Seeing Red: London's 2017 Russian and Soviet Art Scene

By: Maria Ogundele | Date 13.04.2017
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, several major exhibitions have been hitting the capital to commemorate its centenary. With more planned later this year, we’ve put together the following guide to reveal what’s on offer and where.
Hope Tragedy and Myths - Red Army Poster, courtesy of British Library, (c) British Library
Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths
Now open at the British Library “Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths”. Beginning in the reign of the last Tsar, the exhibition explores the repression and unrest that fuelled the growth of revolutionary movements. It also examines the huge social and political changes that kick-started the transformation of Russia from monarchy rule into the world’s first Communist state.

Revolutionary leaders including Vladimir Lenin and Nicholas II are examined through a number of artefacts such as posters, letters, photographs, weapons, clothing and film. Other exhibits include a luxury souvenir album of the Tsar’s coronation and propaganda wallpaper hand-painted by women factory workers.

One exhibition highlight, on display for the first time, is a letter written by Lenin in April 1902, applying to become a Reader at the British Museum Library, now part of the British Library. Lenin signed the letter with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, and it marks the first of several trips he made to the Library.

"Hope, Tragedy, Myths" closes on 29th August.

Revolution: Russian Art: 1917 – 1932
The Royal Academy’s epic centenary offering closed on 17th April. Information about this recent exhibition can be found on the RA’s website.

Imagine Moscow
If you were unable to reach the Royal Academy’s momentous show before it closed, have no fear – another commemorative exhibition awaits patiently for you in Kensington...

Idealistic architectural projects never realised are the focus of the Design Museum’s ‘Imagine Moscow’. This exhibition explores the ‘new’ Moscow as it was envisioned by an inspirational generation of architects during the 1920s and early 1930s.

A selection of six projects – each thematic to the existing ideology of the time, are examined in the form of large-scale architectural plans, models and rarely seen drawings. Visitors will gain unique insight into how these schemes reflected the changes in life and society following the October Revolution. We’ve cherry-picked three projects from the Design Museum exhibition to give you a taster:

Palace of the Soviets
Probably the most well-known of these featured projects is Boris Iofan’s 'Palace of the Soviets'. This extraordinary building was earmarked for the site of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow. Had it been completed, the ‘Palace of the Soviets’ would have included a one hundred foot statue of Lenin on its top, it was expected to be the world’s tallest building. Work began on this project during 1937 but during 1941 – building was terminated.

Cloud Iron
Overcrowding, unemployment and inadequacies within Moscow’s transport system were all addressed in one seriously ambitious vision by El Lissitzky, in the form of his futuristic ‘Cloud Iron’ project. Had it been built, eight horizontal skyscrapers would've connected directly to office space and residential areas on upper floors, with new tram and metro stations in operation lower down. This state-of-the-art imagining by Lissitzky was completely ahead of its time.

Sadly for Lissitzky this project never made it from a canvas depiction into the real world. However, if his futuristic creation had somehow managed to fast forward Lissitzky into the following century, he’d have found many a modern day building project imitating parts of his clever design. So luckily his efforts weren’t completely wasted.

Lenin Institute
The planned ‘new’ Moscow meant learning new ways of living for its inhabitants, so where better to learn than the local library? Or in Moscow’s case the local 'Lenin Institute' by Leonidov. His vision - a planetarium and monumental library containing fifteen million volumes of books, as well as scientific theatres and a powerful radio station – literally everything needed to educate inhabitants of this new Soviet society. Unfortunately for Leonidov, and the rest of the architects - the invasion by the German’s in 1941, increasing poverty, oppression and famine – turned Moscow’s beautiful utopian dream into dystopian reality. The exhibition closes on 4th June.

IIya and Emilia Kabakov: Tate Modern
From 10th October 2017, the theme of failed utopia within the Soviet society will also be explored at a major exhibition by Russian-born IIya and Emilia Kabakov.

While other exhibitions we’ve mentioned have focused on the Soviet Union during the earlier part of the 20th century, this show will exhibit paintings, drawings and installations created in the latter part of the 20th century by the now American based, conceptual artists. Despite the subject matter, fictional characterisation, melancholia and, thankfully, humour are central to the Kabakovs’ work.

Red Star Over Russia: Tate Modern
This is the second planned Russian and Soviet exhibition of 2017 at Tate Modern. ‘Red Star Over Russia’ will provide a visual history of Russian and Soviet art spanning five decades. From the first revolution of 1905 to 1953 when Stalin died – a collection of rarely seen posters and photographs will go on display outlining the innovation and experimentation the October Revolution ignited. Works by El Lissitzky, Gustav Klutsis, Dmitri Moor and Nina Vatolina will all be included. Red Star Over Russia will run from 8th November 2017 – 18 February 2018.


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