Revolution – New Art For A New World

Boris Kustodiev ‘The Bolshevik’ © www.foxtrot
Boris Kustodiev ‘The Bolshevik’ © www.foxtrot


A Margy Kinmonth Film

Director: Margy Kinmonth

Created with the support of Alisher Usmanov, Founder of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation

Contributors: Museum Directors:

Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky & Zelfira Tregulova

Film Director: Andrei Konchalovsky

2017 WILL mark the centenary of one of the most important moments in the history of the 20th Century – the Russian Revolution. In the lead-up to the Centenary of the Russian Revolution, a film that explores the art coming out of Revolutionary Russia Revolution: New Art for a New World was screened in UK cinemas for one night only on 10th November.

This feature length documentary explores the world of the Russian Avant-Garde art movement through this turbulent time in history. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Margy Kinmonth, the movie is a bold and exciting feature documentary. Drawing on the collections of major Russian institutions, contributions from contemporary artists, curators, and performers and personal testimony from the descendants of those involved, the film brings the artists of the Russian Avant-Garde to life.

It tells the stories of artists like Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich and others – pioneers who flourished in response to the challenge of building a New Art for a New World, only to be broken by implacable authority after 15 short years.

Stalin’s rise to power marked the close of this momentous period, consigning the Avant Garde to obscurity. Yet the Russian Avant-Garde continues to exert a lasting influence over art movements up to the present day.

Revolution: New Art for a New World confirms this, exploring the fascination that these colourful paintings, inventive sculptures and propaganda posters retain over the modern consciousness 100 years on.

The documentary was filmed entirely on location in Moscow, St. Petersburg and London, with access to The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum, The State Hermitage Museum and in co-operation with The Royal Academy of Arts, London.

It features paintings previously banned and unseen for decades, and masterpieces which rarely leave Russia. Contributors include Museum Directors Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky and Zelfira Tregulova and film director Andrei Konchalovsky.

The film also features Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, James Fleet, Eleanor Tomlinson and Daisy Bevan who bring to life some of the most prominent voices of this time. Director Margy Kinmonth says: ‘I was inspired, as an artist, to discover how many of the descendants of Russian Avant-Garde artists are themselves working as artists today. Access to their intensely moving stories brings to life this extraordinary period of artistic innovation, which continues to exert such a powerful legacy a hundred years on.’

The film shows the enthusiastic response of the group of young artists and their devotion to the Bolshevik-led revolution. The opening titles proclaim: ‘The message was workers of the world unite … everyone is going to have equal rights, including the artists.’ Painter Popova says, ‘We are breaking with the old because we cannot accept their hypotheses.’

The film proper opens with historic footage of the Women’s Day March of February 17 which was brutally dispersed by Tsarist troops, killing hundreds. Photographer Bulla captured the scene of the massacre from his apartment window. The massacre set light to the February revolution which deposed the Tsar and brought in the Provisional government. Later footage of the storming of the Winter Palace from Eisenstein’s film October is shown.

One of those interviewed says: ‘Before 1917 the artistic revolution was already underway but the political revolution let it flourish.’ Here the film considers Malevich and his abstract Suprematism movement. It talks of his emphasis on black and poster colour kinetic marks out of a white background. There is a debate about his controversial Black Square.

Chagall’s flying couple in Vitebsk: Over the Town is considered with commentary that it reflects on a freedom brought on by the revolution. The film notes the conflict between the Russian art academy’s European classicist teaching and the new art which is full of colour and often ignored perspective. One commentator calls Kandinsky ‘the father of abstract art’ who ‘would change the course of painting forever’.

The work of inventive theatre director Meyerhold is praised, with modern actors demonstrating the revolutionary director’s ‘biomechanics’ exercises for actors. Outstanding works are found in museum archives, stored away. The film recounts how the Bolsheviks set up a Visual Arts Department.

Rodchenko, we are informed, worked as a multifaceted artist in many disciplines, photography, graphic art and design. And Vertov was a pioneering documentary film maker. A new school of photomontage was encouraged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Women artists flourished. Among them, Stepanova who was married to Rodchenko.

As well as posters, Lenin’s agitprop train steamed across Russia in a literacy drive. One famous poster proclaims BOOKS. Artists, workers and peasants alike suffered huge privation during the imperialist wars of intervention and the counter-revolution of the White Guards financed by the west.

Trotsky built the Red Army to successfully defend the new workers state but it came at a cost. The film does not talk about Trotsky, save to say Stalin entered the editing room of October and made Eisenstein cut Trotsky out when he was filmed standing next to Lenin during a cheering rally. This is when the film deals with Stalin’s dead hand on art and artists after Lenin’s death, with his insistence on Social Realism and the ever increasing censorship.

Then came the Stalin purges of 1936-38 that continued till the 1950s. Many were sent to the Gulag, many were tortured and executed on false charges. Avant-garde artists were declared ‘enemies of the state’. One surviving relative tells how ‘we stayed awake at night; if we heard boots on the ground, we knew they were coming.’

Some fled like Chagall and others survived including Malevich who subverted realism with stylised larger than life portraits. However, the director insists, the Russian avant-garde has a ‘lasting legacy which has transformed art’. The closing credits name the many artists and their fates. Look out of this inspiring must-see documentary. Hopefully there will be more screenings and it will reach a wider audience.