Posts Tagged ‘Varvara Stepanova

09
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd December 2016 – 12th March 2017

 

My apologies to readers of Art Blart, but my postings will be short of comment in the next month or so as I try to take as much rest as possible. I have bad hands which is preventing me from using the keyboard. At the moment I am using dictation software to do the writing for me. I will keep the blog going as much as possible because it is my form of therapy for my mental health.

Which brings me to this posting, another slice of the brilliance of the European inter-war avant-garde, this time from Russia. Design, intense colouration (or lack of it), and complexity of form are hallmarks of this “new, militant art.” Photomontage, form and propaganda go hand in hand with this New Vision. The photograph and the cinema were social and essential elements of this new world order.

Perspective shifted. Pictorial planes fractured. Points of view pictured the unusual: from below, from above, with few vanishing points contained within the image or photomontage. Films had no sound and often no story and no actors. They were experimental intersections of man, machinery, and the world. Art was exciting and revolutionary. For me, Aleksandr Rodchenko is the star of the show. You only have to look at images such as Mother, Pioneer with Bugle, Pioneer girl, and the two photographs titled Dive (1934, below) – both with a sense of weightlessness and perspectival difference – to understand the genius of this artist.

It is indeed a telling indictment that such creativity, in both Russia and Germany (and by default, the rest of Europe), was snuffed out by two dictators who imposed on art a (usually masculine) utopian purity which stifled any hint of militant subversion and originality.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

We are breaking with the past, because we cannot accept its hypotheses. We ourselves are creating our own hypotheses anew and only upon them … can we build our new life and new world view.

.
Lyubov Popova

 

 

Various artists. 'Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)' 1912

 

Various artists with Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Nikolai Rogovin, Vladimir Tatlin
Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)
1912

 

 

For the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci explains how artists such as Malevich, Rodchenko, and Vertov attempted to revolutionise Russian society through new means of artistic production – and how the styles developed by the Russian Avant-Garde still affect how we look at art today.

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962) 'Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest' 1913

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962)
Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest
1913
Oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 19 1/2″ (54.6 x 49.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918) 'The Factory and the Bridge' 1913

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918)
The Factory and the Bridge
1913
Oil on canvas
32 3/4 x 24 1/4″ (83.2 x 61.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935) 'Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying' 1915

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying
1915
Oil on canvas
22 7/8 x 19″ (58.1 x 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924) 'Untitled' c. 1916-17

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924)
Untitled
c. 1916-17
Gouache on board
19 1/2 x 15 1/2″ (49.5 x 39.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich. 'Suprematist Composition: White on White' 1918

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: White on White
1918
Oil on canvas
31 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (79.4 x 79.4 cm)
1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. ' Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)' 1918

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)
1918
Oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (81.9 x 79.4 cm)
Gift of the artist, through Jay Leyda

 

 

This work belongs to a series of eight black paintings Rodchenko made in direct response to a group of white paintings of the same year by the older and more established artist Kazimir Malevich. Malevich relied on a severely reduced palette of whites to suggest a floating form in an infinite spatial expanse; Rodchenko moved toward eliminating colour completely in order to focus instead on the material quality of the paintings surface. “Where the black works are winning is in the fact that they have no colour, they are strong through painting …,” declared artist Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko’s wife. “Nothing besides painting exists.” Both series were first shown in Moscow in April 1919, in the 10th State Exhibition: Non-Objective Art and Suprematism. The black works were received with enthusiasm and helped establish Rodchenko as a leader of the Russian avant-garde. (MoMA gallery label 2015)

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956) 'Flight of Forms' 1919

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956)
Flight of Forms
1919
Gouache and pencil on paper
51 1/8 x 51 1/2″ (129.7 x 130.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

A new art was needed, armed by technology and chemistry, an art that stood side by side with socialist industry, a new, militant art, which could organize the will of the masses.

.
Gustav Klutsis

 

 

In the first decades after the 1917 Revolution, a central focus of the nascent Soviet Union was the modernisation of its vast territories. Through a series of comprehensive economic development plans, the socialist state attempted to institute rapid industrialisation, collectivise agriculture, achieve nationwide literacy, and update the infrastructure of towns and cities. Artists, often working in official capacities, captured these aspirations in a variety of projects, many of which were propagandistic.

Some turned to agitational photomontage, in which photographs and images culled from mass media were spliced together to create ideologically charged designs for posters, book covers, advertisements, and postcards. Artists also made illustrations for children’s books that feature didactic tales aimed at rallying the next generation of Soviet citizens. Architects were tasked with reconceiving domestic and civic spaces in order to advance a communal way of life, reflected in studies for buildings and triumphant photographs of construction. While much of this work celebrates Soviet might and ingenuity, Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime began to reign in the activities of artists and other cultural producers in the 1920s, terminating this period of utopian innovation in the early 1930s with the declaration of Socialist Realism as the official Soviet style.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 1 D' 1920

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 1 D
1920
One from a portfolio of eleven lithographs
Composition: 8 7/16 x 10 9/16″ (21.5 x 26.9 cm); sheet: 13 1/2 x 17 5/8″ (34.3 x 44.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vincent d’Aquila and Harry Soviak Bequest, by exchange, Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund, Orentreich Family Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment, Mrs. Sash A. Spencer, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Peter H. Friedland, Maud I. Welles, Deborah Wye Endowment Fund, Riva Castlemen Endowment Fund, Lily Auchincloss Fund, Monroe Wheeler Fund, and John M. Shapiro
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 19D' 1920 or 1921

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 19D
1920 or 1921
Gesso, oil, varnish, crayon, colored papers, sandpaper, graph paper, cardboard, metallic paint, and metal foil on plywood
38 3/8 x 38 1/4″ (97.5 x 97.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katherine S. Dreier Bequest

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Spatial Construction no. 12' c. 1920

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Spatial Construction no. 12
c. 1920
Plywood, open construction partially painted with aluminum paint, and wire
24 x 33 x 18 1/2″ (61 x 83.7 x 47 cm)
Acquisition made possible through the extraordinary efforts of George and Zinaida Costakis, and through the Nate B. and Frances Spingold, Matthew H. and Erna Futter, and Enid A. Haupt Funds

 

 

The nesting ovals that compose this construction were measured out on a single sheet of aluminium-painted plywood, precisely cut, then rotated and suspended to make a three-dimensional object suggestive of planetary orbits. It was made at a time of both civic turmoil and great possibility in Russia, when Rodchenko and his fellow Constructivist artists sought to apply aesthetic ideals to everyday materials. They hoped their approach to art would help create a new language for the Communist state. Reflecting back on this time, Rodchenko said, “We created a new understanding of beauty, and enlarged the concept of art.”

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954) 'Teapot' c. 1923

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954)
Teapot
c. 1923
Porcelain with overglaze painted decoration
5 1/2 x 4 1/2″ (14 x 11.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Estée and Joseph Lauder Design Fund

 

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

 

Installation views of A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Robert Gerhardt

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, an exhibition that brings together 260 works from MoMA’s collection, tracing the arc of a period of artistic innovation between 1912 and 1935. The exhibition will be on view December 3, 2016 – March 12, 2017. Planned in anticipation of the centennial year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the exhibition highlights breakthrough developments in the conception of Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as in avant-garde poetry, theater, photography, and film, by such figures as Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, and Dziga Vertov, among others. The exhibition features a rich cross-section of works across several mediums – opening with displays of pioneering non-objective paintings, prints, and drawings from the years leading up to and immediately following the Revolution, followed by a suite of galleries featuring photography, film, graphic design, and utilitarian objects, a transition that reflects the shift of avant-garde production in the 1920s. Made in response to changing social and political conditions, these works probe and suggest the myriad ways that a revolution can manifest itself in an object. A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; with Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

A series of works by artists including Natalia Goncharova and her husband and artistic collaborator Mikhail Larionov open the exhibition. Goncharova and Larionov sought to combine Western European developments such as Cubism and Futurism with a distinctly Russian character, drawing on history, folklore, and religious motifs for inspiration. One outgrowth of their efforts was Rayonism, an abstract style that derived its name from the use of dynamic rays of contrasting colour, exemplified in Goncharova’s Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest (1913). A hallmark of this period was a fertile collaboration between painters and poets that resulted in illustrated books, also on view in the exhibition. These collaborations rejected fine-art book traditions in favour of small, distinctly handmade volumes, such as the rare book Worldbackwards (1912), shown in an astonishing four variations, each with a unique, collaged cover.

Radical new efforts in painting and poetry are also featured, such as an unpublished, uncut sheet from poets Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov’s Te li le (1914), with images by Olga Rozanova. The sheet features a poetic language conceived in 1913 by the pair called Zaum (“transrational,” “beyonsense,” or “transreason”), which frees letters and words from specific meanings, instead emphasising their aural and visual qualities. Painters likewise sought to push their medium to its limits, dismissing the strictures of realism and rationality in favour of advancing new abstract forms. The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10 (zeroten), held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in December 1915, highlighted two new models of abstraction. One, developed by Vladimir Tatlin, focused on a group of nonrepresentational Counter-Reliefs (“reliefs with a particular pronounced tension”). An example can be found in the exhibition in the exceedingly rare Brochure for Tatlin’s counter-reliefs exhibited at 0.10 (1915). The other, proposed by Kazimir Malevich, unveiled a radically new mode of abstract painting that abandoned reference to the outside world in favour of coloured geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds. Because this new style claimed supremacy over the forms of nature, Malevich called it Suprematism. The exhibition includes Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying (1915), which was featured in 0.10, and Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), which ranks among the most iconoclastic paintings of its day.

While Suprematism’s focus on pure form had a spiritual bent, the adherents of Constructivism privileged the creation of utilitarian objects with orderly, geometric designs. In 1918, Rodchenko made Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black), one of a series of eight black paintings he conceived in direct response to the group of white paintings by Malevich. By eliminating colour almost completely, Rodchenko underscored the material quality of the painting’s surface. Around this time, he also produced a series of “spatial constructions” focused on kineticism, marking a significant leap from his exploration of the painted surface to three-dimensional objects. 5 x 5 = 25: An Exhibition of Painting (1921), a brochure for an exhibition of the same title, typed by Varvara Stepanova, features contributions from Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, and Aleksandr Vesnin. Held in Moscow at the All-Russian Union of Poets in September 1921, the exhibition featured five works by each of the five participants, and was the Constructivist group’s last presentation of painting.

Between 1919 and 1927 El Lissitzky produced a large body of paintings, prints, and drawings that he referred to as Proun, an acronym for “Project for the Affirmation of the New” in Russian. A particular highlight is the portfolio Proun (1920), made during Lissitzky’s short but prolific period working at the art school in Vitebsk, alongside Malevich. Lissitzky asserted Proun is “the station on the way to the construction of a new form,” and in these lithographs, he arranges geometric forms in dynamic, overlapping relationships to create imagined spaces. It will be the first time this rare portfolio, acquired in 2013, will be on view. New developments in theater are surveyed through the example of Alexandra Exter, an artist deeply engaged with theatrical design and production, including several examples of her innovative set designs and costumes for the science-fiction film Aelita (1924). These are shown alongside prints from Lissitzky’s portfolio Victory Over the Sun, which he made after seeing a 1920 restaging of the seminal Cubo-Futurist opera of the same name, and features characters from the production transformed into “electromechanical” figurines.

As the 1920s progressed, photography and film surpassed painting and sculpture as the chosen medium for the avant-garde, moving works from the studio to the public sphere. The exhibition includes an in-depth look at Soviet avant-garde cinema, in a gallery that features clips from seminal films by Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Dziga Vertov, highlighting a variety of strategies in montage, including disjunctive cutting, extreme close-ups, unusual angles, and image superimposition. At this time, Lissitzky began to describe his work as fotopis (painting with photographs), a neologism that first appeared in the title of a maquette for a mural version of Record (1926), a photomontage included in the show. After turning away from painting, Rodchenko also found new means to build networks of communication – in photographs and book design. He collaborated with the progressive writers Nikolai Aseev, Osip Brik, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Sergei Tret’iakov on covers and layouts for the journal Novyi LEF (1927-28), a complete run of which is on view. Eschewing the conventional belly-button view in his photographs, Rodchenko’s pictures of this era – such as Mother (1924), Assembling for a Demonstration (1928-30), and Pioneer Girl (1930) – favour dynamic camera angles. Advocating for a cinematic, fractured representation of his subjects, Rodchenko also tried his hand at film, designing inter-titles for Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda newsreel series.

The ideology of the Revolution touched all aspects of daily life, from economy to education. The most significant artists of the day, in accordance with state orders, were soon applying avant-garde tactics to create propagandistic work that would be easily comprehensible to the Soviet public at large. The final gallery of the exhibition contains this kind of material, including children’s books created by Vladimir Lebedev and Samuil Marshak, whose book designs balanced sophistication and accessibility, drawing on Cubism and Suprematism, with stories that nourished the intellectual and visual imagination. Also on view are film posters, by the brothers Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, which feature radical uses of typography and colour, underscoring the relationship between graphic arts and the burgeoning Soviet cinema. The Constructivist architect Iakov Chernikov applied his ideas to imagine a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union. His Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions in Color, 101 Architectural Miniatures (1933) featured here, however, never had a chance to materialise. Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime effectively put an end to Constructivism and other avant-garde activities in the cultural sphere by the mid-1930s.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Announcer (Ansager)' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Announcer (Ansager) from Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 13 3/4 x 11 7/8″ (35 x 30.2 cm); sheet: 21 x 18″ (53.3 x 45.7 cm)
Purchase

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'The Globetrotter' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
The Globetrotter from Figurines: Plastic Representations of the Electro-Mechanical Production Entitled “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 14 3/16 x 10 1/4″ (36 x 26 cm); sheet: 21 x 17 7/8″ (53.3 x 45.4cm)
Purchase

 

Alexandra Exter. 'Construction' 1922-23

 

Alexandra Exter
Construction
1922-23
Oil on canvas
35 1/8 x 35 3/8″ (89.2 x 89.9 cm)
The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pro eto. Ei i mne' (About This. To Her and to Me) "Pro eto" by Vladimir Mayakovsky 1923

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pro eto. Ei i mne (About This. To Her and to Me)
“Pro eto” by Vladimir Mayakovsky
1923
Book with letterpress cover and illustrations
Overall (closed): 9 1/16 x 6 1/8 x 1/8″ (23 x 15.5 x 0.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Yakov Protozanov
Aelita Queen of Mars
NTSC
1924

 

Alexandra Exter "Guardian of Energy" 1924

 

Alexandra Exter
“Guardian of Energy” (costume design for the film “Aelita” by Yakov Protozanov)
1924
Ink, gouache, and pencil on paper
21 1/4 x 14 1/4″ (54 x 36.2 cm)
The J. M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Mother' 1924

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Mother
1924
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/2″ (22.5 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family
© 2017 Aleksandr Rodchenko/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Record
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 8 13/16″ (26.7 x 22.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 x 3 1/2″ (13.9 x 8.9 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013

 

 

The (painted) picture fell apart together with the old world which it had created for itself. The new world will not need little pictures. If it needs a mirror, it has the photograph and the cinema.

.
El Lissitzky

 

 

By the mid-1920s, leading figures of the Soviet vanguard extolled photography, theater, and film as quintessential mediums of the future. Eager to answer Lenin’s call to build a new Soviet mass culture in the wake of the Revolution, artists embraced performative and lens-based mediums for their democratising potential. They also seized the opportunity presented by stage and costume design to realise Constructivist principles in real space.

Film, one of the most experimental mediums of these years, wielded a profound influence on Soviet visual culture, particularly graphic design and photography, as well as on international cinema. Dziga Vertov redefined still and motion-picture photography with the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), according to which the camera lens creates a novel perception of the world. Aleksandr Rodchenko was likewise inspired by photography’s ability to energise audiences with its thrilling images of a transformed reality, which he shaped with distinctive strategies: unconventional camera angles, radical foreshortening, and close-ups. Rodchenko’s commitment to mass communication is also manifest in his engagement with the illustrated press, exemplified by his cover and layout designs for the avant-garde journal Novyi Lef.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) Cover design for 'Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts', no. 1 1928

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Cover design for Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts, no. 1
1928
Letterpress
Page: 9 1/16 x 6″ (23 x 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv' (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7
1927
Journal with letterpress cover and illustrations
Page: 8 15/16 x 5 15/16″ (22.7 x 15.1 cm)
Publisher: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow
Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Sergei Eisenstein (Russian, 1898-1948)
Potemkin
1925
35mm film (black and white and hand-colored, silent)
75 min.
Acquired from Reichsfilmarchiv

 

 

Vsevolod Pudovkin (Russian, 1893-1953)
Mat (Mother)
1926
35mm film (black and white, silent)
90 min.
Acquired from N.I.S., Soyuzintorkino, Moscow 1985

 

 

Mother (1926) [film based on Maxim Gorky’s famous novel]

In this film, the mother of Pavel Vlasov is drawn into the revolutionary conflict when her husband and son find themselves on opposite sides during a worker’s strike. After her husband dies during the failed strike, she betrays her son’s ideology in order to try, in vain, to save his life. He is arrested, tried in what amounts to a judicial farce, and sentenced to heavy labor in a prison camp. During his incarceration, his mother aligns herself with him and his ideology and joins the revolutionaries. In the climax of the movie, the mother and hundreds of others march to the prison in order to free the prisoners, who are aware of the plan and have planned their escape. Ultimately, the troops of the Tsar suppress the uprising, killing both mother and son in the final scenes.

 

 

Esther Shub (Ukrainian, 1894-1959)
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty
1927
35mm film (black and white, silent)

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia) 'Memorial to Fallen Leaders' 1927

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia)
Memorial to Fallen Leaders
1927
Cover with lithographed photomontage illustrations on front and back
13 1/2 x 10 1/4″ (34.3 x 26 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation
© 2016 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933) 'Symphony of a Big City' 1928

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933)
Symphony of a Big City
1928
Lithograph
41 x 27 1/4″ (104 x 69 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marshall Cogan Purchase Fund

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Untitled' 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Untitled
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 5 13/16″ (22.1 x 14.8 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family

 

Semyon Fridlyand. 'In the Gallery' 1927

 

Semyon Fridlyand
In the Gallery
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 x 6 5/8″ (21.7 x 16.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Harold Edgerton, by exchange

 

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Man with a Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors by Soviet-Russian director Dziga Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov’s feature film, produced by the film studio VUFKU, presents urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have “characters,” they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and self-reflexive visuals (at one point it features a split-screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).

In the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound poll, film critics voted Man with a Movie Camera the 8th best film ever made. In 2014 Sight & Sound also named it the best documentary of all time.

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954) 'The Man with the Movie Camera' 1929

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Alexander Dovzhenko (Russian, born Russia (Chernigov province) 1894-1956)
Zemlya (Earth)
1930
35mm film (black and white, silent)
62 min.
Acquired from Gosfilmofond

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pioneer with a Bugle' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer with a Bugle
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 1/16″ (23.5 x 18 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Rodchenko Family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Pioneer Girl' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer Girl
1930
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 14 9/16″ (49.6 x 37 cm)
Gift of Alex Lachmann and friends of the Rodchenko family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Assembling for a Demonstration' 1928-30

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Assembling for a Demonstration
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 13 7/8″ (49.5 x 35.3 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John Spencer Fund

 

Iakov Chernikhov. 'Arkhitekturnye Fantazii' before 1933 Letterpress

 

Iakov Chernikhov
Arkhitekturnye Fantazii
before 1933
Letterpress
12 x 8 7/8″ (30.5 x 22.5 cm)
Arthur A. Cohen Purchase Fund

 

 

In his introduction to Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions, Iakov Chernikov’s sixth and final volume on design theory, he defended the significance of visionary paper architecture: “Not without reason, however, have great thinkers of all times accorded vast importance to fantasy, as being the forerunner of any kind of progress. To look one-sidedly at the idea of fantasy and not to consider its positive role in all fields of culture and art-this is to make a great mistake.” For Chernikov the fantasy drawing offered the architect an effective means of liberating himself from convention and imagining a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union.

As a Constructivist, and like contemporaries such as Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky, Chernikov was possessed by the powers of abstraction and geometry. This is reflected in the phrase Combination of curvilinear and rectilinear forms along principles of design, the rather perfunctory subtitle for Complex Architectural Invention (composition no. 49 from Architectural Fantasies): this is a formal composition based on line (curved or straight), plane, surface, body, and volume. The excitement and brilliance of Chernikov’s fantasy lie in his dynamic handling of diagonal lines, ellipses, and bright colors, presented in a dizzying axonometric view. The imagery, unabashedly industrial in character yet devoid of any context or program, is remarkably fresh and pregnant with possibility.

In producing his Architectural Fantasies Chernikov was interested not only in self-discovery but in inspiring his viewers. The seeds of his fantasies, however, never had a chance to germinate in the Soviet Union: Stalin’s repressive regime, which effectively put an end to Constructivism in the 1930s, favored a banal architecture based on monumental classicism and Social Realism. The potential of Architectural Fantasies lay dormant until Chernikov and other Constructivist architects were “rediscovered” in the 1980s, inspiring a new generation of architects worldwide in a movement that was labeled “deconstructivist.”

Publication excerpt from Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, pp. 78-79

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 x 9 5/16″ (29.9 x 23.6 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

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05
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th April – 9th August 2015

Curators: curated at Tate Modern by Juliet Bingham, Curator International Art, with Juliette Rizzi, Assistant Curator.

 

 

One of my favourite female artists of all time. Up there with Georgia O’Keeffe, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin and Louise Bourgeois.

The early portrait paintings are a revelation. And then, how avant-garde her Electric Prisms paintings, fashion designs, theatre costumes, embroidering poetry onto fabric, turning her apartment into a three-dimensional collage… the very epitome of a “progressive woman synonymous with modernity.”

I have always loved her creativity, vibrancy, colours and asymmetric, musical rhythm – her photogeneity, in the sense of her works producing or emitting light, like an organism does. They seem to grab you, like a jolt of electricity, saying “Wake up!” and “Look at me!”

Perhaps I’m a little bit in love with this very wonderful women.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“In this case, the pram in the hall was not the enemy of promise. (In any case, surely poverty is the more likely candidate.) It is still rare, however, for a cradle cover to be given gallery space and acknowledged as an important artwork. The little blanket Sonia stitched for her son, Charles, in 1911 [see image below] is to be exhibited, and it seems to have been a breakthrough piece which moved her from figurative work to abstract. The coverlet is a patchwork medley of pinks, creams and greens with hints of maroon and black. It shows how Sonia melded Russian folk-craft with Parisian avant garde, and anticipated the experiments with colour and shape that would become the Delaunay hallmark style, simultané.

As well as the baby quilt, there is on display the child’s painted toy box, and the outfit Sonia made in the same manner, the one in the photograph mentioned above: by 1913 the Delaunays had found a babysitter and were setting off to the dancehall, the Bal Bullier. As well as making clothing for herself and her friends, Sonia still painted. Next to the dress, which is composed of swatches of fabric in different textures, is her large canvas Bal Bullier. A flow of colour and rhythm, it shows several couples (or one couple twirling) under a new Parisian sensation: coloured electric lights.”

Kathleen Jamie. “Sonia Delaunay: the avant-garde queen of loud, wearable art,” on the Guardian website, Saturday 28 March 2015

 

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Quilt cover' 1911

 

Sonia Delaunay
Quilt cover
1911

 

Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern

 

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Syncopated rhythm, so-called The Black Snake' 1967

 

Sonia Delaunay
Syncopated rhythm, so-called The Black Snake
1967
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France
© Pracusa 2014083

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Propeller (Air Pavilion)' 1937

 

Sonia Delaunay
Propeller (Air Pavilion)
1937
Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden
© Pracusa 2014083
Photo: Emma Krantz

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Propeller (Air Pavilion)' 1937 (detail)

 

Sonia Delaunay
Propeller (Air Pavilion) (detail)
1937
Skissernas Museum, Lund, Sweden
© Pracusa 2014083
Photo: Emma Krantz

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rhythm Colour no. 1076' 1939

 

Sonia Delaunay
Rhythm Colour no. 1076
1939
Centre National des Arts Plastiques/Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, on loan to Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
© Pracusa 2014083

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Court shoes' 1925

 

Sonia Delaunay
Court shoes
1925

 

Sonia Delaunay (right) and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris 1924

 

Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay (right) and two friends in Robert Delaunay’s studio, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris
1924
Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

 

 

Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was a key figure in the Parisian avant-garde, whose vivid and colourful work spanned painting, fashion and design. Tate Modern presents the first UK retrospective to assess the breadth of her vibrant artistic career, from her early figurative painting in the 1900s to her energetic abstract work in the 1960s. This exhibition offers a radical reassessment of Delaunay’s importance as an artist, showcasing her originality and creativity across the twentieth century.

Born in Odessaand trained in Germany, Sonia Delaunay (née Stern, then Terk) came to Parisin 1906 to join the emerging avant-garde. She met and married the artist Robert Delaunay, with whom she developed ‘Simultaneism’ – abstract compositions of dynamic contrasting colours and shapes. Many iconic examples of these works are brought together at Tate Modern, including Bal Bullier 1913 and Electric Prisms 1914. Her work expressed the energy of modern urban life, celebrating the birth of electric street lighting and the excitement of contemporary ballets and ballrooms.

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay shows how the artist dedicated her life to experimenting with colour and abstraction, bringing her ideas off the canvas and into the world through tapestry, textiles, mosaic and fashion. Delaunay premiered her first ‘simultaneous dress’ of bright patchwork colours in 1913 and opened a boutique in Madrid in 1918. Her Atelier Simultané in Paris went on to produce radical and progressive designs for scarves, umbrellas, hats, shoes and swimming costumes throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Clients included the Hollywood star Gloria Swanson and the architect Erno Goldfinger, as well department stores like Metz & Co and Liberty. The exhibition reveals how Delaunay’s designs presented her as a progressive woman synonymous with modernity: embroidering poetry onto fabric, turning her apartment into a three-dimensional collage, and creating daring costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

The diverse inspirations behind Delaunay’s work are also explored, from the highly personal approach to colour which harked back to her childhood in Russia, to the impact of her years in Spain and Portugal where she painted The Orange Seller 1915 and Flamenco Singers 1915-16. The show also reveals the inspiration provided by modern technology throughout Delaunay’s career, from the Trans-Siberian Railway to the aeroplane, and from the Eiffel Tower to the electric light bulb. It also includes her vast seven-metre murals Motor, Dashboard and Propeller, created for the 1937 International Exposition in Paris and never before shown in the UK.

Following her husband’s death in 1941, Sonia Delaunay’s work took on more formal freedom, including rhythmic compositions in angular forms and harlequin colours, which in turn inspired geometric tapestries, carpets and mosaics. Delaunay continued to experiment with abstraction in the post-war era, just as she had done since its birth in the 1910s, becoming a champion for a new generation of artists and an inspiring figure for creative practitioners to this day.

The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay is curated at Tate Modern by Juliet Bingham, Curator International Art, with Juliette Rizzi, Assistant Curator. It was organised by the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris-Musées and Tate Modern, and was realised with the exceptional help of Bibliothèque nationale de France and Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Finnish woman' 1908

 

Sonia Delaunay
Finnish woman
1908

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Yellow Nude' 1908

 

Sonia Delaunay
Yellow Nude
1908
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes
© Pracusa 2014083

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Sleeping girl' 1907

 

Sonia Delaunay
Sleeping girl
1907

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Philomene' 1907

 

Sonia Delaunay
Philomene
1907

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Electric Prisms' 1913

 

Sonia Delaunay
Electric Prisms
1913
Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, Gift of Mr. Theodore Racoosin
© Pracusa

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Electric Prisms' 1913-14

 

Sonia Delaunay
Electric Prisms
1913-14

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Prismes electrique' 1914

 

Sonia Delaunay
Prismes electrique
1914
© Pracusa 2013057
© CNAP

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Prismes electrique' (detail) 1914

 

Sonia Delaunay
Prismes electrique (detail)
1914
© Pracusa 2013057
© CNAP

 

Who is Sonia Delaunay?

Who is she?

Sonia Delaunay was a multi-disciplinary abstract artist and key figure in the Parisian avant-garde. Alongside her husband, Robert Delaunay, she pioneered the movement Simultanism. Her exploration of the interaction between colours has created a sense of depth and movement throughout her oeuvre.
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What is her background?

She was born Sonia Illinitchna Stern to a Jewish Ukrainian family. At the age of seven she went to live with her comparatively wealthy uncle Henri Terk and his wife, Anna, in St Petersburg, Russia. The Terk’s offered her a privileged and cultured upbringing in St Petersburg. Nevertheless, her childhood memories of Ukraine remained with her and she often referred back to the ‘pure’ colour and bright costumes of the Ukrainian peasant weddings.
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How did she start her career as an abstract artist?

“About 1911 I had the idea of making for my son, who had just been born, a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings.”
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What does she do?

“I always changed everything around me… I made my first white walls so our paintings would look better. I designed my furniture; I have done everything. I have lived my art.”

Delaunay’s creativity expanded beyond painting to include many other outlets such as Casa Sonia, an interiors and fashion boutique that she set up 1918; The entire set and costume design of Tristan Tzara’s 1923 play Le Cœur à Gaz; An illustration for the cover of Vogue in 1926; Costumes for the films Le Vertige directed by Marcel L’Herbier and Le p’tit Parigot, directed by René Le Somptier; Furniture for the set of the 1929 film Parce que je t’aime; And her textiles label Tissus Delaunay, which sold her designs worldwide.
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What is Orphism?

Orphism is a term originating from 1912 when French poet and art critic Guillaume Appollinaire identified the new style of Cubist painting. Appollinaire was inspired by the work of František Kupka and the Delaunays, who, although channelling the Cubist vision, prioritised colour in their work. Appollinaire felt this use of colour brought movement, light and musical qualities to the artwork and therefore referenced the legendary poet and singer of ancient Greek mythology, Orpheus, when naming the movement.
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What is Simultanism?

Simultanism is the strand of Orphism practised by the Delaunays. The name comes from the work of French scientist Michel Eugène Chevreul who identified the phenomenon of ‘simultaneous contrast’, in which colours look different depending on the colours around them. For example, a grey will look lighter on a dark background than it does on a light one. The Delaunays dispensed with form and aimed to created rhythm, motion and depth through overlapping patches of vibrant hues.
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What are her key artworks?

Prismes électriques (Electric Prisms), 1914, displays Delaunay’s trademark concentric circles at their best. Interpreted as an ode to modernity, Delaunay refracts the lights and bustle of Boulevard Saint Michel into almost complete abstraction. Everything disintegrates into colour except two figures, which remain discernible in the lower centre of the piece.

Nu jaune, 1908, juxtaposes the models’ warm yellow skin against lashings of cool emerald. This is one of Delaunay’s most striking uses of tone. The bright colours are frequently offset by black marks. These create a bold and heavy outline which is primitivist in its intention. The face of the model is mask like, suggesting melancholy. Delaunay makes no attempt to depict her as attractive, giving the artwork a brusque, modern feel.
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What are her thoughts on colour?

“Colour is the skin of the world.”
“Colour was the hue of number.”

9 April 2015 on the Tate Modern website

 

Wearing the Pierrot-Éclair costume designed by Sonia Delaunay, on the set of René Le Somptier's film 'Le P’tit Parigot' 1926

 

Unknown photographer
Lizica Codreanu wearing the Pierrot-Éclair costume designed by Sonia Delaunay, on the set of René Le Somptier’s 1926 film ‘Le P’tit Parigot’
1926
Still photo from the film Le P’tit Parigot, written by Paul Cartoux, Directed by René Le Somptier, 1926, collection of Antoine Blanchette
© L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623

 

'Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays’ apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris' 1924 

 

Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay in front of her door-poem in the Delaunays’ apartment, Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris
1924
© Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

 

Germaine Krull. 'Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France' 1925

 

Germaine Krull (German, 1897-1985)
Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France
1925
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, © L & M SERVICES B.V. The Hague 20100623

 

Sonia Delaunay in Simultaneous dress c. 1913

 

Unknown photographer
Sonia Delaunay in Simultaneous dress
c. 1913

 

Bathing suits designed by Delaunay, c. 1920s

 

Unknown photographer
Bathing suits designed by Delaunay
c. 1920s

 

 

“It was extremely inspiring to see a woman working with different disciplines – design, painting, textiles. Her reach was enviable. She was part of a tradition of Russian artists such as Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova who combined their knowledge of artisanal techniques with their beaux arts training as a way into the world of fashion. And her designs were outstanding. Look at her marvellous knitted bathing suit or patterned overcoat. If you were to walk into an exhibition and saw a woman dressed in that overcoat, she would steal the show.

Of course in Paris there were other powerful women designers, such as Madame Grès and Coco Chanel. The former’s designs were very sinuous, and Chanel was cutting back to the bone, whereas Sonia seemed to work on a frontal level. I like the powerful geometry of her designs – encasing a curvilinear body, contained and boxed-in like a walking cubist form. They were definitely not cute; they were harsh designs for husky women. I would have loved to see Gertrude Stein dressed in Sonia Delaunay’s clothes.

I admire her early paintings, especially Yellow Nude from 1908. You can’t really tell if the reclining figure that she has painted is male or female. It is coy, seductive, androgynous, as if she didn’t seem to care whether it was either. And if you read her biography, you find that she had a rather open attitude to sexuality – her first marriage was to a homosexual, and later to Robert. It was probably part of her shrewdness too – in making things work for her.

Has her work influenced mine? I came out of the Josef Albers camp, where colour was more magical and less obvious than Delaunay. I tend to go for unexpected nuanced colour combinations. So I would say not, but her workaholic attitude and willingness to experiment and try out things in different ways has. She was fearless, so why shouldn’t we be fearless. And I am very influenced by her teamwork – the big mural paintings she did for Palais de l’Air in 1937. I love those. She would have had teams of people working on them. They are such powerful works, so present and timeless. They send out a strong message – pronouncing a new world. They are not domestic works done at the easel. They are out in space. They are universal.”

Sheila Hicks. “The multi-talented Delaunay. Sonia Delaunay: The Fortune of Colour,” Tate Etc. issue 34: Summer 2015 on the Tate Modern website, 8 June 2015

 

Sonia Delaunay. Illustration for cover of 'Vogue' 1926

 

Sonia Delaunay
Illustration for cover of Vogue
1926

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Simultané playing cards' 1964

 

Sonia Delaunay
Simultané playing cards
1964

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Coat made for Gloria Swanson' 1923-24

 

Sonia Delaunay
Coat made for Gloria Swanson
1923-24
Private Collection
© Pracusa 2014083

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Simultaneous Dresses (The three women)' 1925

 

Sonia Delaunay
Simultaneous Dresses (The three women)
1925
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© Pracusa 2014083

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rythme' 1938

 

Sonia Delaunay
Rythme
1938

 

Sonia Delaunay. 'Rythme' 1945

 

Sonia Delaunay
Rythme
1945
Grey Art Gallery, New York
© Pracusa 2014083

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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22
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Alexander Rodchenko: 
Revolution in Photography’ at WestLicht Gallery, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 11th June – 25th August 2013

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“The modern city with its multi-storey buildings, plants, factories […], all this […] has changed the psychology of the traditional perception to a great extent. It seems as if only a camera is able to illustrate modern life.”

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“Photography – the new, fast and real reflection of the world – should make it possible to map the world from all points of view
 […]. In order to educate man to a new vision, everyday familiar objects must be shown to him with totally unexpected perspectives and in unexpected situations. New objects should be depicted from different sides in order to provide a complete impression of the object.”

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“We must revolutionize our optical perception. We must remove the veil from our eyes.”

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“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting. Foreshortenings with a strong distortion of the objects, with a crude handling of matter. Moments altogether new, never seen before… compositions whose boldness outstrips the imagination of painters… Then the creation of those instants which do not exist, contrived by means of photomontage. The negative transmits altogether new stimuli to the sentient mind and eye.”

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Alexander Rodchenko

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What an impression (on the sentient mind) this artist makes!

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Many thankx to the WestLicht Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Marching column of the Dynamo Sports Club' 1932

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Alexander Rodchenko
Marching column of the Dynamo Sports Club
1932
Vintage gelatin silver print on paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Levels' 1929

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Alexander Rodchenko
Levels
1929
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Sportsmen on Red Square' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Sportsmen on Red Square
1935
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Horse racing' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Horse racing
1935
Vintage gelatin silver print on paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Sports parade. Girl with towels' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Sports parade. Girl with towels
1935
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Radio listeners' 1929

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Alexander Rodchenko
Radio listeners
1929
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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“Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) was a driving force in the Russian avant-garde and is considered one of the great innovators of photography in the first half of the 20th century. In 1924, already well-known as a painter, sculptor and graphic artist, he conquered traditional photography with the slogan “Our duty is to experiment!” Dynamic compositions, stark contrasts, unconventional angles and the use of photomontage are the defining characteristics of his photographic language.

Rodchenko’s visual compositions and constructivist manifestos have been highly influential in the development of modern photography. With more than 200 photographs on display, the exhibition explores Rodchenko’s dynamic vision and the extraordinary range of his work. Alongside renowned, iconic images like Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1924), Steps (1929) or Girl with a Leica (1934) WestLicht presents many rare vintage prints, which are complemented by a selection of Rodchenko’s posters, publications and typographic works.

As a prominent figure of constructivism, Rodchenko significantly shaped the development of Russian art in the early years of the Revolution. He was also a catalyst of a photography movement, similar to the New Objectivity pioneered by Albert Renger-Patzsch in Germany and the Group f/64 in the USA. “New, unexpected foreshortenings, unusual perspectives, bold light and shadow combinations reproduce fragments of the social reality that are as sharp and clear as possible” (Catalogue for Film and Photo Exhibition, Stuttgart, 1929).

The development of this new reality involved a radical departure from traditional perspectives. As Rodchenko pointed out in an essay on Ways of Contemporary Photography, in 1928: “The modern city with its multi-storey buildings, plants, factories […], all this […] has changed the psychology of the traditional perception to a great extent. It seems as if only a camera is able to illustrate modern life.” Central to Rodenchko’s argumentation was the belief that the camera could act as an active eye of contemporaries, destroying the primacy of the normal view – the navel perspective – established by painting. For Rodchenko the camera lens was “the pupil of the educated person in socialist society.”

Just as the revolution created the new socialist man and swept away the old order, photography should overcome the outdated perception and allow a modern outlook. “Photography – the new, fast and real reflection of the world – should make it possible to map the world from all points of view […]. In order to educate man to a new vision, everyday familiar objects must be shown to him with totally unexpected perspectives and in unexpected situations. New objects should be depicted from different sides in order to provide a complete impression of the object.” According to Rodchenko’s significant and much-quoted claim: “We must revolutionize our optical perception. We must remove the veil from our eyes.”

Curated by Olga Sviblova, Director of the Moscow House of Photography Museum.”

Press release from the WestLicht Gallery website

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1934

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Alexander Rodchenko
Girl with Leica
1934
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Balconies. Corner of the house' 1925

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Alexander Rodchenko
Balconies. Corner of the house
1925
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Guard at the Shukhov Tower' 1929

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Alexander Rodchenko
Guard at the Shukhov Tower
1929
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Pines. Puschkino' 1927

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Alexander Rodchenko
Pines. Puschkino
1927
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Fire escape' 1925

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Alexander Rodchenko
Fire escape
1925
Deduction on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Trumpeting pioneer' 1930

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Alexander Rodchenko
Trumpeting pioneer
1930
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'They gathered for the demonstration' 1928

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Alexander Rodchenko
They gathered for the demonstration
1928
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Varvara Stepanova on a balcony' 1928

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Alexander Rodchenko
Varvara Stepanova on a balcony
1928
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Portrait of the Artist's Mother' 1924

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Alexander Rodchenko
Portrait of the Artist’s Mother
1924
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Pioneer' 1930

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Alexander Rodchenko
Pioneer
1930
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Envelope for Vladimir Mayakovsky's poem "Pro eto" (Darüber)' 1923

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Alexander Rodchenko
Envelope for Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “Pro eto” (Darüber)
1923
Reprint
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Lilya Brik. Portrait of the advertising poster "Knigi"' 1924

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Alexander Rodchenko
Lilya Brik. Portrait of the advertising poster “Knigi”
1924
Vintage print on Silver gelatin paper, cut out and glued on pink paper.
Collection Museum Moscow House of Photography / Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow
© A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive
© Museum Moscow House of Photography

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WestLicht Gallery
Westbahnstraße 40,
1070 Vienna
T: +43 (0)1 522 66 36 -60

Opening hours:
Tue, Wed, Fri 2 – 7 pm
Thu 2 – 9 pm
Sat, Sun and public holidays 11 am – 7 pm

WestLicht Gallery website

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27
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Primrose – Russian Colour Photography’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 25th January – 3rd April 2013

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A bumper posting on a fascinating subject. The portrait of Tolstoy is incredible; more poignant are the photographs pre-World War I (the last days of the Tsarist dynasty), and pre-World War 2 (Portrait of Yury Rypalov, below). People stare into the camera with no idea of the maelstrom about to descend…

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Many thankx to Foam for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Varvara Stepanova. 'Red Army Men' 1930

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Varvara Stepanova
Red Army Men
1930
Photomontage for Abroad magazine

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Flame of Paris' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Flame of Paris
1932
Bromoil
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Men's talk' 1950s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Men’s talk
1950s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Rain' 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Rain
1960s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yakov Khalip. 'Sea cadets' End of 1940s

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Yakov Khalip
Sea cadets
End of 1940s
Artist’s colour print
On the reverse side text of congratulation to Alexander Rodchenko
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow/ Moscow House of Photography Museum

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“The exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography takes place as part of Netherlands-Russia 2013. The title refers to the primrose flower, used metaphorically here to represent the many colours in which it appears during early spring. Primrose – Russian Colour Photography presents a retrospective of the various attempts in Russia to produce coloured photographic images. This process began in the early 1850s, almost simultaneously with the discovery of the new medium itself. The colouring technique, based on the traditional methods of craftsmen who added colour into a certain contour design, has determined a whole independent trend in the history of photography in Russia, from ‘postcard’ landscapes and portraits to Soviet propaganda and reportage photography.

The use of colour in Russia stems from the early 1850s and practically coincides with the invention of the medium itself. The term colour photography is slightly disingenuous, since at first it referred to a toning technique in which black and white photographs were painted by hand. Traditionally this technique was used by specialized tradesmen who added colour to the photographs according to certain methods and within the contours of the image. This technique became so popular that it started a trend in and of itself and to a large extent determined the appearance and aesthetics of colour photography in Russia. Initially used especially for portraits, pictorialist landscapes and nudes, it later also found favour with avant-garde artists. Interestingly enough these aesthetics also formed the starting point for Soviet propaganda and for portraits, political leaders and reportage.

Primrose – Russian Colour Photography can be viewed as a journey through various techniques and genres, meanings and messages, mass practices and individual experiments. The exhibition contains works by renowned photographers and artists such as Sergey Produkin-Gorsky, Ivan Shagin, Dmitry Baltermants and Robert Diament. But is also shows unique photos of Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stephanova, and recent works from the famous Luriki series by Boris Mikhailov, in which he mocked the visual culture of the Soviet propaganda.”

Press release from the Foam website

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Pyotr_Pavlov-WEB

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Pyotr Pavlov
Moscow. Lubianka
1910s
Offprint
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta
1910-1911
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Nikolskoye Simbirsk province' 1910

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Piotr Vedenisov
Nikolskoye Simbirsk province
1910

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Alexander Rodchenko.' Race. "Dynamo" Stadium' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Race. “Dynamo” Stadium
1935
Artist’s gelatine silver print, gouache
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© A. Rodchenko – V. Stepanova Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Meeting in the tundra' 1972

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Dmitry Baltermants
Meeting in the tundra
1972
From the Meetings with Chukotka series
Colour print Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography at Foam, Amsterdam

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Primrose

“This exhibition with the metaphorical title Primrose demonstrates the appearance and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to 1970s, and at the same time reveals the history of Russia in photography. With examples of works from classics of Russian photography such as P. Pavlov, K. Bergamasko, A. Eikhenvald, A. Rodchenko, V. Mikoshi, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants and B. Mikhailov, as well as unknown photographers, we can see how life in Russia changed in the course of a century as it endured historical and socio-political catastrophes, also the diverse roles that photography played during this period.

Colour became widespread in Russian photography at approximately the same time as in Europe – in the 1860s. This was dependent on the manual tinting of photographic prints with watercolour and oil paints, either by the photographers themselves or by artists working with them. Above all this applies to solo or family portraits commissioned as a keepsake. The photographic studios of Nechayev, Ushakov & Eriks and Eikhenvald produced thousands of tinted portraits that became an important part of the domestic interior.

People were eager to see their own image in colour, and moreover in a picturesque form. The colouring of early photographic shots could also hide imperfections in the prints, including those introduced on albumenised paper. With time this paper turned yellow. To conceal this, the paper was tinted green, pink and other colours and coloured with watercolours, gouache, oils, or later aniline dyes. Sometimes the photograph was partially redrawn during the process of tinting, and foliate embellishments or different items of interior decoration appeared in the background.

By the end of the 19th century, by the 1880s and 1890s, colour photography was extended to architectural, landscape and industrial subject matter. For instance, the photographic studio of the Trinity and St. Sergius Monastery (photographic studios attached to Russian monasteries became a very common phenomenon) produced numerous coloured architectural images of Orthodox churches.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Russia was on the one hand undergoing active europeanisation, as reflected in the style of architectural structures, interiors, costume and way of life, but meanwhile there was also a search for national identity, and new interest in the national particularities of inhabitants in the Russian Empire. Entire series of tinted photographs appeared, depicting people in national costumes – Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Ukrainian, and so on.

With the industrial boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries people began to decorate their walls not only with tinted landscapes, but also photographs of industrial structures (eg Dmitri Yezuchevsky’s photograph Building the Bridge). In the early 20th century, in the 1910s, coloured photographs of Russian military officers, an important social class before the outbreak of the First World War, were particularly popular.

The photographic documentation of life in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century acquired the status of a State objective, largely because Tsar Nicholas II and his family were enthusiastic amateur photographers. In May 1909 Emperor Nicholas II gave an audience to the photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky. In 1902 Prokudin-Gorsky had first announced a technique for creating colour photographs, and in 1903 he published a brochure entitled ’Isochromatic Photography with Manual Cameras’. Prokudin-Gorsky used black-and-white plates sensitised according to his own formulae, and a camera of his own construction. Three rapid shots were taken successively through light filters coloured blue, green and red (the photographer managed to reduce the exposure time to an absolute minimum). From this triple negative a triple positive was prepared. A projector with three lenses in front of three frames on the photographic plate was used to view the shots. Each frame was projected through a colour filter of the same colour as that through which it had been photographed. A full-colour image appeared on the screen as the three images combined. Prokudin-Gorsky succeeded in making polygraphic reproductions of his shots, printed in the form of photo cards, and also as inserts for illustrated magazines.

Delighted with this invention, Emperor Nicholas II asked the photographer to take colour photographs of every aspect of life in the various regions that then constituted the Russian Empire. For this the photographer was issued with a specially equipped railway car. The government provided him with a small manned steamship able to traverse the shallows for his work on waterways, and a motorboat for the River Chusova. A Ford automobile was dispatched to Yekaterinburg for his shots of the Urals and the Ural mountain range. Prokudin-Gorsky was presented with official imperial documents that gave him access to all parts of the Empire, and government officials were ordered to assist Prokudin-Gorsky on his travels.

Meanwhile autochrome pictures by the Lumière brothers, with whom Prokudin-Gorsky worked after emigrating from Soviet Russia, became very popular in early 20th-century Russia. Autochromes, colour transparencies on a glass backing, were first produced on an industrial scale in 1907. Granules of potato starch tinted red, yellow and blue were applied to a glass plate. The granules worked as colour filters. Addition of a second layer of granules provided orange, violet and green hues. After that a light-sensitive emulsion was applied. The plate was exposed and developed. Autochromes could be viewed against the light, or projected with the aid of special apparatus, which at that time was manufactured by the Lumière brothers’ own company (diascopes, chromodiascopes, mirrored stereoscopes, etc.). The Lumière brothers’ autochromes were used, for example, by Pyotr Vedenisov, a prosperous nobleman and graduate of the Moscow Conservatoire, who settled in Yalta, in the Crimea, in the late 1880s. As was the case with the Lumière brothers’ autochromes, Vedenisov’s favoured subject matter was the photographer’s own family life. However, what was at first sight very private and personal photography later provided an excellent description of the typical lifestyle enjoyed by educated Russian noblemen in the early 20th century.

The onset of the First World War in 1914 and October Revolution in 1917 annihilated the Russia whose memory is preserved in the tinted photographs and autochromes of the second half of the 19th to early 20th centuries.

Vladimir Lenin and the new Soviet government actively supported photography in the early post-revolutionary years, seeing it as an important propaganda weapon for a country where 70% of the population were unable to read or write. At first there was emphasis on photo reportage, but very soon it became clear real change in a country where hunger and devastation ruled after the Revolution and Civil War was as insubstantial as the utopian dreams of ardent revolutionaries. From the mid-1920s photomontage was widespread in the Soviet Union, enthusiastically encouraged by the Bolsheviks. Photomontage allowed for a combination of documentary veracity and the new Soviet myths. In the 1920s it was practised by such highly talented modernists as A. Rodchenko, G. Klutsis, El Lissitzky, V. Stepanova and others. Photomontage embraced colour and became an ideological ‘visual weapon’.

From the mid-1920s A. Rodchenko regenerated the forgotten technique of hand colouring his own photographs. His use of tinting profited from his experience with photomontage (Mosselprom House Advertising Wall, Dynamo Running Stadium, etc.), and he also applied it to develop experiments with positive-negative printing (scenes from the film Albidum) and for very personal and even intimate portraits of his muse Regina Lemberg – Girl with Watering Can. In 1937, at the height of Stalin’s repression, A. Rodchenko began photographing classical ballet and opera, using the arsenal of his aesthetic opponents, the Russian pictorialists, who by that time were subject to even harsher repression in the Soviet Union than modernist photographers. For Alexander Rodchenko soft focus, classical subject matter and toning typical of pictorial photography were a mediated way of expressing his internal escapism and tragic disillusionment with the Soviet utopia.

In 1932 general rules for socialist realism were published in the USSR, as the only creative method for all forms of art, including photographic. Soviet art had to reflect Soviet myths about the happiest people in the happiest country, not real life and real people. On this Procrustean bed it was hard not only for modernism with its constructivist aesthetics, but even pictorialism, to fit into the aesthetics of Socialist realism.

Pictorialism was one of the most important tendencies of early 20th-century Russian photography, and Russian pictorialist photographers were awarded gold and silver medals at international exhibitions. Pictorial photography differed not only by the method of shooting and complex printing techniques intended to bring photography closer to painting, but also by the selection of traditional themes. Romantic landscapes and architectural ruins or nude studies were from the point of view of socialist realism dangerous remnants from the past. Some of the pictorialist photographers ended up in Stalin’s prison camps, and were forbidden from practising their profession or settling in the capital or other large cities. Those who remained at liberty – for example, Vasily Ulitin, a participant in major international photo exhibitions and recipient of medals and diplomas in Paris, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo and Rome – tried with difficulty to adapt to the new reality and attempted to depict revolutionary subjects (Flames of Paris, Red Army Soldier), thereby gaining indulgence and the right to work from the Bolsheviks.

Almost simultaneously, in 1936 the German company Agfa and American company Kodak introduced colour film. Broad distribution and introduction to the amateur photography market were delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In the USSR colour photography only appeared at the end of the war. Production of Soviet-made colour film in the USSR was facilitated by German trophy equipment in 1946. From that year onwards Ivan Shagin and several other photographers began to relay their colour news chronicle to the country.

Before 1946 colour photographs of Soviet Russia were made only in isolated cases, on German or American film. Until the mid-1970s, in the USSR negative film for printing colour photographs was a luxury only available to a few official photographers who worked for major Soviet publications. It was used by such classics of Soviet photography as V. Mikosha, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants, V. Tarasevich, and others. All of them were in one way or another obliged to follow the canons of socialist realism and practise staged reportage. In those days even still life studies of fruit bore an ideological message, being photographed for cookery books in which the Soviet people could see produce that remained absent in a hungry postwar country, where the ration-card system of food distribution was still functioning (Ivan Shagin, Lemons and Fruit, 1949).

From the late 1950s, in the Khrushchev Thaw after the debunking of Stalin’s cult of personality, the canons of socialist realism softened and permitted a certain freedom in aesthetics, allowing photography to move closer to reality (Dmitri Baltermants’ series Arbat Square). In the postwar period, during the 1950s to 1960s life gradually improved and coloured souvenir photo portraits again appeared on the mass market. They were usually produced by unknown and ‘unofficial’ photographers, since private photo studios that had carried out such commissions since the mid-19th century were now forbidden, and the State exercised a total monopoly on photography by the 1930s. Boris Mikhailov copied and enlarged such kitsch colour photographs as souvenirs to supplement his income at his photo laboratory in Kharkov in the early 1970s. He began collecting them. They form the basis for a new aesthetics he developed in the Lyrics series from the early 1980s. By tinting these naïve photographs he revealed and deconstructed the nature of Soviet myths.

Colour transparency film appeared on the Soviet mass market in the 1960s and 1970s. As opposed to colour negative film that requires a complicated and expensive development process for subsequent printing, colour slide film could be developed even in domestic surroundings. Above all it was widely used by amateurs, who created transparencies that could be viewed at home with a slide projector. An unofficial art form emerging in the USSR at this time developed the aesthetics and means for a new artistic conceptualisation of reality, quite different from the socialist realism that still prevailed, although somewhat modified. Photography took a significant role in this unofficial art. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Boris Mikhailov began photographing his series Suzi Et Cetera on colour slide film.

More than half a century of Soviet power after the 1917 Revolution radically altered Russia. The surrounding reality has fallen into decline, and people brought up on Soviet slogans never thought to pay attention. But this was the only reality offered by our perception, and Boris Mikhailov tries to develop its colour, humanise it with his attention and give it the right of existence. Photography textbooks of that period were made up of one-third technical formulae and two-thirds description of what to photograph, and how. The photographer was certainly not required or even allowed to take nude studies. Corporeality and sexuality are inherent signs of an independent individual, of selfhood. The Soviet system specifically tried to level out any sense of selfhood, smothering it and challenging such ideas with the collective community and the impersonal ‘we’ of the Soviet nation. In photographing Suzi Et Cetera Boris Mikhailov disrupts the norms and reveals characters, his own and that of his subjects. It was impossible to show these shots in public, but slides could be projected at home, in the workshops of his artist friends or the small, often semi-underground clubs of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, who began to revive during Khrushchev’s Thaw after the Stalinist repression. Boris Mikhailov’s slide projections are now analogous to the apartment exhibitions of unofficial art. By means of colour he displayed the dismal standardisation and squalor of surrounding life, and his slide performances helped to unite people whose consciousness and life in those years began to escape from the dogmatic network of Soviet ideology, which permitted only one colour – red.”

Curator Olga Sviblova
Director, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vladislav Mikosha. 'Portrait of Yury Rypalov' 1938-1939

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Vladislav Mikosha
Portrait of Yury Rypalov
1938-1939

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V. Yankovsky. '"In memory of my military service". Saint Petersburg' Beginning of 1910s

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V. Yankovsky
“In memory of my military service”. Saint Petersburg
Beginning of 1910s
Collodion, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yelena Mrozovskaya. 'Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg' 1900s

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Yelena Mrozovskaya
Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg
1900s
Gelatine silver print, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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A. Nechayev. 'Portrait of girl' 1860s

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A. Nechayev
Portrait of girl
1860s
Salted paper, covered by albumen, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. 'Portrait of Lev Tolstoy' 23rd of May 1908

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky
Portrait of Lev Tolstoy
23rd of May 1908
Offprint
Collection Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta
1914

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta' 1911-1912

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Piotr Vedenisov
Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta
1911-1912
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress
1914
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta
1910-1911
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Red Army man' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Red Army man
1932

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Show window' Beginning of 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Show window
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Ivan Shagin. 'Fruits' 1949

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Ivan Shagin
Fruits
1949
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Robert Diament. 'He has turned her head' Beginning of 1960s

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Robert Diament
He has turned her head
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Foam
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T: + 31 20 5516500

Opening hours:
Daily from 10 am – 6 pm
Thu/Fri 10 am – 9 pm

Foam website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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