David Shterenberg’s “Foreword” to the Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Russian Art, Van Diemen Gallery, Berlin (1922)

Translated from the German by Stephen Bann.

From The Tradition of Constructivism.

(Da Capo Press.  New York, NY: 1974).

• • •

During the blockade Russian artists tried to keep in touch with their Western counterparts by issuing proclamations and manifestoes.  But it is only with the present exhibition that the first real step has been [71] taken to bring the two groups together.  In this exhibition our aim has been to show Western Europe everything that depicts the story of Russian art during the Revolution and the war years.  Russian art is still young.  The great majority of our people first came into contact with it after the Octover Revolution and only then were they able to infuse new life into the dead, official art that in Russia, as everywhere else, was regarded as ‘high art.’  At the same time the Revolution threw open new avenues for Russia’s creative forces.  It gave the artist the opportunity to carry his ideas into the streets and the squares of the towns and thus to enrich his vision with new ideas.  The decoration of towns, so changed by the Revolution, and the demands of the new architecture naturally called into existence new forms of creation and construction.  The most important of these changes was that each artist no longer worked for himself alone, stuck away in a corner, but sought the closest contact with the people.  They eagerly accepted what they were offered, greeting it sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes with sharp criticism.  This was the testing ground of Russian art.  Many artists did not survive the test and were immediately forgotten.  Others, however, emerged tempered and strengthened from the ordeal.  They were no longer content with canvas, they rejected the stone coffins that passed for houses, and they fought to reshape the environment for the new society.  They would undoubtedly have succeeded had the blockade and the war not made their goals unattainable.

The greater part of artistic activity in the first years of the Revolution was concerned with the decoration of public spaces.  It would of course be nonsensical to include this work in an exhibition.  The only works exhibited are those by the different movements that have been active in Russia over the last few years.  The works of the leftist groups illustrate every type of experimental development that has led to the revolution in art.  At the same time groups that are concerned mainly with the achievement of certain optical effects are also included.  Artists of the following Russian groups are represented: Union of Russian Artists (this includes the artists of the older schools), the World of Art (Mir Iskusstva), the Jack of Diamonds group (Bobnovy Valet), the impressionists, and finally the leftist groups (cubists, suprematists, and constructivists).  In addition, certain artists are included whose work did not fit the confines of any particular school [72] but is nevertheless of the greatest importance for the development of Russian art.  Finally, there are posters from the civil war and works from the state porcelain factory, as well as work of students at the art schools, where the majority of students are either workers or peasants.  We hope that this first visit will not be the last and that our Western comrades, whom we would like to see in Moscow and Petrograd, will not be long in coming.

[From Erste russische Kunstausstellung, 1922]


~ by Ross Wolfe on October 22, 2010.

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