The exhibition features a complete overview of the artistic movements in the first decades of the 20th century that broke with established Russian traditions. Marc Chagall, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Natalia Goncharova, Lyubov Popova, El Lissitzky, Jean Pougny and Alexander Rodchenko are some of the artists whose work appears in the exhibition. Until May 5 at Sala Recoletos (Paseo de Recoletos, 23. Madrid).
On February 7, in Madrid, Fundación MAPFRE unveiled the exhibition From Chagall to Malevich: Art in Revolution. The show is an exploration of 92 works by 29 artists who in the first decades of the 20th century threw out all the established norms and were forerunners of modernity in a way never seen before in Russia.
The exhibition, which features such leading figures as Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, two extremes of innovation in avant-garde painting, also includes works by twenty-seven other artists such as Natalia Goncharova, Lyubov Popova, El Lissitzky, Wassily Kandinsky and Alexander Rodchenko.
The exhibition also features a significant number of female artists whose work played a key role in the development of Russian avant-garde movements before and after the October Revolution, representing a feminization of the arts that would not be seen again for many years.
The exhibition begins with reactions against bourgeois academicism, when New Classicism and Neo-Primiitivism emerged as national movements that combined a renewed interest in traditional forms of Russian folk art with new Post-Impressionist painting techniques. The differences between the two painters who define the exhibition are depicted here through a series of paintings in which works by Malevich and Chagall are in dialogue with one another. While Malevich focuses on typical images of the Russian peasantry, Chagall appropriates the visual language of Fauvism and Cubism and applies it personally to local motifs related to Vitebsk, his birthplace, and to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, as can be seen in his sketches to decorate the Moscow Jewish Theater.
Rural imagery becomes urban in the next section, which is devoted to Cubo-Futurism and Rayonism. Artists such as Lyubov Popova and Natalia Goncharova combine the different perspectives of French cubism with the energy and urban focus of Italian futurism. Rayonism, developed mainly by Mikhail Larionov, breaks the subject matter down in the form of diagonal lines, rays of light with different tones that seek to reflect the energy contained within objects. This paves the way for one of the most important contributions that the Russian avant-garde made to modern art: a commitment to the most radical forms of abstraction, from its more lyrical and colorist side in form of Kandinsky to the geometry of Lyubov Popova included in the section “Road to Abstraction”.
Suprematism was a non-figurative art form that sought pure sensibility through geometric abstraction, an advance that has had an enormous impact on the art that followed to the present day. In the show, the celebrated triptych by Malevich consisting of Black Square, Black Cross and Black Circle is joined by a selection of his Architectons, sculptures that would go on to have a tremendous influence on the modern architecture movement.
While it is true that in its initial stages Constructivism was highly influenced by Suprematism, it soon distanced itself from this movement and its spiritual content in favor of more functional art. The Constructivists called for the elimination of easel painting and the embracing of Productivist art. The painting Composition, 1918, by Alexander Rodchenko, and the contra-reliefs by Baranov-Rossiné are noteworthy examples of this shift.
The exhibition continues with the so-called Matyushin School, which owes its name to the painter and composer Mikhail Matyushin. This approach seeks, as Cubism previously intuited, to transcend three-dimensionality and arrive at the fourth dimension. Movement in Space (ca. 1921) is a dynamic exploration of movement and color that is completely abstract. Meanwhile, the painting Movement of Organic Form (1919) by Boris Ender shows a vibrant and accelerated range of forms existing in a slightly chaotic nature.
With the arrival of Stalin to power and the implementation of new forms of government veering towards totalitarianism, the kind of world to which the avant-garde aspired vanished. Socialist realism, which gained force as state-sanctioned art in the thirties, offers easy-to-read images of Soviet life. The last section of the exhibition shows the reactions, ranging from skepticism to despair, of two artists faced with this fact. On the one hand, Malevich, after having created one of the most radical artistic movements, Suprematism, directed his attention towards figuration, as can be seen in Athletes (1930-1931). Meanwhile, Pavel Filonov proposed complex compositions which, despite their chaotic appearance, reveal, as in the case of Head (1925-1926), figures that refer to orthodox icons.
From Chagall to Malevich: Art in Revolution is complemented by 24 publications from this period that show how proponents of the Russian avant-garde, who sought to apply their experimental ideas to every aspect of life, established a productive dialogue with literature and editorial design.
The exhibition, produced by Fundación MAPFRE in collaboration with Grimaldi Forum Monaco, was possible thanks to loans from such institutions as the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and the Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, among others.
The exhibition curator, Jean-Louis Prat, president of the Marc Chagall Committee and former director of the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation; Sylvie Biancheri, general director of Grimaldi Forum Monaco; and Nadia Arroyo, culture director of Fundación MAPFRE participated in the presentation of the exhibition.