Russian Arts and Architecture From the Soviet Period to the 21st Century

The revolutionary Russia

After the October Revolution, new institutions were born in a climate of lively discussions: the Department of Fine Arts (IZO, 1917) collaborated with Kandinskij, Tatlin, N. Altman, D. Šterenberg, Rozanova, Malevič, Rodčenko, N. Udalcova, I. Maškov, Falk, Petrov-Vodkin; the Institute of Art Culture is headed by Kandinsky and Malevich. The desire to link artistic creation to the world of industrial production finds expression in the Vchutemas. The theatrical experiments of V. Mejerchol´d, the political manifesto and the caricature (D. Moor, V. Denis, V. Mayakovskij) have great importance. However, within the avant-garde, different positions can be identified rejecting the extreme theses of productivism, which some artists bring (N. Gabo, N. Pevsner, Chagall, Kandinskij) to continue their research abroad. ● In 1922 the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia was created, whose exponents (I. Brodskij, M. Grekov, S. Maljutin, G. Rijažskij and others), defending realist art, anticipated in their works the concept of socialist realism. Constructivism tendencies predominate in architecture (the Vesnin brothers, M. Gincburg, I. Golosov, I. Leonidov, K. Melnikov, A. Ščusev). The first large industrial plants were built (chemical products factory in Černoreč´e, 1918-19, by V. Vesnin; power plant in Volkhov, 1919-26, by O. Munc, etc.), complexes of workers’ houses, warehouses, palaces of culture and workers’ clubs (Melnikov, Golosov), entire neighborhoods are being reconstructed in different cities.

Official art and architecture

Towards the end of the 1920s, realist tendencies predominate in the figurative arts, responding to the purposes of propaganda and political commitment. In 1932, under the influence of the party, the groups of painters dissolved to merge into the Union of Soviet artists, based on the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (B. Ioganson, V. Yakovlev, A. Gerasimov, S. Gerasimov, Dejneka, A. Plastov, J. Pimenov, M. Nesterov, P. Korin, V. Bakšeev, N. Krymov, A. Kuprin, V. Bjalynickij-Birulja etc.). Many avant-garde painters are relegated to the background, some pursue their research in private (Tatlin, P. Filonov), others continue to work in applied arts, design and book illustration (Rodčenko, Stepanova, V. Favorskij etc.). Among the prominent painters are Dejneka, Plastov, Nesterov Končalovskij. Worker and collective farm worker for the USSR pavilion in the 1937 Paris exhibition). ● In the 1930s, in architecture, constructivism came out of the experimental phase with the creations in Moscow of the Vesnin brothers (workers’ club of the car factory, 1930-37), of Golosov (headquarters of Pravda, 1929-34); M. Ginzburg elaborates the socialist reconstruction plan for Moscow GreenCity (1930). The relationships with the European avant-garde architects, from Le Corbusier, are also intense(Centrosojuz, later Palace of Light Industry, Moscow, 1929-35) to A. Lurçat, who stayed in Russia from 1934 to 1937, to E. May. Among the important international competitions is that of the Palace of the Soviets (1931-33), but the victory of the project by Jofan, Gel´frejch and Ščuko shows the affirmation of the traditionalist and monumental current; the architects try to decorate the functional construction with elements of classical and Renaissance architecture (in Moscow works by D. Čečulin, N. Molokov, K. Alabian, Ščuko, V. Gel´frejch, L. Rudnev, V. Munc; in Sverdlovsk: G. Vol´fenzon, E. Balakšina; etc.). ● Since the end of the 1940s with the intensification of ideological control, the themes of war, victory and reconstruction, the glorification of revolutionary history are the main subjects of art (Dejneka, Pimenov, V. Serov, P. Sokolov-Skalja, E. Kibrik, A. Gerasimov, M. Maniser, N. Tomskij, A. Laktionov, F. Bogorodskij, S. Gerasimov, F. Modorov, J. Neprincev, D. Nalbandian etc.). Genre painting is affirmed, descriptive and moralizing (F. Rešetnikov, S. Grigoriev). The billboard and political caricature develop (B. Efimov, B. Prorokov, Kukryniksy, M. Kuprijanov, P. Krylov, N. Sokolov). Buildings and complexes are created in which pompous monumentality and eclecticism predominate (houses of A. Burov and A. Mordvinov on Gorky Street in Moscow, stations of the Moscow metro and Leningrad, Moscow skyscrapers, by L. Rudnev and others). ● Towards the mid-1950s, architecture begins to free itself from the imitation of historicizing styles and turns towards a standardized and functional design, especially in public architecture, with the use of new materials and construction methods and with use of prefabricated elements. Large housing complexes are built in Moscow, Leningrad, Sverdlovsk, Gorky, and an extensive reconstruction of the ancient cities is carried out, impoverishing their historical aspect. An approach to solving urban planning problems on a large scale is evident in the construction of new cities: Togliatti (by I. Pokrovskij), Zelengorod, near Moscow (by Pokrovskij). Architectural complexes are built (international pioneer camp Novyj Artek by A. Poljanskij, 1960-69), public buildings (Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin in Moscow by M. Posochin and others; Palace of the Pioneers on the Sparrow Hills in Moscow by Čečulin, 1962-69). ● A series of public buildings from the 1970s highlight examples of postmodernism: Olympic sports complex in Moscow by B. Tchor et al, 1981; House of the Soviets of the RSRFS Belyj dom «White House» in Čečulin, 1981. Since the mid-1980s, new generation architects have established themselves (M. Brodskij, I. Utkin, M. Chazanov).

Alternative art

The first openings in art are manifested by the group works of the students of S. Gerasimov, presented in 1954 at the I Exhibition of young artists in Moscow (V. Gavrilov, I. Popov, V. Stožarov, brothers Tkačëv and A. Tutunov), who prefer peasant themes. Exhibitions of foreign artists are organized (P. Picasso) and Russian artists of the 1920s and 1930s (Dejneka, El Lissitsky etc.). Interest is reborn in the great figurative form, in advertising graphics and in a dramatic and severe conception (P. Nikonov, N. Andronov, V. Popkov, V. Ivanov, P. Ossovskij, Smolin brothers). In the mid-1950s an alternative art to the official one was born (A. Zverev, I. Kabakov, D. Krasnopevcev, V. Jakovlev, V. Sitnikov, D. Plavinskij, V. Nemuchin, O. Rabin, O. Celkov, V. Jankilevskij, V. Vejsberg, L. Kropivnickij; the sculptor E. Neizvestnyj), tolerated by the authorities in the private sphere. E. Beljutin plays a notable role in the artistic life of Moscow, encouraging experimentation and reconnecting with the traditions of the Russian avant-garde. ● In the 1970s, in a climate of tension between avant-garde artists and political power, soc-art, with I. Kabakov, I. Čujkov, I. Makarevič, I. Komar, A. Melamid, mainly active abroad. In the 1980s, in an atmosphere of greater freedom, the groups Muchomory (“Evil Ovoli”), Detsky sad (“Kindergarten”), Medicinskaja germenevtika (“Medical Hermeneutics”) carried out their actions.

After the dissolution of the USSR

Since 1991 the artistic situation in Russia has undergone notable changes both in the strictly creative field and in the organizational one, somehow already started in the previous decade. The Union of Artists, which previously regulated artistic activity, has lost its importance, supported by artists of the older generation, while the Professional Union of Artists and Graphic Designers is more active. Even the Academy of Arts, a bulwark of the official art since its foundation (1947), has lost its influence. Numerous municipal art galleries organize exhibitions and installations by leading artists (B. Orlov, I. Čujkov, F. Arana Infante, I. Makarevič) and young people with radical tendencies. The artists who emigrated abroad and in particular the founders of soc-art, Komar and Melamid, and the leading conceptual artist, Kabakov, continued to target the national avant-garde. However, alongside the presence of new trends (A. Brodskij and IV Utkin, S. Šutov, I. Baskin, O. Černiševa, T. Liberman, L. Gorlova, A. Isaev, S. Bugaev Afrika, A. Èulgin, O. Ljalina, A. Brener, O. Kulik), the permanence of elements of the past such as, for example, the consideration of art by the state as an important means of propaganda. ● During the 1990s, Russian architecture continued to develop the main lines of research that had already emerged in the previous decade. The Presidium of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow does not escape the combination of elements that reinterpret the context (J. Platonov and others, 1990), where the perforated and gilded cubes placed on the top of the double towers intend to recall the city of the golden domes. Among the exponents of the last generation, MA Filippov and I. Utkin. Also relevant is the activity of Studio Ostoženka, directed by AA Skokan.

Russian Arts and Architecture