Messy Histories Part 1: Early Soviet Art

What a time to be alive, eh?

Today is Saturday March 21st. I’ve been looking forward to Saturday March 21st for quite some time. Saturday March 21st had an asterix next to it in my diary – and the diaries of many others – as one of the dates Liverpool were most likely to win the league. I anticipated today being about drinking, football, and more drinking, in a state of unimaginable giddiness. Instead it’s the first day of my social distancing. Like millions of others, I’m staying inside and away from other people to try and stem the spread of this virus.

Obviously I can’t continue Messy Lines in its usual form for a few weeks – even if I were going out, all the exhibitions are closed. But I still need to write

So over the next few weeks I’m going to be running Messy Histories over on my Instagram. You may know that I’m a big Art History fan/student, and there’s a few topics in particular I just love. Each week is going to be a blast through seven images which give an introduction to a topic I’m fascinated with. Most of the details will be in the captions, but I’ll put up a post here just to give info on why I’ve chosen this subject in particular.

First up is early Soviet art. Actually more specific to say Soviet art from within the Russian context (I won’t be covering examples from specific regions or republics). And by “early” I’d usually mean 1917-32-ish, but my first example is from 1941 so I’m stretching that a bit.

Why am I so obsessed with early Soviet art projects? When I was first introduced to post-Revolution avant-garde poster art, I thought it was a relatively simple story, but the more I’ve dug in the more twists to the story have appeared. There’s not just one black-and-white – or even Red-or-White – interpretation of what artists wanted to do during this period. Belief in the ideals of the new Soviet state was common, but the precise imaginings of what this would be like in practice were unclear.

And of course, what idealism there was didn’t last as such. Some artists got sucked into the projects of Socialist Realism, creating idealised images with official sanction. Some critics have argued that the avant-garde always carried the seeds of totalitarian control – perhaps there’s truth in this.

I’m also particularly interested in the place of women in all of this. In art in general actually, but again the Soviet period is a good place to explore all kinds of contradictions. What place did women have in the new socialist society – what did revolution mean? How did the imagery align with the everyday lived experience?

This won’t be an exhaustive look at any of these questions, but it will aim to be a whistlestop tour of the general questions in the topic. Something to keep me occupied during these crazy times, and hopefully you’ll find out or think differently about some of the stuff too.

Join me over on Instagram @messylines_ . I like conversation, so feel free to drop me comments too.

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