Socialist Worker

Despite the curator, Russian artists shine in new exhibit

by Jay Williams
Issue No. 2541

Kazimir Malevichs Red Cavalry

Kazimir Malevich's Red Cavalry


The most striking thing about the Royal Academy of Art's exhibition comes as you enter.

The front of its imposing building is covered by a massive banner depicting Boris Kustodiev’s The Bolshevik. This personification of revolution—big, strong and male—strides above and away from the very bourgeois architecture holding the exhibition.

The irony continues as you enter the stately staircase, adorned with red flags with a disturbingly plush red carpet underfoot.

The exhibition is divided into themes, the first of which is salute the leader.

Lenin is depicted as studious and alone. Isaak Brodsky’s portrait of Lenin shows him as friendly, approachable and engaging. But it also shows a demonstration outside past a voluptuous curtain of crimson.

Intention

Whether this is the original intention is debatable. What is apparent throughout the exhibition is that the working class is rarely seen as fully active within history.

Yes, their labour is shown but, as in Alexander Deineka’s Textile Workers, they seem almost sickly and unhappy. Again in Ekaterina Zernova’s Tomato Paste Factory—a stunning picture with blocks of red and blue portraying product and labour—the workers are solemn at best as they struggle with hot vats in poor footwear.

What’s missing are the iconic posters of the revolution. And there are too few of the tremendous photographs on display. Indeed, there is very little from 1917 and nothing from before.

It’s as though this art came out of nowhere. Deineka’s Defence of Petrograd is displayed next to The Bolshevik. It is soft and strong, almost monochrome but pulsing with colour. There is movement in this picture, it references Sergei Eisenstein’s film Strike, and has women literally at the centre.

Textiles

There is much to see. Ceramics, textiles with Trotsky erased from history, a constructivist’s ration sheet, a room that would fit into any Ikea catalogue and some wonderful Kandinsky.

But the centre belongs to Kazimir Malevich. You could spend hours just here. Perhaps the most affecting piece is Red Cavalry. With a few bold stripes Malevich evokes an expansive landscape. Similarly, in his portraiture simple geometric shapes display deep emotions.

The end of the exhibition takes you through a corridor reproducing Vladimir Krinsky’s At the Parade, straight into the theme of Stalin’s Utopia. The metaphor here is dull—revolution leads to repression.

It mimics the infantile comments of The Guardian newspaper’s Jonathan Jones—that Bolshevik art should not be displayed because of the revolution and all that followed.

Should Russian icon work be similarly dismissed for upholding 300 years of Romanov despotism?

Never mind Jones and go see this exhibition. Although the £16 entry fee is pricey, it’s not as pricey as the gift shop’s Supremacist watches (£155) or a pair of hand-made leather Malevich-inspired slippers (£160) from a luxury Russian boutique shoe brand.

All that is holy is profaned.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932, Royal Academy of Arts, until 17 April. Go to royalacademy.org.uk

A scene from the play

A scene from the play


Made in India

In a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, three women meet. It’s Londoner Eva’s last chance for motherhood. For village girl Aditi, dairy worker and single mother, surrogacy is a lifeline out of poverty.

For clinic owner and businesswoman Dr Gupta, it’s all just another transaction. But with the backdrop of profound global forces, can it possibly remain that simple? India is one of a handful of countries legally offering commercial surrogacy to parents internationally, although the industry is not fully regulated.

During 2016, a change to the law was drafted making surrogacy legal only to heterosexual Indian couples married for five years.

Satinder Chohan’s new play about motherhood and blood ties between women and nations explores the global and personal implications of India’s surrogacy industry.

Made in India, Written by Satinder Chohan, directed by Katie Posner. On tour until 8 April, see tamasha.org.uk/made-in-india for more details

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