Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture to open at the Royal Academy this weekend
The new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915–1935, promises an in-depth look at avant-garde Russian architecture during the period c.1922 to 1935. The exhibition seeks to make explicit the links between Constructivist art that emerged in Russia from c.1915, and Russian architecture in this period. It does this through the juxtaposition of large-scale photographs of extant buildings with corresponding Constructivist drawings, paintings, and photographs. This will, furthermore, be the very first time that many of these works have been on display in the UK.
1922 to 1935 was a period in which Russian architects, taking the lead from Constructivist art, sought to create and enlist a radically new design-style for the nascent Soviet Socialist state – with the whole of Russia in an intense state of renewal and construction. It was a process in which the two-dimensional visual language of Constructivism was to be transformed into architectural three-dimensions.
The Russian effort to create a new Marxist-Socialist society was, at its origins, allied to the artistic and architectural avant-garde. While a later move to Socialist Realism under Stalin would frustrate this dynamic relationship, the early years of Soviet Russia was a veritable golden age for radical artists and architects. What’s more, it ushered in a new level of alliance between these two camps, prompting a synthesis between radical art and architecture.
Artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Liubov Popova, El Lizzitsky, Ivan Kluin and Gustav Klucis would begin to significantly engage with architectural ideas, while architects like Konstantin Melnikov, Moisei Ginsburg, Ilia Golosov and the Vesnin brothers, would conceptualise their building projects as a form of art. The new Russian utopia was to have a completely new and utopian style of building – streamlined, flat-roofed, white-walled and with horizontal banded fenestration – in direct and intentional conflict with the style of the old world, of traditional low-built wooden structures, or the densely developed nineteenth century commercial and residential blocks.
This new architectural language has left its signature across the ex-USSR, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also in cities such as Kiev, Ekaterinburg, Baku, Sochi and Nishni Novgorod – in the form of residential buildings, industrial facilities, health, recreational and educational complexes, state headquarters and communications structures.
These now-iconic buildings – today often in a state of significant decay – have been documented over the past two decades in a series of photographs by Richard Pare. The Royal Academy exhibition presents Pare’s work with never-before-seen vintage photographs of each building either under construction, or shortly after completion. These photographic groups are, in turn, juztaposed with paintings and works on paper from the Costakis Collection, demonstrating the vital influence of avant-garde artists from c.1915 onwards.
Ultimately, this exhibition affords a glimpse into a world that was quite literally all-change – a period of genuine revolution in which political and aesthetic systems were to be overturned with equal vigour. Words: Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst