Anna Monks reviews this new documentary about art during the Russian Revolution.
Wassily Kandinsky mused about the avant-garde art movement that ran parallel to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The more frightening the world becomes the more abstract the art becomes.
Revolution – New Art for a New World tells the story of the artists who championed Lenin and the revolution, only to be later vilified under the rule of Stalin and the KGB. Margy Kinmonth cleverly lays out how the feelings of disillusion, their new dreams, and the eventual return of disillusion amongst the people ran parallel to the art that was being produced.
By following the political upheaval of early twentieth century Russia, we are shown how it was not just the traditional Tsarist monarchy that was left behind, but also traditional art practice. Since the Imperial Art Academy was inextricably entwined with the Imperial palace, this is perhaps not surprising. While the people rejected monarchical rule, artists rejected perspective.
Although I greatly enjoyed the tales of the lives of universally famous artists such as Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko, I was delighted to learn about the artists who have not quite made it into the art history books. Kinmonth shows us the art of Pavel Filonov, an enigma in the West, whose revolutionary art is sinfully locked away in the stores of The Hermitage Museum. As the sixth son of a cabman, Filonov’s art, in his idiosyncratic style of ‘Analytical Realism’, struck a chord with the people of the revolution; this artist was one of them. Better still is the inclusion of other revolutionary forms of art. We are shown the films of Eisenstein and the new theatre and acting technique introduced by Vsevolod Meyerhold, biomechanics.
But the film is not just a celebration of artists’ radical break from tradition but also an explanation of how and why the most famous Russian artists, such as Marc Chagall, were forced to develop their art elsewhere, and why others were not so lucky. Most poignantly revealed is the story of how Gustav Klutsis went from being driven through the streets in Lenin’s car and designing the Soviet Pavilion at the 1937 Paris world art fair, to dying a year later during an interrogation by the KGB (prior to his sentence of execution by firing squad). This is made all the more moving as his fate is told by his granddaughter, Maria Kulagina, an artist in Russia today. The frequent involvement of contemporary artists in the film is refreshing, particularly as often they are the descendants of those artists whose developments were ended so brutally for failing to conform to Stalin’s ‘Social Realism’.
Embellished with the musings of art experts, renditions of Lenin’s speeches and the thoughts of Malevich voiced by Matthew Macfadyen and Tom Hollander and a cantering Shostakovichian original score by Edmund Jolliffe, Revolution – New Art for a New World is a dynamic and visual take on a Russian Revolution documentary. After all, telling a history through art is always more exciting than telling a history through facts.
Screening Thursday 10th November at Curzon Bloomsbury.
More information available at: https://revolution.film/
Images: Foxtrot Films