The turbulent twentieth century history has evidenced how artistic human creativity is closely interlaced with power, economics, ideology and propaganda.
The art of that particular era led to revision of past ideas and perceptions of the world stemming from the previous centuries. This new art propagating new aesthetics and content soon started to serve as a political tool.
Late March, Centre Pompidou in Paris launched the exhibition focussing on the artistic legacy of the three key figures of the Russian avant-garde: Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevitch. These three masters were contemporaries living in the same era, and soon found each other in the same small city of Vitebsk (now situated in Belarus). They all shared a certain vision for the development of Leftist Art, based on the core principles of mass and accessible education, innovation and the spirit of collectivism. The initial concept of this impressive public display was to examine and to re-evaluate the significance of creative cooperation between these artists. Additionally, the exhibition set to explore how these three artists influenced each other in the development of their visual artistic expression, full of social purpose, and spreading on an overwhelming scale across the post-revolutionary Russia. It is necessary to mention that throughout the whole exhibition visitors have a unique chance to acquaint themselves with lesser known works by the students and professors of People’s School of Art. Its founding by Chagall was a cross-point for Malevitch and Lissitzky, who were invited to join the founder of the School and to lecture there.
The exhibition competently traces the main stages of the post-revolutionary artistic revival. Visual evidence of the consequences of the 1917 Russian Revolution could also be perceived in organisation and intellectual arrangement of Vitebsk’s urban space. Its streets were filled with posters, banners or sketches full of geometric forms of all kinds, echoing recent events. They were the embodied visualisation of a certain ideology and identity. Chagall and Malevich actively participated in this artistic transitional movement from the enclosed private space to public urban space. The only difference was that the latter was the mouthpiece of the newly formed community UNOVIS, with its propagandist slogans of Suprematism. Originally targeted at the creation of a new Soviet type of man, as the art historian Victoria Bonnell has pointed out, this art propaganda and its visual methods were appealing to the masses on account of its being very specific, generalised, concise and expressive of “narodnost” (which means accessible to common folk and addressing them in their own language). The goal of such early Soviet era propagandist art and its creators was to be intelligible to the target Soviet audience which was predominantly illiterate.
The exposition culminates in Lissitzky’s Prouns, Malevich’ s Architectones and Chagall’s works for the Kamerny State Jewish Theatre in Moscow. The year 1922 was marked by a lull setting in after the period of the post-revolutionary unrest. This had a decisive influence on artistic friendships, as it also signalled a need for Chagall, Malevitch and Lissitzky to follow their own paths. At that point the roads of these three key figured diverged. Chagall left for Moscow, Malevich — for Petrograd and Lissitzky — for Berlin. Each continued to develop their own vision. Organised by the Centre Georges Pompidou, the exhibition is well worth a visit, which will enable one to go back to the starting point of all subsequent creative searching of the Russian avant-garde art.