Drawn from the remarkable collection of the late graphic designer David King (1943 – 2016) the exhibition Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55 is not mere an event for the centenary of the October Revolution. From the overthrow of the last Tsar and the revolutionary uprisings of 1917, through to the struggles of the Civil War and Stalin’s campaign of terror, Tate Modern offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union in a show which reveals how seismic political events led to the social transformation that inspired a wave of innovation in art and graphic design across the country.
Adolf Strakhov, Emancipated Roman. Build Socialism! 1926. Purchased 2016. © The David King Collection at Tate
From 1905 to 1955 Russian and Soviet citizens struggled against the odds to build a new society. The exhibition explores how new popular art in the form of posters, periodicals, leaflets and banners informed, educated and entertained the people, filtering into the everyday lives of tens of millions of citizens. One of the new propaganda tools developed by the Bolsheviks was ‘agitprop trains’, which were decorated with vivid murals and travelled the country carrying public speakers, pamphlets, film shows and a printing press to disseminate the policies of the new government. Following the October Revolution, art was taken onto the streets in the form of street performances and pageants, monumental sculptures and propaganda posters, which were displayed on public squares, factories and inside people’s homes. The exhibition features striking examples of posters by artists such as Adolf Strakhov, Valentina Kulagina and Dmitrii Moor, whose depictions of heroic, industrial scenes and expressive use of typography captured the revolutionary fervour of the age.
Soviet School, The Nightmare of future Pars — Workers of World Unite! 1920s. Purchased 2016. © The David King Collection at Tate
Tate’s Katerina Lainas talked us through this stunning exhibition.
How did Tate come up of the idea to celebrate the centenary of the October Revolution through its visual language?
The timing wouldn’t have been better. Tate has purchased in 2016, with funds provided by Tate Members, a private donor, Tate International Council and Art Fund, David King’s Soviet collection.
King’s collection comprises of 250,000 objects including posters, pamphlets, magazines, flyers and photography dedicated to Soviet visual history. This exhibition is drawn primarily from his collection and in particular from his book ‘Red Star Over Russia’.
What is the most important exhibit of them all according to you and why?
It is rather difficult to choose a single exhibit. None of these items were meant to last or even survive. But I would highlight it is showing the importance and power of paper as a material, printing and design.
The importance of all the exhibits is that none of them was ever meant to be exhibited and yet, here they are telling their own unique story.
Gustav Klutsis, Raise Higher the Banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin! 1933. Purchased 2016. © The David King Collection at Tate
Name your highlights with a reason.
My highlight will be a group of images the most famous examples of Stalinist photographic retouching. Individuals from the leader’s inner circle who had fallen out of favour and be eliminated were edited from official images.
The first print, dated 1949, shows Joseph Stalin, Sergei Kirov, Nikolai Antipov and Nikolai Shvernik in Leningrad.
Second print, dated 1949, Joseph Stalin and Sergei Kirov with Nikolai Antipov and Nikolai Shvernik cropped out.
Third print, dated 1933, is a portrait of Joseph Stalin by Isaac Broskii. David King amassed this telling material in order to expose photographic manipulation as an essential tool in the rewriting of Soviet history during the Stalinist period.
Valentina Kulagina, Soviet Union Art Exhibition (Kunst Ausstellung der Sowjetunion, Kunstsalon Wolfsberg), Zurich 1931. Ne bollai! Collection
How did printmaking and typography contribute to this momentous period in Russia history?
Visual culture kept pace with the social revolution. Many avant-garde artists believed art and architecture were tools for social change capable of creating a new environment for the new citizen. Art became accessible to millions through prints, posters, journals and photobooks. The resulting imagery appeared across the breath of the Soviet Union. This shared vocabulary came to dominate everyday life, giving rise to a new wave of creative experimentation in the late 1950s.
Featuring over 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and ephemera, many on public display for the first time, Red Star Over Russia is a rare opportunity to explore this unique collection. More info here .
Nina Vatolina, Fascism – The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascism 1941. Purchased 2016. © The David King Collection at Tate
Aleksandr Deineka, Stakhanovites. A Study for The Esteemed People of the Soviets’ Mural for the USSP Pavilion 1937. Perm Stale Art Gallery
1928 postcard by Klutsis for the USSR’s All-Union Olympiad © The David King Collection at Tate
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