running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Digging the Art of Russia

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Back in October I posted a piece about BBC4's excellent 'Upgrade Me' program, and now they have produced yet another informative and stylish cultural offering, with 'The Art of Russia'.

This is a three-part series in which art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the development of Russian Art, from the birth of the Russian icon through the high baroque period and on into the politically-fuelled experimentation of the early 20th century. Dixon's journey ends with the strange eclecticism of the current post-Soviet era.

I watched the second part on Wednesday night, in which Graham-Dixon eloquently explored the motives, reasons and meanings behind the decline of late 19th century Russian Art. He focussed on Tsarist commissions and the overblown elaborate decadence of Russia's pre-revolutionary Imperialism. This included a look at some outrageously opulent Faberge eggs made for Alexander III and Nicholas II.

If that all sounds a bit heavy, the real rewards came near the end of the program, as Malevich and Kandinsky emerged early in the 20th century with their abstract genius, amidst the social and political turmoil of revolution. In particular, Dixon cites Malevich's 'Black Square' as the "dark minimalist window into the soul of a torn nation". Great stuff.

Malevich - Black Square, 1915.

Malevich, Black Square.

The third part, airing on the 23rd, will have the most relevance to design, with the experiments of the Constructivist era which led to the invention of the modern visual and typographical language of advertising. Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, Popova and El Lissitzy will hopefully get plenty of Dixon's eloquent critique, and perhaps he will tie this in with the related Modernist movements in central Europe - Bauhaus and De Stjil.

Finally, Dixon will look at the arcane world of Russia today and how it is producing some of the world's strangest art, some of art's strangest collectors, and why there may be the first signs of a return to visual ethos of the 1920's. Bring it on.

Roads to Revolution - The Art of Russia, part 2 - BBC iPlayer
The Art of Russia website
Malevich - Black Square