MADE IN RUSSIA – modern art inspired by the East, not derived from the West
Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (Florence, Italy),
21 september 2013 to 19 january 2014
The Russian Avant-garde is often portrayed as a derivative of the dynamic art scene in the West in the early 20th century, and Russian artists are often thought to have merely followed the trends initiated in Paris, Barcelona and Berlin. The exhibition Fire and Ice. The Russian Avant-garde, Siberia and the East tackles these popular misconceptions and takes the visitor on a journey of discovery as the Russian artists explicitly turn their back on the West. In 1913 Natalia Goncharova exclaimed: ‘We belong to Asia’, Georgii Yakulov called for an ‘Oriental Renaissance’, whilst artists of the Russian Revolution, eager to fuse West and East within the cradle of a new Soviet civilization, even spoke of the need for an ‘Oriental Constructivism’.
This journey follows in the path of the whirlwind tour of Tsarevich Nicholas in 1890–1, which took him to India, Ceylon, Java, Japan and China. The Tsarevich’s journey back to St. Petersburg took him through the interior territories, acquainting him with indigenous peoples and exposing him to the vastness of the Russian state. During the 19th century the vastness of the Russian Empire had been explored by numerous state and private expeditions to gather anthropological and ethnographical materials. The diplomatic success of the Tsarevich’s mission is signalled by the huge collection of souvenirs and gifts which were transferred to a number of Russian museums including the Hermitage, the Kunstkammer and the Russian Ethnographical Museum.
Just as the African masks proved fundamental to Picasso’s fusion of Classicism and Primitivism, materials such as Mongol and Buryat tankas, sculptures and other objects from the Far East, as well as physical testimonies to shamanism and to the rituals of the various ethnic Russian groups prove central to the explosion of creativity by the artists of the Russian Avant-garde.
The overriding goal of Fire and Ice is to demonstrate how Russian artists studied, assessed and paraphrased Oriental and primitive influences. Fire and Ice uses the exhibition to redefine modern Russian art, bringing together objects which, drawing upon the East, inspired the Avant-Garde; Benois’ drawings for the costumes in Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (1914) next to coloured Japanese prints; Bakst’s costumes for Les Orientales (1910) alongside Indian, Persian and Chinese textiles; Konenkov’s, Matiushins’s and Suvorov’s wooden figures next to shamanistic instruments; Yakulov’s evocations of “Asiatic” perspective; Roerich’s primordial landscapes next to petroglyphs; Anisfeld’s paintings of Buddhas, Malevich’s Suprematism beside objects from the steppes; Kandinsky’s White Oval next to Theosophical forms; Filonov’s people and beasts alongside shamanistic animal spirits.
Fire and Ice is curated by John E. Bowlt (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA), Nicoletta Misler (Università di Napoli “l’Orientale”, Italy) and Evgenia Petrova (State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia) with the assistance of a team of international advisors. The installation of Fire and Ice, also echoes the mood of the Russian avant-garde, and will be accompanied by an extensive catalogue and didactic programme.
Organised by: Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi
Curated by: John E. Bowlt, Nicoletta Misler, Evgenia Petrova