Jumat, 09 September 2011

What I Learnt from The Art of Russia - BBC4

Despite my regular iplayer searches of the word 'Russia' I accidently missed the first two parts of this series on Russian art and only managed to catch the final episode. Nevertheless it was a really interesting watch, although did make me miss Моя Москва (maya moskva – my Moscow) a lot. 

I am not a massive art lover. I appreciate the skill that goes into creating a beautiful piece of work and love old oil paintings but anything that I don't understand/see the point of can never really capture my attention (modern art is not my friend). So I'm not a regular viewer of art related programmes but naturally anything with 'Russia' in the title will certainly draw me in and this short documentary was an interesting insight into how communism and revolution affected art in Russia... and vice versa.

Much of the programme was dedicated to the work of Alexander Rodchenko and his constructivist style which appealed to the Soviet authorities. His work is immediately recognisable as the 'Russian art style' of the early post revolution Soviet Union, like this poster encouraging people to read.

His style of using photography, shapes and bold words led the way for advertising and to the Westerner this kind of poster screams 'soviet propaganda' - I bet Topman is dying to turn this into a nice print t-shirt.

Any programme about Russian art wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Moscow metro, one of my favourite things about the city. The stations are decorated so beautifully, many of them inspired by Soviet writers, artists and architecture. The programme showed Mayakovsky station (incidentally named after one of Rodchenko's bessies - the Russian writer Mayakovsky, whose poems he illustrated with photo montages) and Ploshad Revolyutsii, one of the busiest stations, situated next to Red Square - cue lots of Russians looking angrily at the camera, annoyed at the disruption to their metro journey and the babushka in the little 'viewing hut' at the bottom of the escalator signalling at them to get out. The programme forgot to mention my favourite thing about this metro station though - the lucky dog! Forget the soviet inspired architecture; there is a statue of a dog in the station which is believed to be lucky... so much so that the bronze on its nose has been worn away because passengers rub his nose on their journeys.


As well as focussing on the ways that revolution and communism affected art, the programme explored the ways that art affected a different kind of revolution - the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1970s some artists staged an open exhibition of uncensored art in a forest near Moscow - it didn't take long for the police to come and destroy the work of the artists. This led to a public outcry so big that the authorities allowed the artists to put on their exhibition again in the centre of Moscow, one of the first steps towards uncensored art.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the art world practically exploded. Now uncensored artists churned out piece after piece of work that would have been completely unheard of just a few years earlier. How much the state approved art world has actually changed though is a different matter. The current president of the Russian Academy of Arts is a Georgian-Russian artist called Zurab Tsereteli who designed the Peter the Great statue that stands in Moscow.

I'm not a fan of this statue, I've always thought it looks more like Captain Hook. The Kremlin seem to like it though and Tsereteli has close ties with the present Russian authorities. I wonder why...

Another Tsereteli creation

 The Art of Russia will be on BBC iplayer for those in the UK for the next few days - give it a watch!

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