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Art in the time of a revolution

As the world was falling head-over-heels in awe of Art Activism a similar sentiment was sweeping over the realms of design. Impassioned designers, illustrators, photographers changed the way revolutions were fought. They created some of the most impactful artworks that gave the movement an identity, a tone, an aesthetic, connecting it to its public. They effectively used colours, typography, illustration and embedded its messages of propaganda deep into the psyche of the masses.

TITLE: Adolf Strakhov – Emancipated Woman – Build Socialism! 

YEAR: 1926
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper
DIMENSIONS: 883 x 635 mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



Proletarian art, (also popularised by some as the art of the poor), became a catalyst for the revolution. This was work that was mass-produced (getting scorned by the artistic community for its scale of production). But, it was born from the strong discourses of art and politics and stood its ground against power and money. Infused with social meaning, a simmering agitation was in progress in these posters. The Russian posters stand apart for its energy, composition, a unique style that has since become synonymous with socialist-communist ideologies. We see reflections of it plastered across the streets lending history to student unions or adding that dynamic mass appeal of the proletariat to the posters of politicians. This brand of design is chiselled in the walls of history and will forever be iconic as a game changer in politics and propaganda.

TITLE: Valentina Kulagina – Soviet Union Art Exhibition (Kunst Ausstellung der Sowjetunion, Kunstsalon Wolfsberg), Zurich 1931
 

YEAR: 1931
MEDIUM: Poster
DIMENSIONS: 1250 x 900 mm
COURTESY: Ne boltai! Collection



Art must not be concentrated in dead shrines called museums. It must be spread everywhere – on the streets, in the trams, factories, workshops, and in the workers’ homes.
-Vladimir Mayakovsky

TITLE: Valentin Shcherbakov – A Spectre is Haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism 

YEAR: 1924
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper
DIMENSIONS: 512 x 687 mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



The October Revolution also brought with it a surge in artistic thought. Constructivism, a genre drenched in the pathos of the people’s movement, borne post-World War I alongside the development of Russian Futurism. Russian Futurism was a collective of poets and artists. Their collaborations, philosophy, ideas, inspirations marked the frameworks of its art and thought. In their cheeky and iconic manifesto titled “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste”, they proclaimed – ‘we alone are the face of our time.’ This was a time of synergy, of ideas that germinated in the midst of the overwhelming change that was sweeping their society.

TITLE: El Lissitzy (1890 – 1941)
 – Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge
 

YEAR: 1920 (printed in 1966
MEDIUM: Print on paper
DIMENSIONS: 693 X 482 mm

COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



Here Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism all collided to create a format that was more analytical and was not about the flesh-and-bone kind of beauty. It was almost a protest against all the luxuries that art stood for till that point. It was radical, approached each object for its essential meaning. It was almost like advertising101. Each art had a message, an ideology, a guttural call to rise. Its public – the simmering underclass, the unhappy youth, the disillusioned working class, was its target. This kind of art without flourish but more direct and informative appealed to their sense of action in the face of turmoil. It nurtured many artist-designers. Alexander Rodchenko, Dmitry Stakhiyevich Moor, El Lissitzky, Adolf Strakhov, Nina Vatolina to name a few became sought after for their works.

TITLE: Dmitrii Moor (1883 – 1946) – Death to World Imperialism
 

YEAR: 1920 (printed in 1966
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

DIMENSIONS: 1060 x 701 mm

COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, and yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting.
-Alexander Rodchenko

TITLE: Gustav Klutsis (1895 – 1938) – Raise Higher the Banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin!
YEAR: 1933
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



Tate is unveiling Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905 – 55 this November with the collection of David King. He was an acclaimed graphic designer, artist, historian and first travelled to Russia in 1970 on an assignment from a magazine to collect information about Trotsky. Leon Trotsky, the leading light of the Russian revolution. Thus, began David King’s fascination with art and other visual forms of propaganda that reflected the Russian Revolution. In his lifetime he assembled one of the world’s most pre-eminent collections of Russian and Soviet material, consisting of over 250,000 artefacts dating from the late 19th century to the Khrushchev era. Publications include The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia (1997, enlarged 2014), Ordinary Citizens: The Victims of Stalin (2003), and Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (2009). David King passed away in May 2016.

TITLE: Nina Vatolina (1915 – 2002)
 – Don’t Chatter! Gossiping Borders on Treason

YEAR: 1941
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

DIMENSIONS: 604 x 444mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



TITLE: Nina Vatolina
Fascism – The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascism

YEAR: 1941
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

DIMENSIONS: 860 x 589 mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



TITLE: Yevgeny Khaldei (1917 – 1997)
Soviet soldiers raising the red flag over the Reichstag, May 1945


YEAR: Printed 1955
MEDIUM: Gelatin silver print
DIMENSIONS: 860 x 589 mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



TITLE: Dmitrii Moor – 
Proletarians of all Lands, Unite. Long Live the International Army of Labour. Only Commanders from the People will Lead the Red Army to Victory
YEAR: 1918
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



TITLE: Soviet School
 The Nightmare of Future Wars – Workers of the World Unite!
YEAR: 1920s
MEDIUM: Lithograph on paper

DIMENSIONS: 535 x 710 mm
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



TITLE: Aleksandr Deineka
Stakhanovites: A Study for The Esteemed People of the Soviets’ Mural for the USSR Pavilion, 1937 International Exposition in Paris 1937

YEAR: 1937
MEDIUM: Oil paint on canvas
DIMENSIONS: 1260 x 2000 mm

COURTESY: Perm State Art Gallery, Russia




TITLE: El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) and Sergei Senkin (1894 – 1963)

YEAR: 1928
DESCRIPTION: “The Task of the Press Is the Education of the Mases”
 Photomontage from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Catalogue of the Soviet Pavilion at the International Press Exhibition, Cologne 1928

MEDIUM: Photogravure
COURTESY: The David King Collection at Tate



To mark the centenary of the October Revolution, this autumn (from 8 November 2017 to 18 February 2018) Tate Modern will open Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905 – 55, curated from his remarkable collection.

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