Bologna the Red, they say. Not as red as the October’s revolution, happening little more than one hundred years ago (on October 25th 1917 of the Russian calendar it had its peak), that inspired Revolutija, an incredibly rich and fascinating exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna, also known as MAMbo. From Malevich to Chagall, Kandinsky, Repin, it is an intoxication of dynamic creativity and the inevitable reflection of a powerful moment in history.
In order for this remarkable collection of the Russian avant-garde from the early twentieth century to be put on display, the Russian State Museum of Saint Petersburg had seventy of its paintings sent to Bologna, along with a smaller number of sculptures, photographs and videos. Also from the Russian State Museum are the two curators of Revolutjia, museum’s director Evgenia Petrova and artistic director Joseph Kiblitsky.
As Kiblitsky pointed out during the preview, the “revolution” of the title is one inside the minds of the many artists on display, each with his/her personal view, as well as a revolution of culture and of the system. But what matters the most is the amazing complexity of such a crucial moment in history and in the history of the arts.
At first, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian artists were soaked into cosmopolitism, deeply connected to and influenced by the most vibrant European trends, from French post-impressionism, fauvism and cubism to Italian futurism (traces of the latter can easily be spotted in the Boccioni-esque Cyclist from Goncarova).
Influences of a revolutionary attitude could already be spotted before the actual moment in 1917. It was not just the influence of 1905’s attempt, repressed by the Tzar and portrayed in Repin’s October 17th 1905. It was a broader sense of electricity and diversity that was palpable, breathable and now easy to observe in the works of art that survived, some of them to become masterpieces.
The time span covered by the exhibition goes from 1903 to 1930, and mirrors the evolution of such a fertile trio of decades, from Primitivism to Cubo-futurism up to Suprematism and towards a realism that was strongly encouraged by the authorities.
The collection of artworks also underlines the general turmoil and the first seeds of what was to come, both before, during and after the revolution, as well as the complexity of reactions to a dramatically changing climate, with each artist having its own way to cope, observe, be with the flow.
An interesting addition to the paintings is represented by some of the original stage costumes from Victory over the sun, an opera that, as Kiblitsky puts it, «Already encapsulated all the elements of non-objectivist, pre-revolutionary art. The artists that created it were not intentionally trying to make change, yet they were fully aware of a certain feeling that was there».
Premiering among a chorus of whistles in 1913, one year before Second World War and four before the Red Revolution, Victory over the sun had music written by Mikhail Matyushin, text by Aleksei Kruchenykh, scenes and costumes by Kazimir Malevich. An it is here that, for the very first time, Malevich displayed his iconic Black Square. This landmark of modern art debuted on the world stage during the second act of the opera.
Revolutija‘s set up is conceived so that one can follow a coherent, chronological itinerary, at least for the first round, with the broad space and high ceiling of Mambo’s main room hosting the largest pieces as well as a video screening. The last painting is a portrait of Stalin from Pavel Filonov, interpreting the soviet leader in a style that contradicts the official realism that was generally required at the time. There’s none of the joy and optimism the socialist propaganda aimed to display. But what strikes most is that the dynamism and hope, so well pictured in many of the previous artworks on display, they too seem to be long gone.
Revolutija, da Chagall a Malevich, da Repin a Kandinsky
12 December 2017 – 13 May 2018
MAMbo, Via Don Minzoni 14, 40121 Bologna
Mon – Fri 8.30 am – 6.00 pm / Sat 9.00 am -6.00 pm
All photos and paintings belong to ©State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg