International Print Center New York presents
Russian Revolution: A Contested Legacy
Curated by Masha Chlenova
A Century in Pursuit of Individual Freedoms through Rare Historical Print Media and Contemporary Works of Art
October 12–December 16, 2017
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 12, 6–8pm with remarks at 6:30pm
Press & member preview at 5:00pm
International Print Center New York (IPCNY) is pleased to present Russian Revolution: A Contested Legacy. Commemorating the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution, this scholarly exhibition looks beyond the canon of the Russian avant-garde to focus on three avenues of individual freedoms sought by the fledgling socialist society: the equality and emancipation of women; internationalism, including racial equality and the rights of ethnic minorities and Jews; and sexual and gay liberation. By placing a selection of historical print-based works by key Russian avant-garde artists of the early 20th century in dialogue with contemporary works by Russian-born, New York-based artists Yevgeniy Fiks and Anton Ginzburg, the exhibition evaluates these often-obscured goals of the Revolution and addresses their continued resonance and urgency today – in Russia, the United States, and elsewhere.
The historical component of the exhibition, which features posters, book covers, journals, and illustrations by some of the most well-known names of the Russian avant-garde alongside more obscure artists of the movement, exemplifies the print medium’s preeminent role in Soviet revolutionary society as the most accessible means for disseminating its social and political ideals on a broad scale.
El Lissitzky and Natan Altman, central figures of the Russian avant-garde and its internationalist aspirations, are presented in the lesser-emphasized context of their work modernizing Soviet Jewish visual culture. The exhibition will feature Natan Altman’s design for the film program Jewish Luck by Sholom-Aleikhem (1926), as well as El Lissitzky’s illustrations for Jewish tales such as Chad Gadya, which are written in Yiddish and designed in a modern graphic style reminiscent of Lissitsky’s iconic revolutionary poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1920), but printed in Berlin in 1922. Yevgeniy Fiks’s 2015 screenprints of the same title appropriate this iconic composition, but overlaps the original Russian text with Yiddish writing, highlighting Lissitzky’s identity as both a Jewish and a modern international artist.
Other highlights include images and text from the American journal The Crisis (1923) in which Harlem Renaissance writer and intellectual Claude McKay published an essay entitled “Soviet Russia and the Negro” inspired by his visit to Soviet Russia as an invited speaker at the 4th World Congress of Communist International. In the essay, MacKay’s observations on Soviet achievements in the area of fighting racial prejudice, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism reflect the genuine internationalist aspirations of the fledgling socialist state. A photomontage book cover by Sergei Senkin in Slave Labor (Rabskii Trud) by Evgenii Kronman (1931) addresses the solidarity between Soviet proletariat and African-Americans, while Yevgeniy Fiks’s video Wayland Rudd Collection (2014) archives representations of African-Americans in Soviet visual culture that reveal a complex, often contradictory relation between socialist ideals and Soviet reality.
Elizaveta Ignatovich’s Struggle for the Polytechnical School (1931) calls for women to receive technical education; Sergei Senkin’s poster presents a young Soviet woman as a symbol for the multi-million members’ of the Komsomol, the Bolshevik youth organization and Boris Klinch and Vladimir Kozlinsky’s poster of 1931 calls working women to fight for socialism and against religion, presented as a tool for their enslavement. In addition to these posters, a vitrine will include a selection of graphically compelling covers of the journal Red Field (Krasnaia Niva), with images of new Soviet women designed by such well-known artists as Natalia Pinus, Valentina Kulagina, Aleksandr Deineka, and Yuri Pimenov.
Iconic images by Gustav Klutsis reflect the homosocial theme underlying the all-male world and same-sex solidarity in Soviet society. One of Anton Ginzburg’s posters from his Meta-Constructivist series addresses the topic of sexual liberation with a slightly ironic nostalgia for the idealistic social and political aspirations of the first post-revolutionary decade. Fiks’s series of woodblocks Towards a Portfolio of Woodcuts (Harry Hay) (2013) pays homage to the prominent American gay rights activist, communist, and labor advocate.
The contemporary works on view also include Yevgeniy Fiks’s Leniniana painting, in which the artist erases Lenin from the ubiquitous image of the revolutionary leader, familiar to every Soviet household through millions of printed reproductions, and thus reflects on the selective nature of historical memory. Anton Ginzburg presents re-imaginations of Constructivist posters that emphasize Soviet internationalist aspirations, as seen in the creation of the Jewish Kultur League and in the universal language of Esperanto. The latter finds an equivalent in Ginzburg’s aluminum prints of visual poems inspired by zaum (trans-rational) poetry of the Russian avant-garde. Together, these works prioritize the agency of Russian-born people to speak about Soviet history as personal history, and to address that legacy in all its complexity. By preserving the Revolution’s radically transformative impulses, and recognizing its limitations, these artists maintain the critical social stance still necessary in the ongoing struggle for individual freedoms worldwide.
FREE PUBLIC PROGRAMS
Saturday, October 28, 2017, 1:00–4:00pm: Exhibiting artist Yevgeniy Fiks, working with Bushwick Print Lab, will lead a DIY poster-making workshop in conjunction with the exhibition and New York Print Week. Participants will combine text and images and leave with their own activism-inspired poster.
Thursday, November 30, 2017, 6:00–8:00pm: Lily Golden, Harry Haywood, Langston Hughes, Yelena Khanga, Claude McKay, Paul Robeson, Robert Robinson on Soviet Jews (2017). A performative reading by Yevgeniy Fiks and others that traces the history of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union between 1920s and 1980s via memoirs of Soviet citizens of African American decent and African Americans who resided or visited the USSR.
Friday, December 1, 2017, 11:00am–5:00pm: In collaboration with the Harriman Institute, Columbia University, curator Masha Chlenova and Harriman postdoctoral research scholar Maria Ratanova have organized an academic conference where leading scholars of Soviet modernism will address key topics of the exhibition, while Chlenova, Fiks and Ginzburg will discuss our responsibility towards Russian revolutionary history and its legacy in a round-table.