GRAD Private View: A Game in Hell. The Great War in Russia

We had an invitation to a private view of A Game In Hell. The Great War In Russia at GRAD. That's the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design I wrote about previously on this blog. As we enjoyed the last show there we decided to check it out again as they were showing the work of some of our favourite Russian artists, such as Malevich, who I've also written about on this blog. So we met up for dinner and had fish and chips (probably a good idea considering what we drank later) and then took ourselves along to Little Portland Street (just behind Oxford Street).

I intended to studiously take notes so I could blog about it but things soon started to go awry when we were offered some distinctly Russian cocktails made with Vodka; one being the 'White Russian' and another one made with ginger beer, the name of which I have forgotten. Mmmm, yes, these were very nice indeed!

However, due to this general imbibing I didn't quite achieve what I wanted but here's a bit of an idea of what it's all about...

The exhibition aims to show the response to the First World War in Russia with satirical prints, cartoons and illustrated periodicals. The subject matter is often heavily politicised depicting Allied victories or vilified enemies and acts of great bravery. Various vehicles put these ideas across in the form of books, poetry, prose, collage, woodcuts and watercolours. Often these pieces are traditional in execution but reveal radical and experimental ideas and strong tendencies towards Russia's artistic avant-garde.

A lot of the exhibition is viewed under tabletop glass, and there are photographs, films, large posters and a really great historical timeline on the surrounding walls, which also relates to what was happening in European art around the same time. The photographs and films give a personal touch to the forgotten histories of the people who fought in the war.

Work can be seen by Kazimir Malevich, Olga Rozanova, Aleksei Kruchenykh,Velimir Khlebnikov and Pavel Filonov and Natalya Goncharova amongst others.

We particularly liked a futurist book titled 'Explodity' by Aleksei Kruchenykh from 1913 made with watercolour and ink on paper.


We couldn't help thinking afterwards about how extreme hardship can produce such creativity, it brings to mind this quote from Harry Lime in the film, The Third Man:
   “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This exhibition is on until 27th November and would be well coupled with another show on at the Photographers' Gallery which is just on the other side of Oxford Street  This one is on until 19th October and called Early Colour Photography in Russia where you can marvel a pieces like this one below.

'BE READY!' 1932
Photomontage by Vavara Stepanova

53 Million Artists Interview Me

Here I am answering a few questions put to me by the people from 53 Million Artists.  The interview wasn't planned and afterwards I realised there were many more things I would have liked to have said but I guess it's always the way when you're put on the spot.  I can talk for England when I get going so it's just as well that the batteries were running out in the camera.

The Russian Revolutionary - Zaha Hadid on Kazimir Malevich

Following on from my post about Kazimir Malevich here's a documentary about the way Zaha Hadid's vision for her architecture was inspired by his work.

Collage: Mother and Child

Mother and Child
A3 Collage
Vintage text, gouache and graphite on paper.

Malevich at Tate Modern

On until 26th October 2014

Kazimir Malevich
Born: 1879 Kiev, Ukraine
Died: 1935 St Petersburg, Russia

I read somewhere that Kazimir Malevich wasn't a particularly good painter. I've been looking for this piece of wisdom today and typically I can't find it. I wanted to see what was meant by it because after going to the first ever retrospective of his work in the UK, at the Tate, I disagree with this statement. Strangely though I think my low expectation was partly why I was so impressed and moved by this show.

I think Malevich is a shining example of what a painter should be. He was constantly experimenting in his early career with various forms of abstraction. His exploration through the European movements in the early stages of his painting career show him trying out Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism etc whilst at the same time using the native Russian people and workers as subjects. This early work is interesting but as I moved through the next few rooms I felt that he was really starting to find his own unique vision and working increasingly at the cutting-edge.

The big change happens when he becomes involved with theatre and collaborates with avant-garde poets and musicians to produce the futurist opera called Victory over the Sun in 1913. My friends and I were quite amazed by how modern this piece was for the time. He starts producing work for the stage, and it is this that leads him to the level of abstraction of which the pinnacle becomes the renowned Black Square. This is also the starting point for his new approach to art which he called suprematism.

Around the middle of the exhibition there is a room that replicates an exhibition held in 1915 called The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10. There is one surviving photograph of this (see below) which the curators have used to evoke the original room with nine of the twelve original paintings.

The original exhibition

This is the point where the exhibition gets really interesting. Even though there are many works with simple forms I really felt drawn in by so many of them and kept on noticing things such as a red square on a whitish background (see below) but with one edge going off at an angle, raising the question as to why? Also, on close inspection odd textural finishing when filling in forms which take on the appearance of something soft like fur or suede but definitely not trying to represent these things, all very odd but compelling. I feel that some of these works have a strange hypnotic or contemplative effect that definitely cannot be experienced without seeing them up close and in the flesh.

 Red Square(Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions) 1915

The most elemental geometric forms are the most contemplative and have a stillness but some of the works become more dynamic with coloured geometric shapes interacting with each other and often floating as if in space.
Supremus No.55 1916

It's hard to imagine but well worth baring in mind that this work was done during the height of the war and that Malevich was a reservist who spent time with his unit during 1916. By 1917 the old regime collapsed and the Revolution was transforming the political climate which sought to change art to fit the new and equal society. Malevich seems to reveal this change, visually dissolving and fading forms by placing white on white or fading edges.

Yellow Quadrilateral on White (Dissolution of Sensation) 1917-18

I found this fading quality quite emotive and was surprised at myself for feeling this but this is precisely why I think Malevich is such a great artist. He can move you when you're not expecting to be moved and with something as pure and simple as the piece above.

From 1919 Malevich became a teacher, eager to promote the principals of suprematism for the home and the workplace. During the 1920s, he took suprematism into three dimensions with his architectons. These are like a cross between sculpture and architectural maquettes.   

However, by 1924 Lenin had died and gradually Stalin succeeded him and this brought about another change where avant-garde art was seen as elitist. Socialist realism became the authorised style of the Soviet Union. This didn't prevent him from painting though as by 1929 he's producing new works blending abstraction with figuration.

Woman with Rake

This exhibition is large and covers twelve rooms in all but with this you really get to see how prolific he was and you also get a real sense of a whole life shown in art. It feels personal and strangely as if I had known him. I would like to thank my friend Myka for treating us to this one.