Over at the International Print Center, an exciting new show just opened titled Russian Revolution: a Contested Legacy. Artist Yevgeniy Fiks and curator Masha Chlenova have assembled a revelatory mix of historic materials and contemporary art on the theme of revolution and liberation. Born in the 1970s and firmly post-Soviet, Chlenova, Fiks, and the other featured contemporary artist, Anton Ginzburg, are uniquely positioned to offer new perspectives on the legacy of the 1917 revolution. What struck me most was how daring it felt for an artist like Fiks to engage with the hopeful, utopian aspects of 1917. Yiddishists will probably be familiar with many of the Yiddish language historical posters and art, but Fiks and Chlenova have created an entirely new context for the old images. Seeing Fiks’ Yiddish interpretation of Lissitzky’s Russian Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge, a few feet from actual Lissitzkys is quite an experience.
Each section of the show highlights how personal liberation—for women, Jews, people of color, and queer Russians—intersected, even if briefly, with the Bolshevik revolution. The section on gay American Communist Harry Hay was particularly good. Hay, a founding father of contemporary gay politics, is mostly forgotten today. A few plywood panels with Hay’s words burned into them literally brings Hay’s voice back into the conversation, while also poking fun at woodcutting and printmaking as idealized proletarian art.
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