“REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD”— Paintings Previously Banned and Unseen for Decades

“REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD”

Paintings Previously Banned and Unseen for Decades

Amos Lassen

BAFTA Award-winning director Margy Kinmonth brings us a feature-length documentary that encapsulates an important period in the history of Russia and the Russian Avant-Garde movement. “Revolution” draws on the collections of major Russian institutions, contributions from contemporary artists, curators and performers and personal testimony from the descendants of those involved to show us masterpieces of art. 

It was filmed entirely on location in Moscow, St. Petersburg and London and the director had unprecedented access to The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum and The State Hermitage Museum. It features paintings previously banned and unseen for decades.

The movie shares its aim of creating “a new hypothesis for our lives” as it recounts the stories of the most prominent figures of the Russian avant-garde movement such as Malevich, Kandinsky and Tatlin. Russian art of the beginning of the 20th century ws very much intertwined with “revolution” both formally and politically, with themes like the attack on the White Palace, Lenin’s assassination and Stalin’s reign of terror. We clearly see that art cannot be separated from these events. The historic side overshadows the artistic in the film by following the timeline of political events more than the individual facets of avant-garde painting. 

The film interviews many of the surviving relatives, yet during their conversations the narrative is mostly steered in the direction of their political involvement and tragic losses, rather than the art they produced. “The artist is on service to the revolution” yet the revolution also overshadows the complex intricacies of avant-garde art.

Director Margy Kinmonth is the narrator and her film shows “the victory of new art against the old” and how art can be a major player in political processes. “Revolution” is largely a historic account of the art surrounding the Russian Revolution of 1917.The film looks at all aspects of visual art, including photography, painting, graphic design, sculpture, cinema, and physical theatre and covers artists as diverse as Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Dziga Vertov, Pavel Filonov, Petrov Vodkin, Marc Chagall, Varvar Stepanova, and Gustav Kluzis. The documentary weaves together the stories of all the different artists and sub-factions of the avant-garde including the Suprematism of Malevich, the Constructivism of  Rodchenko and Stepanova, the Abstraction of Kandinsky and the Surrealism of Chagall.

We see how art was initially inspired by the utopian dreams and depicting a new order and new ways of being, then confined by the theoretical control of Lenin and the one-party state, which led it to be conceived as ‘monumental propaganda’. The documentary highlights the demise of initial dreams to state control, Lenin’s death, the emergence of the Stalin, and the resulting terror. Many of these artists came to be seen as counter revolutionary, and were sent to Gulag labor camps or escaped Russia to live lives of exile elsewhere. The documentary also tells the story of how much of this art had to be hidden by curators because it did not conform to the style of Socialist Realism required by the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CCCP). In the conclusion, we see the story of a return to traditional techniques within the artistic establishment of Russia.

I would have preferred a critique the role of art in making a political statement, perhaps trying to draw some parallels with contemporary art but that is really a minor issue.

The 1917 Revolution was possibly the most important moment in Russian history. The end of the Tsarist system sparked an explosion of creativity, leading to the most fertile period of the Russian Avant-Garde movement. The artists’ work reflects the uncertainty of the rapidly changing world around them. Told through a mix of interviews (with relatives and experts) and dramatizations, “Revolution: New Art for a New World” gives us intriguing insight into one of the most vital periods of Russian art. It also shows us how one man’s ambition can destroy the most creative periods.

BONUS FEATURES include:

Over 20 minutes of additional footage give us the stories of iconic artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich – pioneers who flourished in response to the Utopian challenge of building a “New Art for a New World,” only to be broken after fifteen short years by Stalin’s rise to power.

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