Over 160 works exploring a little-known chapter in the history of modern and Russian avant-garde art
One hundred years ago, Russia turned red. The Bolsheviks took power and ended up establishing a regime destined to last for seventy years. A hundred years ago a handful of artists, strongly influenced by Marxist ideas, founded a vanguard that would change the world of pictorial disciplines. This marked the beginning of a creative era that will last just long enough to see the start the Soviet repression. Not by chance, at the head of the movement there were three Jewish artists.
Following the February and October revolutions, they earned for the first time their full rights to citizenship. Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich – three names that immediately identify themselves with power and colours. The epicentre of everything was Vitebsk, in today’s Belarus, city that for six years (from 1918 to 1922) was the headquarters of this avant-garde movement. Now, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York gives space to these works that were the first to break through the public.
For Chagall, a painter who had been active since a decade, 1918 would mark a turning point in his artistic career. This was the year in which he truly began to experiment, with that dreamy trait that would characterize his work until the 1980s. Morever, 1918 was the year in which he founded the art school “of the people”, which in the intention had to be in line with the Bolshevik values, open to all and free. Lissistzky and Malevich were two of the first artists contacted.
These are the two names related to suprematism, the movement that focused everything on the development of simple forms. El Lissitzky, in particular, is one of the fathers of modern graphic design – with the use of two-dimensional figures in strong contrast, which would then evolve, starting from the second half of the ’20s, into the so-called “Proun”, a mixture of abstract painting and architecture.
Malevich was the theoretician of the group, closely followed by young students. His aesthetic idea was that of an art that was free from practical ends and completely an end in itself. This was a radical vision that represented the Russian response to what had happened in Western Europe where, in the same period, Cubism and Futurism were being experimented.
After the debut at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the avant-garde exhibition dedicated to Vitebsk now arrives at the New York museum dedicated to Jewish art, whose collection includes over 30 thousand objects, from ceremonial instruments, to the works of Yiddish artists. In what is the largest place dedicated to Jewish culture outside of Israel, Chagall is truly at home, not only with many works of property, but with exhibitions that are repeated over time. In 2013 they dedicated a review of the works of his darkest and pessimistic period, that of exile under Stalin, in the years of the Second World War.
“The Russian avant-garde at Vitebsk” will be held at the Jewish Museum until January 6th. However, there are many other initiatives in the world that celebrate Chagall’s work: among these, there is a monographic exhibit in Mantua (in Italy), at the Palazzo della Ragione.
There is also an exhibition that opens with the backdrop of the celebrations of the October revolution and which houses one of the greatest works ever made by the artist: the curtains for the Jewish theatre in Moscow, which are loaned by the Tretjakov State Gallery in Moscow only in exceptional cases.