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Review: Revolution - New Art for a New World

Film Review: MARGY KINMONTH’s ‘Revolution: New Art for a New World’

Kustodiev – Demonstration in Uritsky Square (image courtesy of Arts Alliance/ Foxtrot Films,

The world seems to be doing a stock-check on Russia. Pussy Riot’s notoriety in the Guardian (2012), then, the elegant Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘Second-Hand Time’ (2013). On awarding her the Nobel prize, the Swedish Academy praised the Belarusian writer’s work as a ‘monument to suffering in our time’. Abundantly clear is the suffering of these women for Russia’s sake — Alexievich has been called a traitor, Pussy Riot were prosecuted by the Kremlin.

In contrast, the Russian Art Week (London) was far less laboured. For example the amicable ‘Russia and the Arts’ at the National Portrait Gallery, or Puskin House’s ‘Russian Contemporary Drawings. No Limits’.

These beautiful artists defied the Russian state in their small ways.

Not so for the Russian avant-garde’s featured in Margy Kinmonth’s new film, who instead helped form the ‘alternative to democracy’ in modern human history. Kinmonth’s film makes clear her conviviality with the Russian state’s cultural apparatus - one, the State Hermitage St Petersburg, presented exhibitions in Somerset House’s ‘Hermitage Rooms’ until 2007. In the film’s first 20 minutes there is a slew of curators, academics and artists who talk about their national treasures (artists, thinkers) with a proud Russian spirit.

What becomes clearer over the film is the polarisation of the time. Those artists, like Konchalovsky, who did not lurch to the left were unfairly regarded as conservative. The left became romantic, believing those like Malevich could construct a different world. Some travelled on ‘education trains’ around the countryside, others like Marc Chagall were commissioned to decorate their towns on the Revolution’s first anniversary. They might have constructed a different world, but not without first relying on inside government connections to have them considered ‘workers’ and be eligible for food tokens. A small snippet of interview was played, along the lines of ‘people were starving, but they found the money to decorate the streets’. These artists, in their “workers’ committee”, were role-played by Art History students (not ours, though).

The Imperial Academy of Saint-Petersburg was included in the film, which gives a good impression of the artistic acumen of Russia’s up-and-coming artists. Kinmonth’s film is predominantly self-indulgent as she tours the great and good of Russia and London, intent to interview everyone her ‘fixers’ in Moscow and St Petersburg could find. Courtauld students will delight at an interview filmed in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre — the projector shone in the background, brighter than it manages to for our lectures.

Kinmonth brings to the screen a reiteration of our understanding of the Russian avant-garde. See it if you can, and align it to your own views.


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