – the complex of customs, beliefs, and manners that determined the peasant’s daily life.”38 This reform was not necessarily perceived as something positive, even though “at the simplest level Soviet culture meant hygiene and health care, and knives and forks rather than a wooden spoon dipping into a common bowl, a remarkable message to a peasant who may customarily have left human excrement to pile up around the hut.”39 Quite paradoxically, the most oppressed part of the peasantry – women – also played the most important role in opposing the reforms brought by the New Economic Policy.40 Then who is Mukhina’s Peasant Woman with her retrograde headscarf of a baba? She seems not to be an oppressed, humiliated, and enslaved baba anymore, but also not yet a progressive rabotnitsa (factory worker) or a kolkhoznitsa (collective farm woman). Jungen argues that Mukhina was “unconcerned with showing either progressive or retrogressive peasantry, or the engaged woman of collectivization.”41 The author believes that Peasant Woman is “an ambivalent figure whose meaning oscillates between propagandistic definitiveness and neo-classical generalization.”42 Yet Mukhina’s career poses further questions about the relationship between an artist and the official art establishment of the Stalinist regime. Mukhina was born in a merchant’s family in Riga, one of the westernmost cities of tsarist Russia. Her upper middle class upbringing included studying art in Paris and spending summers in a holiday house in Crimea. After the Revolution she could have been denounced as bourgeois – an enemy of the proletariat – and persecuted. However, Mukhina had proved her loyalty to the new Soviet state in the first post-revolutionary years, also by taking part in “the monumental propaganda” program initiated by Lenin.43 In her diaries the artist had mentioned giving up inherited family properties for the benefit of the revolutionary government.44 The tsarist bourgeois milieu of Mukhina’s childhood and youth after the Revolution was replaced by its opposite, a society ruled by the communist party in the name of proletariat. The experience of two radically different worlds can be relevant to interpretations of Peasant Woman. For instance, Yelena Vasilyevskaya argues that “in this commissioned sculpture one can clearly feel a view from another social environment, mixed with fear and awe. (. . . ) [the sculpture] symbolized self-confident power of a new class allowing for no compromises. (. . . ) The goddess of abundance that the sculptress tried to represent turned into a severe and unyielding defender of the fruit of peasants’ labor.”45 Even though Mukhina had convincingly proved her loyalty to the Soviet government, she was not a member of the communist party and maintained friendships with “prosecuted artists.”46 Considering these facts, Jungen suggests that “Mukhina was never an obsequious state artist, but her social ideals and artistic forms were instrumentalised by the propaganda of the Soviet regime.”47 This paradox presents another ambiguity related to life and career of Vera Mukhina (and many other artists working within Soviet official art establishment) in need of further research and clarification. Even without becoming a member of communist party, Mukhina had a rather successful career. Besides Peasant Woman the artist received numerous other state-sponsored commissions, including portraits of academicians and Red Army heroes, such as portraits of Colonel Bari Yusupov (1942) and Ivan Khizhnyak (1942). Mukhina received prestigious awards, such as several Stalin Prizes, orders, and the honorary title People’s Artist of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. She lectured in VKHUTEIN (The Higher Institute of Arts and Technology, a Soviet analogue of Bauhaus in a sense),48 and she was elected a member of the executive council of the Art Academy of the Soviet Union (1947 until 1953). Apart from a brief “fall from grace” (1930-1932), when Mukhina’s family was deported because of an accusation against her husband (surgeon Alexei Zamkov), she was among the official, legitimate, and statesupported artists of the Soviet establishment. Jungen addresses this issue, arguing that “Mukhina’s adaptation of bodies to the requirements of Soviet art at the end of the 1920s was (. . .) the necessary compromise to survive as an artist in the Soviet
system.”49 The nature of such compromise can be scrutinized in order to make a clear distinction what an artist’s role and functions were in early Soviet Russia. After the Revolution, art was declared to be one of the official voices of the new state and its ideology, and artists could speak only in this very voice, not express their individual emotions or experiences. The same function was ascribed to all official art, whether it was early Soviet avant-garde or later Socialist Realism.50 There was no free art market, and the state was the only possible patron. Hierarchy of art institutions and their total control over commissions largely programmed an artist’s output and career. Being an artist in this situation is limited to being a “producer,” to having a set of professional skills necessary to fulfill the commissions, and it seems to exclude any discussion of a compromise with individual creative explorations. The case of Vera Mukhina promises a possibility of more complicated art history of the early Soviet Union as the traditional and reductive juxtaposition of avant-garde and Socialist Realism. Jungen’s reading of Mukhina’s Peasant Woman returns a certain level of autonomy to art created within a totalitarian, repressive political system. Further inquiry regarding class and gender issues, official art institutions and state commissions, as well as relationship between Western neoclassicism and Socialist Realism would add new depth to history of art of the Soviet Union and uncover new dimensions of interaction between art and ideology in general. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes I would like to express my gratitude to Claire Bishop for her comments on an early version of this paper. “Na vystavke s muzhskim iskusstvom slabo, / Kuda bezhat’ ot zhenskogo zasil’ya? / Vsekh pobedila Mukhinskaya baba / Moguchnost’yu odnoy i bez usil’ya.” Literal translation from Russian verse is mine. Quoted in Russian in: Bettina Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," Third Text 23, no. 1 (2009), 40, n. 16. 1
Worker and Collective Farm Woman was built in a factory in close cooperation with engineers and technicians. Use of new, industrial technologies (spot welding) and nontraditional materials (steel) allowed Mukhina to realize such ambitious and expressive features as a woman’s shawl, flying freely in the air – “a horizontal loop 30 meters in diameter, and receding to a distance of 10 meters” behind the two figures. See Vera Mukhina, A Sculptor's Thoughts, trans. Fainna Solasko (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1953), 41). See also: Dariusz Konstantynow, "The most responsible sculpture of the last twenty years: Vera Mukhina's The Worker and Collective-Farm Woman (1937)," in Art and Politics, ed. Francis Ames-Lewis and Piotr Paszkiewicz (Warszawa: Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 1999), 141-152. 2
In 1987, an album was published in Moscow dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Mukhina’s sculpture. It contains essays by Russian scholars (in Russian with summaries in English and French), but the publication is aimed at celebrating the sculpture, not at critical or art historical interpretation. See: Olga Kostina, ed. Skul’ptura i vremia. Rabochii i kolkhoznitsa: skul’ptura V.I. Mukhinoi dlia pavil’ona SSSR na Mezhdunarodnoi vystavke 1937 goda v Parizhe (Moskva: Sovetskii Khudozhnik, 1987). For a brief account on the history of the pavilion see: Sarah Wilson, "The Soviet Pavilion in Paris," in Art of the Soviets: Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in a One-Party State, 1917-1992, ed. Matthew Cullerne Bown and Brandon Taylor (Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 1993). Art and Power. Europe under the Dictators 1930-45, the catalogue of the eponymous exhibition (London, Hayward Gallery, 1995), contains a section dedicated to the Paris exhibition in 1937. Although the Soviet pavilion is not discussed separately, it is mentioned in chapters dedicated to the German and Spanish pavilions. See: Dawn Ades et al., eds., Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45 (London: Thames and Hudson in association with Hayward Gallery, 1995) and especially the following chapters: Dawn Ades, “Paris 1937: Art and the Power of Nations” (58-62); Marko Daniel, “Spain: Culture at War” (63-69); and Karen Fiss, “The German Pavilion” (108-110). One of the most recent publication dealing with Mukhina’s work focuses on the Worker and Collective Farm Woman as a tool used in construction of gender roles in the Soviet Union: Andrada Fătu-Tutoveanu, "Constructing female identity in Soviet art in the 1930s. A case study: Vera Mukhina's sculpture," Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov, Series IV: Philology & Cultural Studies 3, no. 52 (2010). 3
Karen Fiss, Grand Illusion: The Third Reich, the Paris Exposition, and the Cultural Seduction of France (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2009). 4
See, for instance, the following: a chapter on Mukhina in: M. N. Yablonskaya, Women Artists of Russia's New Age,
1910-1935, trans. Anthony Parton (New York: Rizzoli, 1990); a thesis: Anne Meredith Dalton, "The Brief Appearance of Russian Experimental Sculpture in the Wake of Lenin's Plan: Four Exemplary Artists: Sergei Konenkov, Boris Korolev, Iosef Chaikov and Vera Mukhina." University of Texas at Austin, 1991; the most recent, albeit fragmentary catalogue of Mukhina’s works with selected brief essays by Russian art historians on different aspects of her work: Gosudarstvennyi russkii muzei, Vera Mukhina, 1889-1953 (Sankt-Peterburg: Palace Editions, 2009); and a creative documentary film based on Vera Mukhina’s diaries, archival film footage, and re-creation of eventual scenes from her life: Ilona Bruvere (director), "Version Vera," 75 min. (Riga 2010). David Arkin, "Introduction," in Vera Mukhina. A Sculptor's Thoughts (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1953). 6
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 41.
Unfortunately, the author does not refer to specific source of this information. Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 38. 8
Some of the most recent examples: Socialist Realism: Inventory of an Archive, State Museum of Modern art of the Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow (2009), Behind the Iron Curtain - Art of Socialist Realism, gallery / auction house Jeschke van Vliet, Berlin (2009), and Reflections: Socialist Realism and Russian Art¸ Sackler Center, Guggenheim museum, New York (2006). 9
See, for instance: Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond, trans. Charles Rougle (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992); Matthew Cullerne Bown and Brandon Taylor, eds., Art of the Soviets: Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in a One-Party State, 1917-1992 (Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 1993); Vladimir Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two, trans. John Hill and Roann Barris (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Evgeny Dobrenko and Eric Naiman, eds., The Landscape of Stalinism: The Art and Ideology of Soviet Space (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003). 10
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism." 35.
According to Jungen, Kostina is quoted after a textbook 20th Century: People and Fates, published in St. Petersburg, Russia (2001). Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism." 35. 12
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism." 35.
For instance, on El Lissitzky’s prouns (“projects for the establishment of a new art as the interchange station between painting and architecture”) see: Penelope Curtis, Sculpture 1900-1945 (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 209; or on Konstantin Medunetskii’s “Spatial Construction” (1920), 197. Vasilii Rakitin analyzes Gustav Klutsis’s three-dimensional objects and constructions. Vasilii Rakitin, "Gustav Klucis: Between the non-objective world and world revolution," in The Avant-garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives, ed. Stephanie Barron and Maurice Tuchman (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980). On Russian avant-garde objects and sculpture of the early 1920s see: Magdalena Dabrowski, "The Plastic Revolution: New concepts of form, content, space, and materials in the Russian avant-garde," in The Avant-garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives. On the work of such sculptors as Piotr Bromirsky, Sergei Konionkov, Boris Koroliov, Aleksander Matveyev, and others see Yevgeny Kovtun, Russian Avant Garde (Bournemouth; St. Petersburg: Parkstone Publishers; Aurora Art Publishers, 2007), 225-236. 14
Dmitrii Sarab’ianov. Russian Art: From Neoclassicism to the Avant Garde, 1800-1917: Painting - Sculpture Architecture. (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1990), 192 (emphasis in original). Or, as Magdalena Dabrowski has put it, Russian artists “attempted to create a native modern idiom that would, in a manner similar to Cubism in France and Futurism in Italy, reflect and satisfy the formal and psychological preoccupations of the modern age.”Dabrowski, "The Plastic Revolution: New concepts of form, content, space, and materials in the Russian avant-garde," 28. 15
Yablonskaya in her reading of the Flame refers to Umberto Boccioni. Yablonskaya, Women Artists of Russia's NewAge, 1910-1935, 224. 16
Stalinist Socialist Realism was based on a certain understanding of neoclassicism and realism, made compatible with the ideological functions of glorifying the divine ruler, the communist party, and role models from the ruling class, the proletariat. See, for instance, Paperny, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two, and Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism 17
Jungen argues that “Mukhina never assimilated Socialist Realism completely; it was for her too regulated and
schematic” (Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 43). At the same time, a certain level of neoclassicism and realism that later became among the basic elements of Socialist Realism were among Mukhina’s stylistic preferences already in the 1920s, a decade before announcing the Socialist Realism dogma. Her Worker and Collective Farm Woman (1937) and some of later works such as We Demand Peace (1950) are often considered to be the essential examples of Socialist Realism. It is possible to view Mukhina’s sculpture (and Socialist Realism in general) in the light of Boris Groys’ assumption that Socialist Realism is a “part of the overall evolution of the European avant-garde,” which, in his interpretation, expressed itself “not only in the art of Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, but also in French neoclassicism, in the painting of American regionalism, in the traditional and politically committed English, American, and French prose of the period, historicism in architecture, the political and commercial poster, the Hollywood film, and so on.” See: Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond, 9. 19
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 38.
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 38.
Yelena Vasilyevskaya, "Minuya bogov," in Vera Mukhina, 1889-1953 (Sankt-Peterburg: Palace Editions, 2009), 5-6. The original source of Mukhina’s opinion: Mukhina V.I. “Khudozhestvennaya zhizn’ Parizha.” In Mukhina. Literaturno-kriticheskoye naslediye. Moskva, 1960, t.1., s.131. 21
Suzdalev quoted in: Yablonskaya, Women Artists of Russia's New Age, 1910-1935, 224.
Arkin, "Introduction," 10.
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 40.
Quoted in: Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 40.
Quoted in Russian in: Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 40, n.16.
See, for instance, Oxford Dictionaries, ба́ба 1. Oxford Russian Dictionary. Oxford Language Dictionaries Online (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press). 27
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 41.
Bonnell argues that “there was no unambiguously heroic symbolic image of the female peasant comparable to the rabotnitsa [female factory worker].” Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 82. Elizabeth Waters offers yet another perspective, stressing that the “male figure was chosen to personify the Bolshevik regime,” quite contrary to the “convention in Western art representing liberty and the nation as a woman or the practice, dating back to the eighteenth century, of deploying the female figure as an allegory of revolutionary struggle and revolutionary government.” Waters also argues that “for all that women’s rights were part of the Bolshevik program, they were seen as a secondary matter, subordinate to the political and economic struggles of the (male) working class.” Even after the Russian Revolution, the male figure remained the universal – the symbol of the proletariat, revolution, and the victory of the socialism. The female form, once allegory was abandoned, played only a supportive role, standing for women or the peasantry, subordinate social groups.” Elizabeth Waters, "The Female Form in Soviet Political Iconography, 1917-32," in Russia's Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation, ed. Barbara Evans Clements, Barbara Alpern Engel, and Christine Worobec (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press, 1991), 228-232. 29
Victoria E. Bonnell, “The Peasant Woman in Stalinist Political Art of the 1930s,” The American Historical Review 98, no. 1 (1993), 55. 30
Barbara Alpern Engel shows that the rural communities in late tsarist Russia were patriarchal, under the rule of the Russian Orthodox Church, and women especially had no rights and no power, not even talking about literacy: “the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church reinforced the patriarchal character of peasant households by emphasizing the need for unconditional obedience of children to parents and women to men. The laws of the tsarist state reinforced it too. (. . . ) In the family household, males as well as females remained subject to the father’s will so long as the father lived, and he deployed their labor and disposed of their earnings according to household need. (. . . ) “When a woman married, her husband’s authority replaced her father’s. (. . . ) Wifebeating served to demonstrate, as well as to reinforce, men’s authority over every aspect of a woman’s life, including the domestic sphere which by custom was her own. Men controlled access to the most important resource of peasant life, the land, which was held communally, not individually, in most of rural Russia.” Barbara Alpern Engel, Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia, 1861-1914 (Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). 13; 23-24. See also: Alfred G. Meyer, “The Impact of World War I on Russian 31
Women's Lives,” in Russia's Women, 161-89. Beatrice Farnsworth, “Village Women Experience the Revolution,” in Russian Peasant Women, ed. Beatrice Farnsworth and Lynne Viola (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 145. 32
Lynne Viola, “Bab'i Bunty and Peasant Women's Protest During Collectivization,” in Russian Peasant Women, 190.
Lynne Viola, “Bab'i Bunty and Peasant Women's Protest During Collectivization,” 189.
Bonnell, Iconography of Power, 82.
Lynne Viola et al., eds., The War Against the Peasantry, 1927-1930: The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 9. 36
The War Against the Peasantry, 1927-1930: The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside, 10-11.
Farnsworth, “Village Women Experience the Revolution,” 146-147.
Farnsworth, “Village Women Experience the Revolution,” 146-147. According to Szymon Bojko, “the illiterate, bullied peasants were suddenly uprooted from their patriarchal existence, from a state of degradation, and thrown into a whirl of events whose mechanism was unfamiliar to them.” Szymon Bojko, “Agit-Prop Art: The Streets Were Their Theater,” in The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives, ed. Stephanie Barron and Maurice Tuchman (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; 1980). 39
See, for instance, Beatrice Farnsworth, “Village Women Experience the Revolution” and Lynne Viola, “Bab'i Bunty and Peasant Women's Protest During Collectivization.” 40
Jungen, “Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism,” 41.
Jungen, “Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism,” 36.
Arkin, “Introduction,” 7.
See Ilona Bruvere, “Version Vera” (Riga 2010). Although the nationalization of bourgeois and aristocrat properties after the Revolution was most likely mandatory and forced – no private property existed in Soviet Russia. 44
Vasilyevskaya, "Minuya Bogov," 6-7.
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 43.
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 43.
Mukhina taught there from 1927 until 1930. In 1926, for example, the faculty included Alexander Rodchenko, Gustavs Klutsis, El Lissitzky, Vladimir Tatlin. For a basic outline of the VKHUTEMAS and VKHUTEIN procedures and practices analyzed in line with Bauhaus and Werkbund activities in Germany, see Curtis, Sculpture 1900-1945, 189-212; and Éva Forgács, “Parallel Fates? Weimar, Dessau and Moscow,” in The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics (Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 1995), 182-193. 48
Jungen, "Vera Mukhina: Art Between Modernism and Socialist Realism," 42.
See: Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism, 9. Besides, similarities can be found in other contemporaneous totalitarian regimes, for instance, in Italy. Johanne Lamoureux mentions the “Saint-Simonian ideal of alliance between political and artistic avant-gardes” and gives an example of the link between Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and fascism. See: Johanne Lamoureux, "Avant-Garde: A Historiography of a Critical Concept," in A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945, ed. Amelia Jones (Malden, MA; Oxford; Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 198. 50
___________________________________________________________________________________________ References Ades, Dawn. "Paris 1937: Art and the Power of Nations." In Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45, edited by Dawn Ades, Tim Benton, David Elliott and Ian Boyd Whyte. 58-62. London: Thames and Hudson in association with Hayward Gallery, 1995. Ades, Dawn, Tim Benton, David Elliott, and Ian Boyd Whyte, eds. Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-45. London: Thames and Hudson in association with Hayward Gallery, 1995. Arkin, David. "Introduction." Translated by Fainna Solasko. In Vera Mukhina. A Sculptor's Thoughts. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1953.
Bojko, Szymon. "Agit-Prop Art: The Streets Were Their Theater." In The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives, edited by Stephanie Barron and Maurice Tuchman. 72-77. Los Angeles, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.: Los Angeles County Museum of Art ; Distributed by the MIT Press, 1980. Bonnell, Victoria E. Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ———. "The Peasant Woman in Stalinist Political Art of the 1930s." The American Historical Review 98, no. 1 (1993): 55-82. Bown, Matthew Cullerne, and Brandon Taylor, eds. Art of the Soviets : Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture in a OneParty State, 1917-1992. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 1993. Bruvere, Ilona. "Version Vera." 75 min. Riga 2010. Castillo, Greg. "Peoples at Exhibition. Soviet Architecture and the National Question." In Socialist Realism without Shores, edited by Thomas Lahusen and Evgeny Dobrenko.
Us or Them? Sovietisation of Non-Russian Children in Early Soviet Periodicals Maria Starkova-Windman (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) In the years after 1917, the representation of children, as the first generation of Soviet citizens, inevitably referred to the new, radically different state of national existence brought about by the Revolution, and embodied a highly idealised view of the anticipated Communist future. Nonetheless, the theme of ethnic diversity within the USSR, as conveyed through the officially disseminated imagery of children, reveals obvious contradictions in this created ideal. The main concept of the genre was devised by the ‘one big happy family’ formula and was aimed at promoting ethnic egalitarianism and Soviet policies on nationalities, contrasted with the negative image of those in Tsarist Russia. Yet, on the other hand, the image of the newly Sovietised nations’ representatives generally followed the iconography of merely ‘younger brothers’, who had been emancipated by their elder, Russian comrades. According to MarxistLeninist thought, Communist culture was primary over any national culture.1 Nonetheless it was precisely Soviet Russia, as a result of its earlier Sovietisation and abandoning of its old ‘bourgeois’ national values, who was assumed to lead the international struggle for Communism. Hence the image, disseminated in centrally produced mass publications, resulted in a dualistic character: it promoted the idea of equality, while at the same time emphasising the ‘otherness’ of different Soviet nationalities (and often implying their backward, literally ‘less cultured’ status) in comparison to those of the Soviet centre. It criticised the imperialist Great Russian oppression of other nations and ethnic groups, and yet suggested the need for the former ‘oppressed nations’ to be educated and ‘cultured’ by the centralised Soviet administration.2 In contrast to their international communist allies, non-Russian Soviet citizens already constituted a part of a ‘happy’ Soviet state. This aspect determined that their iconography be focused on positive changes of Sovietisation, implementing such comparisons as Then – Now, Old – New, National(ist) – Socialist (or Soviet) instead of the Here – There, Enemies – Friends, Bourgeois –Socialist dichotomies in the iconographies of the foreign. In this context, images of children, who signified the new age and modernity associated with Communism (Now-New-Socialist/Soviet), once more played the most prominent role. Hence the officially disseminated iconography of a smiling non-Slavic- looking child inevitably signified the Soviet nature of the resulting happiness. Such images were disseminated in the press aimed at both child and adult audiences, as seen, for instance, in many issues of the Pioner journal or in evocative photographs from Sovetskoe foto. If pictured as smiling Young Pioneers, non-Russian children demonstrated the necessity of becoming Sovietised. As with the Pioneer iconography in general, such images promoted the importance of self-sacrifice in the name of collective happiness and therefore advocate for the abandonment of traditional cultural ways in the course of Sovietisation. The first page the April 1925 issue of the Pioner magazine, featured eight photo- portraits of smiling Pioneers, notably, none of whom bear stereotypical Slavic features but rather those of other ethnicities, as an illustration to Aleksandr Zharov’s poem entitled The Great Union. The poem compared the ‘great state’ to one large Pioneer detachment led by Lenin and to the ‘friendliest family’ of the working people. Its line ‘A different language, different faces; [but] one shared thought and goal’ provides a vivid summary of Soviet national policy: while many ethnic groups and nationalities were entitled to a distinctive mother tongue and physical appearance (‘national in form’), they were not entitled to different, independent thought (‘socialist in content’).3 The disseminated imagery of the new Soviet Pioneers was therefore aimed at bestowing the illusion that no ‘national content’ could exist and that all exemplary Soviet children shared exactly the same values.4 This notion, stipulated by Stalin’s view on nationalism, received an even blunter realisation in the 1930s. A photograph by Georgi Zelma, entitled Children at a Parade in Kiev and published in the November 1935
issue of Sovetskoe foto is a characteristic example of how the representation of joy and smiles was used to illustrate the idea of ‘one same thought’ and unity. The photograph appears to be a skilfully crafted photo-montage, combining images of smiling children of various ethnic origins and other people holding slogans with an idealised painted image of a propaganda poster featuring ranks of smiling New Soviet people of a distinctly Slavic appearance. Such a blend of idealised images with snapshots from reality further reinforced the notion of the inseparability of everyday life and most pleasant emotions from the centrally Soviet view of the Communist ideal, at least in the world of Soviet children. Pakhomov’s illustrations to Marshak’s book Poems About School (1936), also reproduced in a 1936 Koster journal, are also typical. They show mixed- gender pairs of children of different nationalities in their national dress (evoking picture examples from ethnographic albums) happily smiling on their way to Soviet school – the common source of their happiness. The theme of joy and happiness, as a uniting device of Sovietised nationalities, also determined the popularity of the ‘folk/national dance’ genre in Stalinist visual and performance culture. While enabling the demonstration of diversities of national forms, such performances and images alluded to the idea that a truly joyful life, worthy of celebration, had only begun under Soviet rule. For instance, Pakhomov’s 1929 design for a frieze painting The Round Dance of Children of All Nations in the House of Culture of the First Five-Year Plan in Leningrad included images of children schematically representing various ethnicities.5 While some children in the painting wear somewhat imaginary national costumes, others are shown with a Pioneer neckerchief suggesting that ‘all children of all nations’, united in a dance ritual, are collectively greeting the forthcoming Communist future. Unlike many adults (and potentially the viewer of the murals), all of them are perceived as if already experiencing the ideal unity, whilst their gestures and demonstration of two babies point towards the even more privileged status of the youngest among them – the generation expected to develop during the great age of Communism. Hence the iconography of happy Soviet children of various nationalities celebrated the ideal unity as if it were already present in society. Yet in reality it was officially admitted that many nationalities and ethnic groups had first to be ‘cultured’ and educated, i.e. Sovietised, in order to achieve this ideal. This demanded another approach in representing new, non-Russian Soviet citizens, which focused on their peripheral status and qualities, which were often represented as an obstacle to the Communist future. In fact, such cultures were viewed as incapable of developing into a Communist society on their own. This notion was supported by imagery which promoted all kinds of advancement, whether cultural or physical, from the Soviet centre into the peripheries. The image of the Young Pioneer, as an archetype of the New Soviet Person, fitted well into this formula. The Young Pioneer movement was required to expand vigorously in the so-called ‘national territories’ (natsional’nye oblasti) and among ‘national minorities’ (natsmen’shinstva) after the Fourth Komsomol Conference in 1925.6 Pioneers were ordered above all to spread the Word among other working-class or peasant children (literally, ‘to spread the appeals to unite among the masses of children’ or ‘to maximise [Pioneers’] social basis’) and to become their ‘mentors’ (shefy).7 In addition, in the years of the First Five-Year Plan, such a cultural expansion was complemented by the image of the physical expansion into peripheral territories of the state, including that of travelling and participation by Pioneers in ‘scientific expeditions’.8 Also, various photoreportages from the new territories (and so-called ‘road tales’), published for the Russian-speaking Pioneer as well as adult audience, constituted a visual analogue of such ‘expeditions’ and broadcast the same centre-based outlook.9 Participants in expeditions were often described as self-sacrificing in their efforts to ‘conquer’ the lands with harsh natural climates – thus often substituting the theme of the Sovietisation (‘conquest’) of other cultures with a broader one, that of total industrialisation and of Stalin’s campaign to ‘enslave nature’ in general. It is also worth noting that the theme of the necessary self-sacrifice in the name of Soviet power was subverted in relation to ‘national minorities’ (where the image focused mostly on the iconography of ‘Soviet happiness’), but was repeatedly emphasised when speaking of those leading such expeditions. For instance, an article in the 14-1932 issue of Zhurnal kolkhoznyh rebiat (The Journal of the Kolkhoz Children), dedicated to the First All- Union Pioneer expedition to Kazakhstan, was illustrated with an iconic image of a Pioneer blowing the bugle and described Russian Pioneers as being ‘unafraid of tarantula spiders’ and ready to sacrifice anything for Soviet
power during their trip to Kazakhstan. The Soviet state was therefore portrayed as the single source of rapid modernisation, substituting backward ways of life and futile religions with the technical wonders of Stalin’s industrialisation. Accordingly, the new Soviet citizens of these lands were often depicted as either on camels and happily greeting Soviet trains or industrial construction, studying in a Soviet school, participating in demonstrations and antireligious campaigns or smiling and wearing radio headphones as an indication of the joy brought by Soviet progress. In fact, radio symbolised such a leap in progress that anyone pictured wearing a radio headphone was seen as a progressive member of Soviet society. Typically, Fedotov’s book Mongoliia (Mongolia, 1932), illustrated by Tatiana Zvonareva, described how a Mongolian girl would not understand the concept of radio and would look for small people trapped inside the headphones.10 Such a formula was applied to the representation not merely of children, but also of adult citizens of the periphery who, by virtue of their association with old ‘backward’ traditions were often portrayed as ‘less developed’ than, for instance, the Young Pioneers. This appears to be the core message of the visual and literal material of the time, often camouflaged by titles and slogans about equality and friendship among the peoples. For instance, a letter from Russian Pioneers published in a May 1927 issue of Druzhnye rebiata was entitled We Want to Be Friends with All Peoples of the USSR and was illustrated with an image of Buryatian schoolchildren in a lesson. Yet the letter mostly consisted of comments about the Buryatian way of farming being the same as in the primitive age (pervobytnyi sposob) and of Pioneers’ questions about the Buryats along the lines of Do they still live in the same home as their livestock? Images of non-Russian Soviet schoolchildren, as well as non-Russian adults (particularly, women) at their studies therefore primarily served to assert the notion of their backwardness and their need to be ‘enlightened’ by the Soviets. Finally, local people were shown at work, as it was precisely ‘labour’ [trud] and hard work which was denoted to unite proletarians of all nationalities.11 The 3-1930 issue of the Chizh journal, for instance, limited the description to its child readers of various nationalities by images of the ways in which they worked.12 Accordingly, just as the theme of unifying happiness was perceived as strictly Soviet by nature, peoples’ labour was also represented as an essentially Soviet activity and hence its outcome belonged unquestionably to the Soviet state. This notion was central to the imagery promoting Stalin’s total collectivisation in general. The ‘Soviet way’ of labour was represented as significantly more modern and technologically advanced – it was totally different culturally (as it also was, by the way, to a Russian peasant) and, in order to be able to benefit from it, one had to denounce one’s own old cultural ways. Children, as agents of the new, were often portrayed not merely as performing labour, but as among the first to adapt to the new ways and to assist adults in this transformation. An article entitled In the struggle for the White Gold (Cotton) in the 25 (September) 1931 issue of the Pioner journal, described how thousands of schoolchildren and Pioneers aided the scientifically progressive agricultural expansion into the dry lands of Turkmenia. Therefore even such a traditional local industry as cotton growing was represented as significantly modernised by the Soviets, for the sake of the significant, from now on ‘national’ (state-owned) harvest. In fact, having engaged children as well as women of the local population, the new form of labour was promoted within the education, or ‘enlightenment’, discourse. Typically, children or women, such as, for instance, those gathered in front of a sewing machine as seen on the cover of the 19-1932 issue of Pioner were shown as happy and excited to engage in such labour, granted to them by Soviet civilisation. A story by famous Soviet children’s writer Lev Kassil, published in a 1932 Pioner journal, showed how a sceptical old man, a German communist who travelled to Uzbekistan to see his son and grandson, was so amazed by the results of Sovietisation that he even joined a local kolkhoz and started working again, despite his old age. Notably, Young Pioneers and other educated children featured in the story as an independent and advanced force: capable, for example, to challenge adults to participate in labour contests (sots- sorevnovanie). The article implied that all this was possible because ‘the old blind Asia had been transformed into a new, capable-of-seeing Soviet Asia’.13 It is worth noting here that a non-central, ‘local’ view on such transformations was not at all as homogeneous as the officially disseminated visual production was intended to demonstrate. A 1929
painting by Armenian artist Martiros Saryan, entitled The Old and the Very New, is one example of such possible variations. It shows a group of children, headed by two Pioneers, marching through a South Caucasian townscape.14 Although educated in Moscow (and then lived and worked in Paris) and acknowledged by Soviet authorities, Saryan produced an image strikingly different from those celebrating the implication of the impact of the new and of Sovietisation. Because of its composition and viewpoint, ‘the Old’ in the painting – the traditional townscape with people calmly going about their everyday deeds – is represented as ‘the eternal’ and as something that can hardly be transformed by the intrusion of ‘the Very New’. In fact, marching Pioneers and children appear very small and recall the everlasting turn of nature – they too will grow old, their games will stop, while certain fundamental things will remain unchanged. This image could hardly be acceptable in the later, high Stalinist years of the late 1930s, which were characterised by the celebration of the successful transformation of national territories and of achievements of the Five-Year Plans. This positive message was mostly promoted through a new direction in cultural production, this time directed from the periphery to the centre. Such a movement, however, was always represented as a response to the initial centre-periphery advancement and as an expression of gratitude by the Sovietised people to the state. Participation in the All-Union Exhibitions, for which national delegates had to travel to Moscow, the sending or presenting of various gifts to Stalin, and the dissemination of imagery showing thankful ‘transformed’ citizens all contributed to establishing the notion of a homogeneous support of Stalin’s reforms and of a successful cultural conquest of different nations. Accordingly, children, who were thought to have already attained the state of socialist happiness, played the most prominent role in such imagery, and non-Russian-looking children in particular became an essential element in the genre depicting children giving thanks to Stalin, as, for instance, on the cover of the 10-1937 issue of the Chizh journal, or the cover of the 10-1937 Rostov-onDon’s Koster magazine. The 10-1937 issue of Chizh explained to its readers that the ‘wonderful and happy’ life in the country had been achieved thanks to its leaders, such as Stalin. It stated that songs sung by proletarians of the entire world praised the Soviet state, implying that all the songs (likewise the dance) of a true proletarian should signify the same. A lullaby song of a Central Asian man to his son, printed on the following page, does not mention Soviet lands or Stalin, despite being apparently invented and having little to do with genuine folklore. Yet its illustration by Aleksandra Yakobson shows a peacefully sleeping boy under an image of Stalin, pinned to a wall carpet, suggesting that it was precisely the leader of the state who was responsible for Soviet children’s peace and harmony.15 ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes See, among many others, Yu. Slezkine, “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism”, Slavic Review, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Summer, 1994), p. 419. 1
A typical example of such dialectics is a letter to the Young Pioneers by Krupskaia, entitled “On the Friendship of Children of All Nationalities” and published in the May 1938 issue of Pioner. 2
Raznyi iazyk, raznye litsa. Mysl’ i tsel’ – odna.
See also Slezkine, pp. 414-52.
The mural itself did not survive. It was reproduced in the 9-1934 issue of Tvorchestvo. Its preparatory cartoons are now in the collection of the State Russian Museum, inv. n. ЖБ-1754. 5
Fedulova, p. 36. See also: “O rabote pionerov v natsional’noi shkole”, [26 October, 1925], in Fedulova, pp. 38- 9.
Quoted after the resolution of the Sixth Congress of Komsomol: A. V. Fedulova (ed. By), Vseosoiuznaia pionerskaia organizatsiia imeni V.I.Lenina: Dokumenty i materialy (Moscow, 1981), p. 32. 7
For instance, the cover of the 4-1931 issue of Sovetskie rebiata (Soviet Fellows); a story in the 9-1934 issue of Pioner, p. 1. 8
See, for example, the 2-1936 issue of Pioner.
F. Fedotov, Mongoliia. (Moscow, 1932).
As put in the aforementioned poem by Zharov, “a brother by labour is a brother by blood” (brat po trudu i po krovi brat). 11
SSSR”, Chizh, 1930, no. 3, pp. 7-9.
The centrist, ‘pro-western’ attitude is also echoed in the words of the old man, who exclaimed in awe: ‘Soviet Asia is just like Europe! No, it is even better – it is the USSR!’. 13
From the State Russian Museum, inv. n. Ж-2001.
The same formula of linking the theme of the joy of parenthood (motherhood, in particular), the theme of ‘greatness’ and vastness of the state, visualised through the exoticised portrayal of non-Russian Soviet citizens, with the that of the necessary gratitude to Stalin, was central to Dziga Vertov’s late film Lullaby (Kolybel’naia, 1937). 15
Komar and Melamid’s Chernyshevsky concept Margarita Vaysman (Wadham College, University of Oxford) The works of the Moscow conceptualist movement have long been accepted into the canon of twentieth century Russian art. By now equally revered both at home and abroad, Komar and Melamid, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, A. Monastyrsky, Dmitry Alexandrovich Prigov and others, as well as their works of the 1970s -1980s, represent that period of Russian history when everything was forever until it was no more. 1 Twenty years on, Russia still struggles to come to terms with its Soviet heritage, and the problem of assimilating the traumatic past into a complex narrative of everyday life still features prominently in Russian cultural practices. Reconceptualising iconic Soviet images remains a productive artistic strategy, even if the emphasis now lies on the positive aspects of lost cultural beacons.2 What made this reapproriation possible was the act of freeing these beacons from the tenets of ideology, initially accomplished by the previous generation of Russian artists, Moscow conceptualists among them. One of the most therapeutic strategies in which late Soviet and post-Soviet culture dealt with the oppressive aesthetical canon of Socialist Realism was devised back in the 1970s by the duo of postmodernist artists, Vitaly Komar and Alexandr Melamid. Sots Art, as their artistic method came to be widely known after a seminal 1986 exhibition in New York, was a part of a wider conceptualism movement. Sots Art used the sign system of socialism to subvert it, to create ‘a unique mirror in which socialist-realist text is reversed’3 until it acquires a meaning, opposite to its initial ideological message. If American and German Pop Art was a reaction to growing consumerism of the 1950s, its Russian counterpart Sots Art was an artistic reaction to the oversaturation of communal cultural and living space of the USSR with ideology and agitprop. Because of the never-ending party jubilee celebrations of the 1960s and 70s, from the fiftieth anniversary of the Soviet state to Lenin’s centenary, ‘mass overproduction of official ideology became more and more noticeable’,4 as Vitaly Komar himself observed. Red banners and socialist realist paintings, depicting scenes from Lenin’s and Stalin’s life, created a parallel artistic reality that existed alongside everyday life of the Soviet citizens. Sots Art was a way of rebellion and liberation, effectively ‘estranging’ visual clichés of Soviet propaganda, laying bare the devices of socialist realism art and thus destroying the imposed ideological reality. A typical Komar and Melamid painting of the 1970s and 80s would consist of a direct visual quote from an extensive arsenal of socialist realist art: a red banner, with or without a slogan on it, an image of Stalin or Lenin, a piece of ammunition — in other words, something immediately recognisable as a part of the official Soviet visual discourse. This image would then either be reproduced as it was and this way integrated into a new cultural space as a quotation, or alternatively would be combined paradoxically with elements of another system of cultural signs, as, for example, a bear, chained to a red banner in the 1982 ‘A portrait of a Bear’ or Stalin, surrounded by Greek Muses in flowing robes in the ‘The Genesis of the Socialist Realism’ (1982-83). Iconoclastic pathos of Sots Art was based on a challenge to the ‘communal optic’ of reception, essential for the functioning of socialist realist art. The viewer’s ability to reciprocate with the presented image was a direct criterion of its quality. Sots Art could be, in that case, defined as ‘socialist realism minus communal vision (communal reception)’.5 Constructing an image of an implied artist, sincerely believing in ‘standard official slogans, understanding them as a part of his own deeply personal outcry of his soul’6, sots-art looks back to the first years of the avant-garde art of the early twentieth century, when sentiments that would later become ideological clichés still rung true. Recontextualising these clichés has naturally involved a new look on the nation’s heroes, including Lenin’s favourite writer – Nikolay Chernyshevsky. The progenitor of literary socialist realism figured in Komar and Melamid paintings along with other ‘fathers’ of the nation – Marx, Engel, Stalin, Lenin. Nikolay Chernyshevsky was the author of What is to be done?, a novel loosely structured around its protagonist’s dreams. As a multipurpose idol created by the Soviet propaganda machine, Chernyshevsky was by the 1980s an apt synecdoche of all the dreams
that did not come true after all. In a characteristic case of sots-artistic dismantling of influential Soviet cultural artifacts, his novel itself became a subject of Komar and Melamid’s 1983 painting What is to be done?. Part of a bigger series Nostalgic sots-realism, the painting of What is to be done? illustrated the role Chernyshevsky’s novel played in Soviet consciousness, at the same time reflecting on it from the distance of failed illusions. Monumentality of the subject is undermined by the painting’s visual language, grotesque in its seriousness. A critical perspective on the big utopian narrative of socialism is combined here with nostalgic longing for its naïve joviality. Typically for postmodern art, Komar and Melamid’s work expects its viewer to be able to place the subject of the painting into the historical and cultural context it belongs to and to unlock all the meanings it had been infused with over the years. At the core of the painting’s narrative is the educational role the novel was supposed to play in the life of every Soviet man and woman. Central subjects of Komar and Melamid’s What is to be done? are two men, caught in an obviously staged moment of instructive conversation. Characteristic of the ideological reinterpretation the novel has received; this has nothing to do with the actual plot of the book and purely reflects Soviet cultural practices. An older man, dressed in a military uniform, with his hand draped protectively over the younger one’s shoulders, points somewhere, outside of the visual scope of the painting. Presumably, he is prepared, with the help and instruction of Chernyshevsky’s novel to lead his younger comrade into the fair future, away from the black stormy clouds of their past. The stern-faced youth with furrowed brows clutches Chernyshevsky’s novel to his breast, keeping it close to his heart, ready to follow the instructions both of the great writer and of the older man. The composition of the painting resembles a stage set, with its richly textured red curtain on the foreground, the sky, covered in dense clouds broken by a single ray of light as a backdrop, and a public park low-fence or a balustrade, on which the characters lean, at the bottom. The subversive ambiguity of these symbols registers immediately with any viewer, who is capable of being a part of that sarcastic dialogue that is the formative function of Sots Art, an act defined by Zinovy Zinik as the viewers’ ‘complicity with the work’7. This piece of red fabric could be a theatre curtain, turning the painting into a fairly realistic portrayal of some kind of social realism style performance of a coming of age story, maybe that of Vladimir Lenin himself. After all, one of the reasons for the novel’s enduring presence in the Soviet literary canon was the role it played in the intellectual upbringing of Ulyanov-Lenin. It could equally be a red banner of the revolution that was present in every official and educational institution of the Soviet Union. Both of these readings combined create a sense of performative and theatrical nature of the official Soviet rhetoric, here presented in its visual form, emphasizing its essential emptiness. Unlike Komar and Melamid’s more famous paintings, juxtaposing two or more wildly non-compatible objects, in “What is to be done?” there are no immediately subversive elements. It is the sheer theatricality and openly staged character of the depicted scene that makes its tragic, delusional character obvious. Backlit by a ray of sunlight, the two men are swept by the momentum of the historical movement towards their fair future, naively buying the empty promises of a better life on the other side of a shabby, fraying on the edges, but grand looking red banner.8 As much as Komar and Melamid’s earlier painting ‘Laika’ satisfied the stylistic imperatives of Soviet realist painting while subverting them by portraying a dog as a Soviet hero’,9 here the whole myth of Chernyshevsky and his novel is represented as whole, as a cultural artifact, an ideological ‘ready-made’ concept that does not need an accompanying subversive trigger to be exposed as failing and non-functioning. As well as Pop Art, its Russian counterpart ‘transfigures into art what everybody knows: the objects and icons of common cultural experience, the common furnishing of the group mind at the current moment of history’.10 In 1983, the ‘Chernyshevsky concept’ was exactly that. Part of the above mentioned series entitled Nostalgic sotsrealism, this painting exemplifies another characteristic feature of Sots Art – that of sympathetic treatment of its subject. Chernyshevsky and his ideas are seen as symbols of lost innocence and belief into the possibility of the change for the good. The surreal fleur of the painting is created through the atmosphere of a magical rite of passage. Separated from whatever lays ahead by the stone balustrade, the young man is graphically on the
threshold, which he is now, presumably, about to cross. This magical, ritualistic character of ideology as reflected in Sots Art has been verbalised by Vitally Komar himself, who saw the endless slogans of the 1970s as ‘magical chanting’.11 The defamiliarisation12 of the convincing propaganda fable is achieved through the juxtaposition of its private and public meanings. The painting internalises external propaganda sloganeering, masquerading as a work of art produced by an implied artist, convinced of the true nature of the proclaimed slogans. For this sincere artist, the great literary fathers of the nation indeed offered hope for the fair future, where Vera Pavlovna's dreams come true. Nikolay Chernyshevsky, a dismantled idol, is in this context exposed as a personificated concept of the great Soviet dream that did not. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes Alexei Yurchak, Everything was forever, until it was no more: the last Soviet generation, (Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006). 1
See, for example, art group ‘Chto delat?’ and their successful appropriation of Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s rhetoric at <www. chtodelat.org> [Accessed 6 October 2012]. 2
Evgeny Dobrenko, ‘Socialist Realism, A Postscriptum: Dmitrii Prigov and the Aesthetic Limits of Sots-Art’, Endquote: Sots-Art Literature and Soviet Grand Style, eds. Marina Balina, Nancy Condee, and Evgeny Dobrenko (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2000), p. 84. 3
Vitaly Komar on his art in Vpered k pobede kommunizma, < http://www.tsukanov-art-collection.ru/ picture.html?id=264&pic=0>, [Accessed 6 October 2012]. 4
Viktor Tupitsin, Slushanie po delu in Sotsart at < http://conceptualism.letov.ru/Viktor-Tupitsyn-Sotsart.html> [Accessed 6 October 2012]. 5
представили себе, как он изображает в виде героев агитпропа своих родных и близких. Как он с серьёзным вдохновением пишет стандартные официальные лозунги, понимая их, как часть глубоко личного "крика души" и подписывая их, неизвестно кем сказанные, слова. Затем мы поняли, что это - не просто персонаж вроде Козьмы Пруткова, а метод, которым могут пользоваться многие. Что это не просто трагикомическая пародия на травестию, а новое течение, впервые соединяющее официальное искусство с неофициальным”. Vitaly Komar on his art in Vpered k pobede kommunizma, < http://www.tsukanov-art-collection.ru/picture.html?id=264&pic=0>, [Accessed 6 October 2012]. Zinovy Zinik, ‘Sots-Art’, Tesktura: Russian Essays on Visual Culture, eds. and tr. Alla Efimova and Lev Manovich (Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 83. 7
Consider also their earlier painting of 1982 Medved, where a bear is chained to a similarly looking red curtain/ banner. Red banners in general, as constant part of Soviet reality play a dominant role in Komar and Melamid’s cycle ‘Nostalgic sotsrealism’. 8
A.C. Dunto, After the End of Art (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), p.126.
Ibid, p. 130.
“Как и все советские люди, я был окружен образами и текстами наглядной агитации и пропаганды <> Советские лозунговые призывы играли роль "магических заклинаний" и с детства были частью "идеологического пейзажа", в котором я рос”. Vitaly Komar on his art in Vpered k pobede kommunizma, <http://www.tsukanov-artcollection.ru/picture.html?id=264&pic=0>, [Acessed 6 October 2012]. 11
“…мы совершили акт, их "остраннения". Увидели тоталитарные агитпроповсие клише в контексте модернизма. Вернули их в первые годы революции, когда русский авангард ненадолго стал частью официального искусства”. Ibid. 12
Kandinsky: A Shamanic Seer or a Mystical Cynic? Charlotte Gill (Durham University) “Psychology, archaeology, ethnography! What has art to do with all this?”1 Thus the artist Kandinsky slandered a Moscow critic when considering the appropriate norms of art. However, this bold and rather radical young man was perhaps not yet the man who would later be called the father of abstract art. This essay hopes to demonstrate that Kandinsky not only contradicted this statement but in fact actively imbued his art work with ethnographic and predominantly shamanistic principles and iconography. It will take the reader on a spiritual journey examining several key works from the period 1900-1914 in relation to the following fundamental shamanic concepts: the shamanic initiation, the ecstatic souljourney and social healing, with the ultimate aim of achieving an increased sense of enlightenment regarding Kandinsky’s early artistic oeuvre. Shamanism can be defined as an anthropological and ethnical religion based on the importance of the spiritual and the healing power of the shaman.2 It is a phenomenon which utilises altered-states-ofconsciousness, the so-called soul journey, in order to interact with other cosmological realms, having the holistic aim of providing health, well-being, and equilibrium to the community and by extension the cosmos itself.3 The shaman himself is an omniscient figure who assumes the role of intercessor between humankind and the supernatural powers.4 The shamanic candidate must undertake a mystical journey beginning with his selection for initiation through to the climatic soul-journey and culminating in his ultimate aim social healing.5 When considering this phenomenon, with its seemingly exotic nature and its largely primitive ideals; one might wonder what this anthropological concept can really offer to the understanding of the art created by the widely-researched and popular artist, Kandinsky. In order to justify and to demonstrate the claim that Kandinsky’s art is imbued with shamanic ideology and iconography it is important first to ascertain the context of the artist’s ethnographic interest and inspiration. Kandinsky’s significant interest in shamanism can be evidenced in his visits and donations to ethnographic museums, such as the Dashkov Ethnographic Museum in Moscow, his own artistic collections, his awareness of and publications in the Ethnographic Review, and his attendance at and participation with the Imperial Society of Friends of the Natural Sciences, Anthropology and Ethnography.6 Subsequently, he submerged himself in shamanic and mythological literature, reading works such as the Finnish epic, the Kalevala; such inspiration led him to consider his own diverse ethnic heritage7, and perhaps most importantly created the shamanic context which fuelled his curiosity and led to the fundamental impact he felt his 1889 trip to the Vologda region had on his ethnographic interests and his artistic aims, referenced by Kandinsky in his memoir Reminiscences (1913).8 Having sparked his initial curiosity and fired in artistic imagination in Vologda, Kandinsky began to display many qualities accredited to shamans and seems to have himself experienced a form of ‘shamanic initiation’.9 Ubiquitous in the ethnographic records of the shamanic initiation is the experience of the so-called ‘shamanic illness’. This, defined as an episode of physical sickness or mental insanity believed to be caused by the spirits, was a characteristic feature of a spiritual deity choosing an individual for the shamanic role. For the neophyte candidates this disease acted as an acknowledgement of the position and facilitated them to both heal themselves and subsequently to heal others. 10 Kandinsky records that from a young child onwards he experienced periods of great unease, often typified by ‘inner shuddering’, nightmare and even depression which could only be relieved by drawing.11 Such experiences not only parallel that of the shamanic initiation but are also suggestive of the initiate’s feeling when he succumbed to his rightful shamanic role. Moreover, shamanistic accounts state that the shamanic illness may exhibit itself as a medicinal illness, such as smallpox. Kandinsky’s description concerning his Composition II (1910) then, is striking12:
“Once, in the throes of typhoid fever, I saw with great clarity an entire picture, which, however, somehow dissipated itself within me when I recovered...finally, after many years, I succeeded in expressing in Composition II the very essence of that delirious vision.”13 Kandinsky later recalled that several paintings had been inspired by this vision: Arrival of the Merchants (1907), then Motley Life (1907) and finally Composition II (1910). This is significant for it suggests that his entire artistic evolution in this period can be considered as a form of shamanic initiation, for the first two works are reflective of his early, fragmented style as he struggled with personal demons and the insecurity of his artistic vision, while the final work demonstrates his break-through to abstraction, the style with which he felt he could truly express his purpose. In shamanic terms, Kandinsky endured an episode of struggle and torment which could only be relieved through a radical break both with convention and his own past.14 Having endured the shamanic initiation, Kandinsky himself began to assume the role of the shaman which can be seen most apparently in his self-identification with St George, the hero of Russian folklore. In the figure of St George Kandinsky found a secure identity steeped in shamanic symbolism, in particular that of healing and regeneration.15 Kandinsky’s self-identification with St George began with the work Blue Rider (1903), where he introduces the symbolic emblem as a lone vanquisher riding mysteriously in a vast landscape a motif that was inextricably linked with the depiction of St George in literature and art. Such a motif was highly significant in its relation to shamanism for not only was the horse symbolic in shamanic literature, for often the shamanic drum was a metaphorical horse upon which the shaman could access the other cosmological realms, but also both Siberian and Buriat shamans acted as metaphorical ‘riders’.16 An allegory strengthened by Kandinsky: “The horse carries the rider quickly and sturdily. The rider, however guides the horse. The artist’s talent carries him to great heights quickly and sturdily. The artist, however, guides his talent.”17 In this statement Kandinsky links the artist and his talent to the St George horse-and-rider motif and thus by extension the shaman and his drum. For shamans, too, were required to ‘rein in’ their talent in order to achieve various trance-states.18 Furthermore, for Kandinsky, the colour blue was to become the defining celestial symbol19. Moreover, he equated the motif of a spiritual rider with the fabled figure of St George, overpowering his ‘dragon’ of materialism.20 Hence Kandinsky began to form his symbolic bluerider motif, which he identified with St George and by extension, the shaman. Indeed, as Kandinsky began to take up the shamanic mantle in his breakthrough to abstraction so too did the motif of St George start to become ever-present in his artistic oeuvre. His shamanic prominence is apparent in works such as St George I (1911), and schematically in Picture with White Edge (1913)21. But perhaps most significantly, the blue-rider motif allegorical of both St George and shaman was to become the name of the artistic movement founded by Kandinsky in 1912, a clear symbol of the significance he placed on it and his own self-identification with the shaman.22 Armed with such a secure shamanic identity, Kandinsky began to imbue his work with properties which made them allegorical to the shamanic altered-state-of-consciousness or soul-journey. In order to do this he turned primarily to contemporary innovations, utilising the animistic perspective, the psychology of perception and the deep synaesthetic connections that he felt between music and the visual arts. By permeating his art with such revelations Kandinsky added significant depth to his creations and ultimately produced his own shamanic cosmological realms. As the shaman drummed and chanted the tale of his journey the drum became his vehicle, in just the same way the canvas became the artist’s vehicle. Kandinsky’s Cossacks (1910/11), is arguably one of his most fundamental expressions of the shamanic soul journey. The painting utilises both shamanic iconography and appears to allegorically express the ecstatic experience of a soul-journey. The most obvious shamanic motif occurs in the left-half of the painting where seemingly schematic shamans battle across a rainbow bridge. These battling forms are more usually identified as two Cossack horsemen whose forms can be seen in the thick black curved lines hovering above the battling forms with red hats and clashing lilac sabres.23 However, this interpretation can support the shamanic representation, for Buriat shamans often referred to their drum, the means by which they could
transcend this realm, as being metaphorical to a horse, and the shaman an allegorical rider upon whose drum/horse could ‘ride’ into the other cosmological realms. Furthermore, Kandinsky depicts a red circular motif, similar in shape to a shamanic drum in the lower-region of the leftmost battling form. In addition, Kandinsky believed that colour was a highly powerful medium for communication and synaesthetically equated specific colours to specific musical instruments or sounds. Indeed, he states that “vermillion...thunders like a drum.”24 Moreover, ritual is fundamental to the shamanic soul-journey, the shaman must wear a mystical costume which constitutes a manifestation of the sacred, for the costume embodies a numinous microcosm. By the mere act of wearing it the shaman transcends profane space and is thus equipped to penetrate the spiritual worlds.25 When we compare Kandinsky’s depiction of the battling forms with shamanic costumes, such as the ones illustrated in the depictions of Minuisinsk Tatar shamans by Lankenau, we can see a distinctive similarity.26 Furthermore, Kandinsky depicts a group of schematised birds in flight defined by zigzag forms in the upper-register.27 This motif has further shamanic significance for it not only pictographically represents the shaman’s flight but also the shamanic costume frequently had ornithic connotations. Indeed the structure of the costume often sought to imitate the shape of a bird, with the implication that the shaman when wearing it could ‘fly’ between the realms.28 Furthermore, the rainbow is a common iconographic motif ubiquitous not only in shamanic pictographic schema depicted on drums but also in shamanic doctrine, for the rainbow was symbolic of the Axismundi, the means by which the shaman could traverse the three-tiered cosmos.29 Indeed, just below the battling forms we have the suggestion of a river in emerald and yellow marked by an ebony zigzag being crossed by indigo boats. For the Evenks the Axis-mundi was symbolised by a ‘mighty river’. One might wonder why these supposed shamans are fighting. But this again is an inherent part of shamanic ideology, the struggle of the shaman in his quest for cosmic equilibrium, indeed it was frequently reported that the shaman had to fight his adversaries in the other realms, something which Kandinsky appears to be suggesting here. Thus it can be seen that Kandinsky utilises symbolic shamanic iconography in order to convey the experience of an ecstatic soul-journey. Kandinsky took the role of the shaman as a healer, not just of individuals but of society and by extension of the cosmic whole to be metaphorical of the role that the artist himself must play in society, and that in just as the shaman utilises ritualistic performance so the artist must use his work for the teleological purpose of healing.30 Kandinsky believed that it was the responsibility of the ‘enlightened’ few, i.e. the artists, to find a means of cultural salvation. This led to his conception that the inner spiritual transformation of the individual, brought about predominantly through art and culture, was an essential prerequisite for social healing.31 An intention filled with shamanic significance for the shaman’s ultimate aim was to heal society but in doing so he must heal the individual. In 1904 Kandinsky began to adopt his shamanic role with the intention of social healing, for example, in Sunday (Old Russia), where he utilises imagery which had a profound therapeutic significance. Kandinsky illustrates Palm Sunday, in Russia, the emblem for Palm Sunday was not the expected palms but actually willow branches. The willow had a pagan spiritual significance for it was a symbol of spring and renewal. Furthermore, among the native peasants the willow had long been revered as a therapeutic emblem because of its medicinal properties. Thus Palm Sunday became known as ‘Verbnoe voskresenie’, willow resurrection. It embodied thus, an amalgamation of Christian celebration with pagan custom. There is evidence that Kandinsky knew about the pagan significance of the day which can be seen in a small sketch found in a notebook associated with the “Sunday (Old Russia)” theme which depicts a crowd of people dressed in costumes ambling in front of a walled-city. One character holds a large pronged-stick, emblematic of a willow branch from the Palm Sunday festivities. Kandinsky undoubtedly knew about the medicinal properties associated with the willow, for he reviewed Ivanitskii’s compendious volume Materials on the Ethnography of Vologda Province. In his book Ivanitskii had devoted several pages to accounts about shamans, and reports concerning superstitions connected with healing and various illnesses, including a list of specific herbs and plants which the Vologdan peasants utilised for their medicinal qualities32. According to Ivanitskii, the willow was valued particularly for its bark
which was used in an infusion with tea as a cure for sporadic fevers.33 Although no willow stems can be seen in the completed painting, the sketch provides evidence that Kandinsky was at least aware of the pagan reverence for ‘Verbnoe voskresenie’. In fact, it is not surprising that the artist would omit such a fundamental element to the understanding of the work in its final version. For such an omission was typical of the Symbolists, and was a strategy that Kandinsky both valued and employed throughout his artistic oeuvre. What is most significant about this painting is that it demonstrates, even at this early stage in his artistic career, Kandinsky’s emphasis on representing resurrection and further healing as allegorical for the necessity of cultural rejuvenation.34 In addition, Kandinsky’s breakthrough to abstraction further demonstrates the value he placed on shamanic social healing. For not only did he consider painting to be a vital instrument for the formation of a new utopian epoch35, but he also believed that his new abstract artistic language could be simultaneously therapeutic and understandable by all. In this language Kandinsky began by ‘veiling and stripping’ imagery to form the ‘hidden construction’, an artistic device which would circumvent the materialism associated with representational art while still enabling the spectator to understand the work by depicting hidden recognizable fundamental motifs. This use of the ‘hidden image’ would facilitate the spectator to have a primary role in the creation of the work almost as if he were participating in a mystical ritual.36 Just as, in a shamanic healing ceremony, the shaman involves the spectators in the healing process. The spectator, being compelled to decode symbolic mysterious images, would then be involved in the artist’s healing process which allowed him to be both enlightened and healed as he viewed the work. But perhaps Kandinsky’s most manifest demonstration of shamanic healing can be seen in the Blue Rider Almanac (1912), the pioneering text of the Blue Rider Movement. It was intended as an annual almanac which had as its primary function artistic synthesis. In fact, the whole conception of the book as an emblematic force for healing, even for salvation and exorcism, was to be found not only in its title, with its symbolic ‘blue rider’ reference but also in the vast range of ethnic illustrations ultimately related to healing selected, and indeed their specific arrangement.37 Furthermore, St George himself, the metaphorical shamanic seer, is depicted numerous times throughout the work, most prominently on the cover. Kandinsky did not choose the included works based on their formal resemblances but rather on their internal coherence, how they expressed and were connected on the grounds of what he called the “inner necessity”, through which the “fractured soul” of humanity might be restored.38 Thus in the manifold of artistic forms and ideas represented in the almanac Kandinsky created an artistic synthesis, a veritable gesamtkunstwek39, the culmination of his means through which he could achieve social healing.40 The almanac was thus steeped with shamanic reverence, for not only are there shamanic artefacts depicted in the work, and indeed the shamanic ideology is embodied, for the notion of the artistic synthesis as an apotheosis of internationalism is paralleled with the shamanic desire for cosmic equilibrium, but perhaps most importantly, the aim of the work is shamanic, the desire for social healing. Moreover, Kandinsky positions the illustrations in such a way as to imply therapeutic significance, for example, his Composition V (1911-13), is found in the centre of the book evocative of its healing significance only enforced by the conjoining Van Gogh Portrait of Dr Gachet, (1890), and acts as a culmination of a series of healing images41. The almanac thus had been consciously conceived as a ‘medicine book’ an instrument of healing, of ultimate salvation, prescribed to ameliorate a contaminated society infected by the numerous ills of decadence and materialism.42 The artefacts and illustrations chosen to illustrate the almanac were frequently symbols of regeneration that visibly highlighted the inherently shamanistic tone Kandinsky intended.43 Furthermore, for Kandinsky, St George, depicted on the cover, epitomised the shamanic ideological aim of the almanac. The journal itself was allegorical of the social remedy Kandinsky expected his new aesthetic to bring.44 In conclusion, it can be argued that in this period Kandinsky himself underwent a shamanic journey and a parallel progression can be found in his artistic language. First, he succumbed to the taunts of the spirit realm experiencing the emotional turmoil of a shamanic initiation, which led to the fundamental
breakthrough to abstraction. Once accepting the shamanic mantle, he secured himself a symbolic identity in the figure of St George, before undertaking multiple ecstatic soul-journeys expressed both through a new visual language and iconography and ideology loaded with shamanistic significance which all held the fundamental teleological aim of social and cultural rejuvenation as he entered the new utopian epoch. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes W. Kandinsky, “Critique of Critics” (1901, Moscow), in K. Lindsay & P. Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art (Boston, 1982) pp. 33-44, p. 42 1
M. Ripinsky-Naxon, The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor, (New York, 1993), p. 105 2
M. Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, (1964); N. Drury, The Elements of Shamanism, (Dorset, 1989),p. 1
Drury, The Elements of Shamanism, p. 1, 6; M. Winkelmann, Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing, (US, 2000), p. 57 4
C.f. Eliade, Shamanism
P. Weiss, “Kandinsky and ‘Old Russia’: An Ethnographic Exploration”, in G. Weisberg & L. Dixon, (eds.,) The Documented Image: Visions in Art History, (Syracuse, 1987), pp. 187-222, p. 197; P. Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia; The Artist as Ethnographer and Shaman, (Yale, 1995), pp. 6-10 6
C. McKay, “Modernist Primitivism?: The Case of Kandinsky”, Oxford Art Journal , Vol. 16, No. 2 (1993), pp. 21-36, p. 22; Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 6 7
Kandinsky described the trip as one of the most powerful experiences of his student life. Not only did the Zyrian people fascinate him, he described them as “brightly-coloured living pictures on two legs” but also the wooden houses of the peasants filled with carvings, which taught him to “to move within the picture, to live in the picture”, an experience which he compared with a “miracle”. Such an experience had on-going reverberations throughout his artistic oeuvre, for example, it inspired him to place great significance on the internal perception of an artwork, and led to the notion that colour and form can possess their own resonating powers, independent of the representational object: c.f. W. Kandinsky “Reminiscences” (1913), in Lindsay & Vergo Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, pp. 355-382, p. 362, 365, 368-9 8
C.f. Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 76
P. Vitebsky, The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul, Trance, Ecstacy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon, (Britain, 1995), p. 57; Eliade, Shamanism, pp. 33-66. Accounts of the characteristic ‘illness’ suffered by shaman initiate may vary, but the most common traits included: a nervous disposition and restlessness, a desire for solitude, a meditative cast, absentmindedness, headaches, dizziness, ecstatic seizures, hallucinations and sometimes a tendency to hysteria. Many of these characteristics were identified by ethnographers with whose work Kandinsky would have been familiar, such as Scheffer, Radloff, Potanin, Gondatti, Mikhailovski, Kharuzin, and Bogoras. Borgoras’ important article on the psychology of shamanism appeared in The Ethnographic Review in 1910, the same year Kandinsky spent several weeks renewing his contacts with his ethnographic colleagues. (W. Borgoras, “K Psikhologii shamanstva u narodov Severo-Vostoschnoi Azii” [On the Psychology of Shamanism among the Peoples of Northeastern Asia], Ethnographic Review (1910), no, 1-2, vol. 84-5, pp. 1-36). Mikhailovski had also dealt with the shamanic illness see V. Mikhailovski, “Shamanism in Siberia and European Russia”, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 24:62-100, 126-158 (1895), pp. 85, 87, 90, 147. According to Scheffer, the shaman may have been subjected to the disease since childhood, see J. Scheffer, The History of Lapland [English trans G. West] (Oxford, 1674) 10
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 76; Kandinsky, “Reminiscences”, pp. 364-5
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 74; J. Bowlt, “Vasilii Kandinsky: The Russian Connection,” in J. Bowlt, & R. Washton-Long, (eds.,) The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian Art: A Study of On the Spiritual in Art, (Texas, 1980), p. 8 12
Kandinsky, “Stupendi” [Russian edition of Reminiscences] (1918) in Lindsay & Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, p. 890 13
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 74; 9
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 72
Vitebsky, The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul, p. 76-7, p, 82; Eliade, Shamanism, p150-151; Drury, The Elements of Shamanism, p. 36; Mikhailovski, “Shamanism in Siberia”, p. 82-3 16
Kandinsky, “Reminiscences,” p. 370
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 79
Blue was a deeply significant colour for Kandinsky for he equated it with the spiritual, indeed he states that it is the “typical heavenly colour”; c.f. W. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, (1911) p. 75 19
A. Hoberg, “Overview of Blaue Reiter”, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011; P. Weiss, "Kandinsky in Munich: Encounters and Transformations," in Kandinsky in Munich, exh. cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, (1982), pp. 28-82; P. Weiss, Kandinsky in Munich-The Formative Jugendstil Years, (Princeton, 1979), pp. 85, 132, 146-48; P. Weiss, “Kandinsky and the Symbolist Heritage”, Art Journal , Vol. 45, No. 2, (Summer, 1985), pp. 137-145, p. 140 20
It is interesting to note that in St George I (1911) the figure of St George rides a blue (and thus spiritually powerful) horse dappled with gold specks, the piebald horse was the typical Siberian shamanic steed. Moreover, the hero’s hieroglyphic representation in Picture with White Edge (1913) is most similar to pictographic depictions on shamanic drums; c.f Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 72 21
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 95; Weiss, “Kandinsky and ‘Old Russia’”, p. 197; H. Düchting, Kandinsky 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting, (Germany, 2007), p. 25; R. Washton Long, “Kandinsky's Abstract Style: The Veiling of Apocalyptic Folk Imagery”, Art Journal , Vol. 34, No. 3 (Spring, 1975), pp. 217-228, p. 221 22
C.f. M. Dabrowski, Kandinsky: Compositions, (New York, 1995), p.31-2; P. Vergo, Kandinsky Cossacks, (Tate 1986), pp. 12-13 23
Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual, p. 80
U. Harva, The Shaman Costume and its Significance, (1922); Mikhailovski, “Shamanism in Siberia”, pp 62-100, pp 81-85 25
C.f. H. Lankenau “Die Schamanen und das Schamanenwesen,” Globus, (1872), which Kandinsky was likely to have known for the journal Globus was widely circulated. In addition, other authorities such as Potanin and Klements had illustrated Siberian shaman drums and costumes in other ethnographic publications. 26
Dabrowski, Kandinsky, p. 31; Vergo, Kandinsky, p. 8
Harva, The Shaman Costume, p. 14; S. Skirokogoroff, Psychomental Complex of the Tungus, (London, 1935), p. 296
cf, Vergo, Kandinsky, pp 22-25, who relates the castle on the hill and rainbow bridge prominent in Cossacks to Valhalla, the castle of the gods, a motif he argues Kandinsky took from the closing scene of the Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold, the first part of his tetralogy The Ring of Nibelung. This follows from Kandinsky’s apparent knowledge and interest in Wagner demonstrated both in his essay “On Stage Composition”, published in the Blue Rider Almanac and in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art 1911. 29
C.f. Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia
McKay, “Modernist Primitivism?”, p. 33
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, pp. 28, 38-9
N. Ivanitskii, Materials on the Ethnography of Vologda Province ,(1890), p. 153
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. 40
Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual, pp. 26, 143
R. Washton-Long, “Kandinsky’s Vision”, in J. Bowlt, & R. Washton-Long, (eds.,) The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian Art: A Study of On the Spiritual in Art, (Texas, 1980), p. 50; Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual, p. 129 36
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, pp. 93-4; Hoberg, “Vassily Kandinsky”, p. 29; R. Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, (Canada, 1938), p. 126 37
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, p. xvi
Gesamtkunstwek –total art work
R. Washton-Long, “Is the Blaue Reiter relevant for the Twenty-First Century?” The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011; D. Lewer, “Kleinkunst and Gesamtkunstwerk in Munich and Zurich: Der Blaue Reiter and Dada”, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25th-26th November 2011; A. Zweite, The Blue Rider, in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, (Munich, 1989), p. 39; Kuenzli, K. The Primitive and the Modern in Der Blaue Reiter and the Folkwang Museum, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011; Weiss, “Kandinsky and the Symbolist Heritage”, p. 142; Düchting, Kandinsky 1866-1944, pp 42-44 40
The series of healing images begins with a Bavarian reverse-glass-painting portraying St Luke, a painter and doctor who subsequently was named the patron saint painters and doctors. Luke is depicted with predominate attributes, the paint brushes and palette, his gospel book and the sacrificial ox. This work is followed by an Egyptian shadow-play-puppet replica, one of several illustrated among the pages of the almanac primarily for their metaphorical significance, denoting the construct that art can be made alive through the ‘divine fire’ of its creator. A full-page reproduction of the photographed Composition V follows this backed by a full-page replica of Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, the somewhat eccentric doctor who treated Vincent during his last few weeks in Auvers. The work has a fundamental therapeutic implication for not only is Dr Gachet himself illustrated but also in the foreground is the foxglove, the emblem of the doctor’s trade, although this flower wilts it is still the plant endowed with the medicinal property of a heart stimulant. C.f. W. Kandinsky & F. Marc, (eds.,) The Blaue Reiter Almanac, (1912), pp. 200-1 41
Weiss, “Kandinsky and the Symbolist Heritage”, p. 142-3
Weiss, “Kandinsky and ‘Old Russia’, p.191
Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia, pp. xiv, 197
___________________________________________________________________________________________ Bibliography Borgoras, W. “K Psikhologii shamanstva u narodov Severo-Vostoschnoi Azii” [On the Psychology of Shamanism among the Peoples of North-eastern Asia], Ethnographic Review (1910), no, 1-2, vol. 84-5, pp. 1-36 Bowlt, J. “Vasilii Kandinsky: The Russian Connection,” in Bowlt, J. & Washton-Long, R. (eds.,) The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian Art: A Study of On the Spiritual in Art, (Texas, 1980) Dabrowski, M. Kandinsky: Compositions, (New York, 1995) Drury, N. The Elements of Shamanism, (Dorset, 1989) Düchting, H. Kandinsky 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting, (Germany, 2007) Eliade, M. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, (1964) Goldwater, R. Primitivism in Modern Art, (Canada, 1938) Harva, U. The Shaman Costume and its Significance, (1922) Hoberg, A. “Overview of Blaue Reiter”, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011 Ivanitskii, N. Materials on the Ethnography of Vologda Province, (1890) Kandinsky, “Stupendi” [Russian edition of Reminiscences] (1918) in Lindsay & Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art Kandinsky, W. “Reminiscences” (1913), in Lindsay & Vergo, Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art Kandinsky, W. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, (1911) Kandinsky, W. “Critique of Critics” (1901, Moscow), in Lindsay, K. & Vergo, P. Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art (Boston, 1982) Kandinsky, W. & Marc, F. (eds.,) The Blaue Reiter Almanac, (1912) Kuenzli, K. The Primitive and the Modern in Der Blaue Reiter and the Folkwang Museum, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011 Lankenau, H. “Die Schamanen und das Schamanenwesen,” Globus, (1872) Lewer, D. “Kleinkunst and Gesamtkunstwerk in Munich and Zurich: Der Blaue Reiter and Dada”, The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25th-26th November 2011 McKay, C. “Modernist Primitivism?: The Case of Kandinsky”, Oxford Art Journal , Vol. 16, No. 2 (1993), pp. 21-36
Mikhailovski, V. “Shamanism in Siberia and European Russia”, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 24:62-100, 126-158 (1895) Ripinsky-Naxon, M. The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor, (New York, 1993) Scheffer, J. The History of Lapland [English trans G. West] (Oxford, 1674) Skirokogoroff, S. Psychomental Complex of the Tungus, (London, 1935) Vergo, P. Kandinsky Cossacks, (Tate 1986) Vitebsky, P. The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul, Trance, Ecstacy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon, (Britain, 1995) Washton-Long, R. “Is the Blaue Reiter relevant for the Twenty-First Century?” The Blue Rider: Centenary Symposium, 25-26th November 2011 Washton-Long, R. “Kandinsky’s Vision”, in Bowlt, J. & Washton-Long, R. (eds.,) The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian Art: A Study of On the Spiritual in Art, (Texas, 1980) Washton Long, R. “Kandinsky's Abstract Style: The Veiling of Apocalyptic Folk Imagery”, Art Journal , Vol. 34, No. 3 (Spring, 1975), pp. 217-228 Weiss, P. Kandinsky and Old Russia; The Artist as Ethnographer and Shaman, (Yale, 1995) Weiss, P. “Kandinsky and ‘Old Russia’: An Ethnographic Exploration”, in Weisberg, G. & Dixon, L. (eds.,) The Documented Image: Visions in Art History, (Syracuse, 1987), pp. 187-222 Weiss, P. “Kandinsky and the Symbolist Heritage”, Art Journal , Vol. 45, No. 2, (Summer, 1985), pp. 137-145 Weiss, P. "Kandinsky in Munich: Encounters and Transformations," in Kandinsky in Munich, exh. cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, (1982) Weiss, P. Kandinsky in Munich-The Formative Jugendstil Years, (Princeton, 1979) Winkelmann, M. Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing, (US, 2000) Zweite, A. The Blue Rider, in the Lenbachhaus, Munich, (Munich, 1989)
A Return to Tradition: The Role of the Russian Folklore Revival in Fedor Rückert’s Miniature Enamel Paintings Yana Myaskovskaya (Smithsonian Institution/George Mason University, Washington D.C) The last quarter of the nineteenth century in Imperial Russia saw a flowering of artistry and culture that historians often regard as one of the most significant in the nation’s history. Scholars refer to this period as the Silver Age, and this pinnacle of artistic and literary innovation lasted until the Russian Revolution in 1917. It was during this period that Fedor Rückert (1840-1917), a German artisan who owned an enamelware workshop in Moscow, began producing his historically significant objets d’art. His work is unique; unlike his contemporaries who worked predominantly in a revival aesthetic, alternatively called the “Old Russian” and the “Neo-Russian” style, Rückert incorporated Celtic, Jugendstil, and Scandinavian motifs into the decorative grounds for his caskets, boxes, and kovshi (ladle-like drinking vessels). These grounds often surrounded enamel reserves with copies of paintings by artists working within the ideology of the Russian Folklore Revival, an influential movement that tried to revive traditional Russian folklore and iconography in a response against the rapid industrialization of Imperial Russia. Among his contemporaries, Rückert alone manipulated the feelings of the fin-de-siècle into a cohesive style that concurrently embraced the past and foreshadowed the future. His work is simultaneously vibrant and reserved, whimsical and austere, and visually reflects his changing stylistic influences and his eventual development of a style that made him truly the embodiment of the Russian Silver Age. Nineteenth-century global industrialization changed more than the landscape; it shifted the population into an urban environment and challenged traditional social values. In Europe and the United States, factories replaced local artisans. An emerging middle class composed of bankers, factory owners, and merchants altered the social and economic dynamic within urban centers. Industrialists laid thousands of miles of railroad track to move goods and people over land, providing access to remote corners of the world previously accessible only by month-long journeys. The enamel industry in Russia was somewhat remarkable, as it allowed small, privately-owned firms to produce artisan-grade silver objets d’art until the Russian Revolution in 1917. As innovative as his later pieces undoubtedly were, Rückert’s early work embrace a well-established enamelware style that had roots in pre-Russian history.1 In Materials & Techniques in the Decorative Arts: An Illustrated Dictionary, conservator Sandra Davison defines enamel as: A vitreous substance normally applied as a dried frit to a metallic surface such as copper, silver or gold and fused to the metal...A true enamel must be so formulated as to have a coefficient of contraction roughly equivalent to that of the metallic substrate.2 This use of fired frit, essentially a finely-ground glass, to decorate jewelry, statuettes, and other small tokens was prevalent throughout the ancient world. At the height of Silver Age Russian enamel production, workshops used three primary techniques: cloisonné, plique-à-jour, and painted enameling. Cloisonné enameling involves separating a metal backing into smaller sections by wiring, and filling each individual compartment with enamel. Painted enameling, which was developed during the Renaissance and became particularly known near the city of Limoges, France, uses an intaglio process covered in translucent washes to create an image.3 Plique-à-jour enameling was the latest and arguably most challenging technique, which suspended panes of enamel between metallic frames, creating the effect of miniaturized stained glass. This essay will primarily explore the most immediately recognizable aspect of Rückert’s enamelwork:
his painted miniatures. By the time Rückert’s workshop ventured into painted enamels, the technique had a storied past in Imperial Russia, primarily with ceremonial objects and the Russian Orthodox Church. The technique had become widespread in Russia by the eighteenth century.4 Unlike contemporary painted enamel objects from France, which primarily depicted pastoral scenes in the Rococo style, eighteenth-century Russian enamel objects generally feature religious themes, suggesting their importance to the Church. With the establishment of large enamel firms in St. Petersburg and Moscow, workshops like Ovchinnikov and Khlebnikov began specializing in enamel portraits. Many of Fabergé’s eggs, frames, and other intimate objects also feature enamel portraits of the royal family, establishing a trend for the practice among many of the major firms. Moving beyond ceremonial vignettes and portraiture, Fedor Rückert settled on images of the Russian Folklore Revival for his painted miniatures. Rückert’s early work often incorporated graphic interpretations of Russian iconography. However, by the last decade of the nineteenth century his workshop produced enamel miniatures almost exclusively. Using the technique of enamel painting, Rückert managed to create hundreds of known objects with complex motifs. Although Rückert’s workshop was certainly not the only firm producing enamel miniatures, his are the most consistent in their treatment of Russian Folklore Revival paintings. Those objects attributed to his workshop primarily borrow from only several Russian artists working predominantly in the Russian Revival style, including the paintings of Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915).5 This essay will examine one such work – a small enamel box with a miniature of the Konstantin Makovsky painting, The Russian Bride’s Attire from 1889 – to better define the relationship between Rückert’s enamels and the avant-garde sources that influenced his work. Russian artists and craftsmen had extensive access to a visual vocabulary outside of traditional Russian art. The Imperial Academy of Art, established in 1757 in St. Petersburg, awarded travel opportunities to Russian artists, to educate them in both the Neoclassical and Renaissance styles.6 Shifting attitudes towards nationalism and the role of the artist in society, however, forced artists around the world to question academic training and the ideologies offered by national academies. Makovsky was affiliated with a group of Russian artists who revolted “...against the esthetic and pedagogical strictures of the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St. Petersburg in 1863.”7 This group, called the Society of Wandering (or Traveling) Exhibitions, was more commonly known as the Peredvizhniki (literally, the Wanderers). It would be remiss not to point out that the year the Peredvizhniki chose to leave the Academy was the same year that the Salon des Refusés was organized in Paris in opposition to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. In his definitive text on Silver Age art, The Silver Age: Russian Art of the early twentieth century and the“World of Art” group, art historian John Bowlt explains that many of the Peredvizhniki wanted to find an authentic Russian art, an art free from the influence of what they perceived as an increasingly industrialized and homogenous Western aesthetic.8 Incorporating international concepts from the Folklore Revival and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, these artists became instrumental in the development of the “Neo-Russian” style that became such a favorite for Rückert’s enamel miniatures. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the renewed interest in local folklore that swept across the European continent was influenced by a number of factors. Scientific innovations debunked the myths surrounding many of the natural phenomena previously attributed to magic and the meddling of fairy folk. Rapid urbanization and population growth created a “...nostalgia for the past and a feeling that the modern world debased everything – men, women, children, love, the cities, the nations, the race – even death.”9 This nostalgia encouraged individuals to seek out forms of escape, especially through what they may have perceived as the tales of a distant, romantic past. The preoccupation with the supernatural and imaginary still held the attention of the public as testament to this escapism. Like its Western European counterparts, Russia experienced a revival in traditional folk culture and lore towards the end of the nineteenth century. There was a particular interest in the kustar industry, which had existed unaltered in the Russian countryside for hundreds of years. Historian Wendy Salmond explains why so many artists and their patrons relied on the influence of objects produced in the kustar manner:
As in other countries struggling to construct a tangible national identity at this period, it was above all to ornament that Russian architects turned for the seminal ingredients of a revived “Old Russian style” in architecture and the applied arts. Motifs derived from the daily life of the peasant – from wood carving, embroideries, and laces – became especially important elements of this new ornamental language, because through them a direct and unbroken line could be traced that linked Russians on the brink of modernity back to their pre-Western roots. 10 In Western Europe, the Romanticism that inspired the Victorian fascination with the “Other” evolved into the Arts and Crafts movement, a social and artistic crusade that embraced artisan pride as a counterculture to the mass production of an increasingly industrialized age. In his essay titled “Ideas and Objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain,” Alan Crawford explains that, ‘I see the Arts and Crafts movement as a late episode in the history of Romanticism. It upholds the imagination over reason, feeling over intellect, and the organic over the mechanical.”11 The movement was primarily based on the ideas of Oxford professor John Ruskin (1819-1900), who romanticized the medieval craftsman as a figure that oversaw the entire conception and production of an object, and consequently represented the British past in a way that mass-produced objects never could. He and his contemporary William Morris (1834-1896) believed that, “By uniting art with labor, craftsmanship hoped to counter the fragmentation that had destroyed beauty in the process of degrading work.”12 Both Ruskin and Morris were involved in various social ventures to improve working conditions in Britain. Morris’s enterprises – Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co., Kelmscott Press, and Merton Abbey – are perhaps better known today, likely because of the enthusiasm and personal involvement of Morris himself.13 Although Morris’s socialist tendencies instigated little political change in Great Britain, their influence was felt much more strongly in Eastern Europe. Russia struggled with the comparatively recent abolition of serfdom and a continued discrepancy between the Intelligentsia, who generally accepted Western doctrine, and the proletariat, who still relied primarily on oral histories and local industry for their national identity. In The Silver Age, Bowlt explains how this disparity encouraged several sympathetic members of the elite to attempt a revival of traditional Russian art and folklore by supporting artists like Makovsky. Despite his influence as an important member of the Peredvizhniki, Makovsky remains virtually unknown to historians outside of Russia. Fortunately, some of his best-known paintings found their way into American collections before the Russian Revolution, and are represented at institutions such as the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. An issue of The Mentor from 1917 notes that, “...two of the most familiar and popular pictures in the art shops of the country are Russian. And both of them are by the same artist – Konstantin Makovsky.”14 Makovsky’s interest in storytelling stemmed from more than the Peredvizhniki fascination with Russian folk tradition. Rather than painting dramatic historical scenes like Repin or folk tales like Vasnetsov, Makovsky depicted subtle interpretations of seventeenth-century Russian traditions. Perhaps his lack of popularity stems from the understated nature of his work; on the surface, his paintings are luxurious representations of the Russian Renaissance, but deeper exploration reveals his talented use of light to convey meaning and his delicately critical approach to the Russian past. One of his most popular paintings in an American collection hangs in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and exemplifies this subtlety. Acquired in 1926 at the bequest of M. H. de Young, The Russian Bride’s Attire showcases Makovsky’s interest in the Russian Folklore Revival style. Makovsky painted the bride, dressed in a white silk embroidered gown and surrounded by her retinue. The bride looks thoughtfully towards another young woman, perhaps for reassurance. Her surroundings indicate that the bride is from a Boyar family; the large, well-appointed room features carved wood panels and painted motifs. The chairs are carved and painted in the “Old Russian” style, and a small enameled casket, overflowing with pearls, sits on the dressing table. Her relatives and friends wear kokoshniki decorated with embroidery, gold, and pearls, and a bridal headdress cascades over the edge of the table. The matriarchal woman combing the bride’s hair is likely the matchmaker who represented the bride in the customary arrangement process. In the background, a family member
forbids entry to a man carrying a casket – perhaps a gift for the bride from the groom’s family. The painting presents an ancient tradition; Russian marriages from the twelfth century onward were more than a mere economic transaction between two families. Two Svakhas, or Matchmakers, would oversee the entire courtship and ceremony. The ceremony ended with the bride’s Matchmaker ritually combing the bride’s long braid, since “In Muscovite Russia, only maidens wore their hair loose; combing the bride’s (and groom’s) hair symbolized their new status as an adult, married pair.”15 Makovsky, who must have been familiar with traditional Russian wedding customs, focused on the transitional nature of this moment. Although Makovsky presented a seemingly vibrant illustration of the opulent Russian past, he likely intended this painting to be far from a mere historical reference. Makovsky bathed the bride and the women around her in white light, alluding to the purity and innocence of her childhood. The light from the window, however, is the fading light of late afternoon; the bride will soon abandon the comfort of her childhood for the house of her future in-laws. Behind the bride, the man is bathed in shadow, and the darkness behind him likely represents her unknown future at the hands of a husband she has met only in brief interludes. Makovsky positioned the matchmaker between the bride and the doorway, creating a visual metaphor for the role that the matchmaker plays in this crucial transition. The artist’s use of soft pinks, golds, and pale blues to highlight the figures in the painting shows an evident nod to Impressionism; only his crisp rendering of the rug and furniture visually mimic the true “Old Russian” style. Rückert’s treatment of the subject matter shows a decidedly more decorative approach. The artist clearly borrowed the composition from Makovsky; the figures are identically positioned and similarly clad. The enamel miniature eliminates the right-hand portion of the composition beyond the matchmaker, erasing the man in the doorway. Unlike Makovsky’s original, the miniature features even lighting – the enamel painter rendered the tall wooden dresser in the far left of the composition with equal intensity to the figures in the foreground. The interplay between the glowing impressionistic figures is gone; the scene has a flat, precise uniformity. Although the miniature depicts a recognizable (and consequently marketable) motif, most of the original artist’s commentary on the tribulations of tradition and history disappears. The workshop achieved the enamel’s visual consistency in color and light through an acid wash process that created a matte finish on the surface. Compared to the shiny black, turquoise, and gold background decoration, The Russian Bride’s Attire seems almost to recede into the silver, as if flanked by a metaphorical frame of Western influence. The natural disparity between Makovsky’s original paintings and Rückert’s enamel interpretation should not disregard the fact that these miniatures still form a vital connection between the source material and the Russian Folklore Revival. As a comparatively small object, the enamel box was a portable artistic reference that a buyer could easily transport from place to place. Whether sold internationally or in Russia, its owner could proudly showcase his or her interest in avant-garde art without needing to acquire the original painting, and the boxes’ utility naturally added to its appeal within the domestic setting. For a Western market clamoring for authentic Russian enamels, Rückert’s vibrant wares presented both an international flavor and an allusion to the Russian Folklore Revival. More than any of his contemporaries, Rückert embraced the division in Russian historical influences and combined these variable motifs into work that exemplified the spirit of the nation.
___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes For further information on the history of Russian enamels, please see: Anne Odom, Russian Enamels: Kievan Rus to Fabergé (London: Philip Wilson Publishers Limited, 1996), 60. 1
Lucy Trench, ed. Materials & Techniques in the Decorative Arts (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000), 143. Odom, Russian Enamels, 14. 4 Odom, Russian Enamels, 14. 5 Although this essay will not discuss copyright logistics extensively, Rückert’s workshop did require permission to copy paintings or objects within museum collections at both the State History Museum and the Tretiakov Gallery. See Odom, “A Key to the Past,” 25. 3
Richard Harvey Brown, Postmodern Representations: Truth, Power, and Mimesis in the Human Sciences and Public Culture (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 161. 6
John E. Bowlt, The Silver Age: Russian Art of the early twentieth century and the “World of Art” group. (Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners, 1979), 15. 7
Walter Laqueur, “Fine-de-siecle: Once More with Feeling,” Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 31, No. 1 (London: Sage Publications, Ltd., 1996): 23. 9
Wendy R. Salmond, Art and Crafts in Late Imperial Russia: Reviving the Kustar Art Industries, 1870-1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 7. 10
Alan Crawford, “Ideas and Objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain,” Design Issues Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring, 1997): 24. 11
Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the craftsman ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), xi. 12
Boris, Art and Labor, 7.
William A. Coffin, “Russian Art,” The Mentor 143 (November 15, 1917), 12.
Carolyn Pouncy, The “Domostroi”: rules for Russian households in the time of Ivan the Terrible (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 221. 15
Olga Rozanova: Queen of the Folk Amazons Amy Martin (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) Olga Rozanova’s artistic life although brief, tragically dying early in 1918, saw her become one of the most important figures of the Russian avant-garde artists. Her impact on the Russian art world was momentous and spanned a wide range of terms from Suprematism to Cubo-Futurism, making it hard to group Rozanova’s dynamic works into just one category. Her work pierced through every spectrum of the arts during the Revolution and has led her to be, l believe, the most fascinating artistic characters of twentieth century. Women artists were now pushing themselves into the forefront of artistic action in Russia; John Bowlt suggests there was a growing female presence in the Russian art world by 1910 and even goes as far as to claim that without these strong and innovative women, many of the avant-garde’s plans would not have been possible. In fact it was Benedict Livshits, a poet and good friend of Rozanova’s who first described these female avant-garde artists as ‘real Amazons, Scythian riders!,’1 conjuring the image of bold, brave warrior women who were not afraid to push for new ideas and were in fact a world away from any cosy or demure conceptions about female artists. Fuelled by the speed at which the Revolutionary ideas were changing Russia and the timeless traditions and ancient crafts of her homeland, became fused together in Rozanova’s work to create a completely unique crystallized moment in Russian art. Thus I believe that no other female artist, or Russian artist for that matter, passionately applied this concept to their work during this period. Rozanova became the soul of the avant-garde, who adapted her own essence of what she believed to be a truly Russian revolutionary moment into a lasting legacy. The concept of using national and folk influences within Russian art became known as the term ‘Narodnoe Iskusstvo.’2 By using the same crafts, materials and styles that were occurring in peasant crafts and re-appropriating them into their own work, these artists were also helping Russian citizens to reconnect with their cultural traditions. In turn making them look inwards for inspiration in the twentieth century rather than externally to other European cultures. Yet it is important to establish what I mean when I say ‘folk art’ and what exactly determines something to be ‘folk’ whether it be a painting, lubok, a wooden toy or a ceramic plate. My definition of folk art is based on traditional Russian crafts which were created by and for the Russian public, not large canvas paintings by avant-garde artists but more simply, the grass roots of Russian visual culture, ranging from Orthodox icon paintings to satirical luboks, all of which would have been disseminated throughout Russia for many years, thus becoming deeply imbedded in the Russian psyche, whilst also retaining a wide and popular appeal. This can spread across a wide range of media from textiles, woodwork and architectural designs. When thinking of Revolutionary or Soviet textiles, artists such as Stepanova, Malevich and Popova spring to mind. However these were not the only avant-garde artists to incorporate their style into the textile industry and rejuvenate design. Olga Rozanova, a skilled painter in her own right, was I believe, even more influential than Malevich in making Suprematist revolutionary textile prints possible. Like many of the other avant-garde artists working in this field, Rozanova was inspired by folk ornamentation in her fabric and clothing experiments. As early as 1915 the first exhibition of Contemporary Decorative Art: Embroideries and Rugs on Patterns by Artists, was held in Moscow even before the 0.10 exhibition, which displayed works by Malevich and Rozanova, amongst other Suprematist artists. The idea that these new fashions were to be adopted by the everyday Russian citizen were put into practice on a practical level by the Verbovka Artel. This small group of women within the Ukrainian village were among many groups who wished to revive embroideries and handicrafts. They worked closely with artists, including Rozanova, who designed a number of sketches for them in 1917 entitled ‘Women’s Fashions’. This collective of women were founded by Natalia Davidova, an avantgarde artist herself, she was also the head of the Kiev Folk Centre. These sketches by Rozanova of handbags and clothes show her overwhelming acute sense of colour, shape and fabric and how all three
are equal components in making a visually striking piece that overwhelms and seduces the viewer. These sketches were among sixty of her works shown at the second Verbovka exhibition in 1917, in which Nina Gurianova believes Rozanova’s ‘constant concern with the texture of the objects she designed,’3 is evident throughout, and uses her sketch of ribbon to demonstrate Rozanova’s diverse influences. By combining ‘elements of ancient Greek ornamentation and geometrized plant motifs,’4 her strong borders between the colours and the subtle different shades of red are playful and demonstrate her acute awareness of colour, shape, and are incredibly similar in style to Popova’s textile prints. This demonstrates that these avant-garde ‘amazons,’ or women, did not give up their crafts entirely for painting. Instead they worked in these two fields simultaneously, as however ‘revolutionary in their art and politics they were they did not wish to give up their embroideries or purses.’5 Rozanova’s love of folk motifs and symbols also extended to her painterly works, where on canvas she tried to create work which plays on the everyday associations of certain imagery in popular Russian culture. Her series of eleven paintings entitled the ‘Playing Cards,’ exhibited at the 0.10 exhibition, alongside the work of Malevich conveys this. By mixing sharp bursts of angular shapes with the Neoprimitivist motif of the cards, a motif which was regularly found in lubok’s and everyday life. This subject was also being explored by Larionov at the time, in his painting entitled Soldiers Card Players of 1903. Gurianova explains that these cards were, ‘attractive as an obligatory attribute of contemporary urban folklore; for this reason they were among the signs of this ‘universal artistic language.’6 Cards in Russia were steeped in historical meaning and had important cultural resonance with the Russian public. From folklore, tarot readings to the face of cards being used in topical cartoons and newspapers, the card was used by the Neo-primitivists, who were attracted to the general media’s negative view of tarot reading, considering it a crude and boorish past time. These artists deliberately played upon these stereotypes and subverted them in their own paintings, thus through their works and its presence in Russian culture ‘phrases from the card-playing lexicon became firmly entrenched in the conversational idiom of society.’ Rozanova not only plays upon these folk elements but also introduces the idea of portrait painting, questioning another tradition and asking the viewer how one image can genuinely portray a person, emotion or idea. Gurianova goes one step further, claiming that Rozanova’s Playing Cards predicts the ‘aesthetics’ of pop art, claiming that the crude and coarse way they are painted combined with the repetition of the vulgar subject, here repeated eleven times, is reminiscent of ‘a hand painted photograph or brightly coloured postcard sold at a provincial fair.’7 Thus her works explore, to a certain extent, the ideas of mass culture and everyday objects being constantly reproduced over and over with no space for originality left. For Rozanova, Suprematism was in a sense a laboratory, this is evident when we look at Roaznova’s painting Non-objective Composition (Right of an Aeroplane,) which shows so clearly her main love and concern for colour, not restricted by colour theory like Malevich’s paintings, Rozanova invites a whole range of colours to clash with each other in her painting. This is combined with the play between shapes, almost exploding from the canvas and jostling each other for position, which creates a wonderful energy within her work. This laboratory meant that Roaznova could experiment and put into practice all her exciting ideas within two different spheres. That of high art and canvas painting and the second being traditional craftsmanship, which previously would not have accompanied each other, the latter of which Gurianova argues ‘boldly transformed the everyday into a living environment of art.’8 This idea still resonates today, with Rozanova’s patterns still being adapted and produced onto functional every day items. This proves that Rozanova had the ability to create colours and forms that were universally appealing and not merely consigned to the Suprematist movement in Russia at the time but live on in various forms. All these examples of Rozanova’s avant-garde paintings and designs have demonstrated the unyielding power of traditional Russian folk art over these artists. Consciously or not, these works demonstrate the passion she had to create a new kind of art in Russia, one that was influenced by these past cultural traditions but also determined to break away from them by using elements of past styles and mediums and re-appropriating them into her own works. These folk arts were so deeply imbedded in the Russian
psyche it is hardly surprising that after the Revolution fresh interest and focus was put on them, bringing symbols of folk arts back into the public’s awareness. Thus this new phase in Russian history was considered almost a rebirth, not only of the countries political systems, but also its arts, culture and people. As Lunacharsky wrote in 1921, the Communist party would lead the working classes ‘through the desert to the Promised Land,’ therefore likening this rebirth to almost a biblical event, demonstrating the significance placed on Russian artists to help invigorate and lead the way for the new and unified Russian people. Therefore I believe that these folk arts were celebrated by Rozanova and the avant-garde artists of Russia for their colours, mediums, styles and humorous stories which were all used to the advantage of these artists in their own works. These bold folk arts and crafts seemed to be the used for inspiration throughout Russian art and as Hilton argues ‘offered a fragile connection with national culture and a means of restoring traditional values which seemed to be threatened by modern conditions.’9 When Rozanova’s died in 1918 she had left not only a tremendous legacy but also a large hole in the Russian art world, one which would not be replaced, as Yury Annenkov declared that there was now ‘one less world in the universe.’10 ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Endnotes John Bowlt and Matthew Drutt, Amazons of the Avant-garde: Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova and Nadezhda Udaltsova, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2000. page 27 1
Alison Hilton, Remaking Folk Art: From Russian Revival to Proletcult, St. Martins Press, 1990, page 84
Nina Gurianova, Exploring Colour: Olga Rozanova and the early Russian Avant-garde, 1910-1918, G+B Arts International, 2000, page 129 3
Ibid, page 130
Alison Hilton, Remaking Folk Art: From Russian Revival to Proletcult, St. Martins Press, 1990, page 82
John Bowlt and Matthew Drutt, Amazons of the Avant-garde: Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova and Nadezhda Udaltsova, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2000, page 31 10
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Featuring the prize-winning and finalist essays from our postgraduate writing competition on Russian and Soviet art.
Published on Dec 6, 2012
Featuring the prize-winning and finalist essays from our postgraduate writing competition on Russian and Soviet art.