Socialist Worker

Revolutionary plates and teapots broke the mould

You can learn a lot about the excitment of social change—and its effects on art—by looking at a new exhibition, writes Chanie Rosenberg

Issue No. 1929

THERE IS no exhibition more exciting than one showing the explosion of artistic expression thrown up by the Russian Revolution of 1917.

This remarkable exhibition displays avant-garde porcelain produced at the State Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg during the years following the revolution.

The foremost revolutionary artists in Soviet Russia all contributed designs for cups, saucers, plates, dishes, teapots and other objects.

There is an immense variety of artistic output exhibited in four galleries, each focusing on a distinct facet or period of the factory’s output.

One covering the early 1920s shows a variety of avant-garde artists’ designs, including beautiful abstractly painted cups and saucers by Kandinsky.

There are plates painted with a futuristic landscape, a cubist Moscow, a seamstress and a militiaman, as well as porcelain figures.

Another gallery concentrates on “agit-porcelain”—mass political agitation which adorned every conceivable public place or festival.

There were even “agit-trains” which took the message of revolution and new ways of living to the furthest reaches of the land.

The plates or dishes are adorned with slogans such as “Strength in unity” and “Knowledge breaks the chains of slavery”.

But the biggest and most fascinating gallery is the one devoted to Suprematism, a movement led by Kasimir Malevich, whose leading pupils Nikolai Suetin and Ilya Chashnick worked at the factory for almost a year until April 1924, when the factory let the Suprematists go.

The Suprematists took the art of painting and porcelain making to the ultimate extreme of complete abstraction, using the geometrical forms of the square, circle and cross.

The results, on beautifully finished, delicate porcelain, are magical.

If you want to be inspired by a revolutionary upsurge go and see this excellent exhibition.

Circling the Square: Avant-Garde Porcelain from Revolutionary Russia is at Somerset House, London, until 31 July 2005. For details go to www.somerset-house.org.uk


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Sat 27 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1929
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