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SEEING RED: EXHIBITING THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION

THE REVOLUTION IS STILL WITH US: A century ago, the Russian uprising of October 1917 defined the world order we know now, in which the struggle between individual and collective, capital and welfare, identity and authority continues to rage in new and unexpected ways. And though the Soviet state ultimately failed, it nevertheless left smoldering the embers of unrealized utopias and potentialities—visions of life and experience that challenged Western realities of oligarchy, democracy, colonialism, and war.
 
Art was at the center of these transformations. More so than Thermidor or Tahrir Square, the October Revolution posed the perceptual as political. Changing the way we see and sense could change the way we acted and thought. Forms, materials, making, organizing—these were, and could still be, the elements of a new society. In the essay that follow, curator Matthew Witkovsky examines major new exhibitions exploring the cataclysmic event.

Iakov Chernikhov, untitled, 1933, graphite, ink, and gouache on paper, 30 × 24". From “Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution.”

THE CIVILIAN UPRISINGS of 1917, the new world order that followed, and the seismic shifts in art that preceded, accompanied, and dialogued with those events remain subjects of fascination one hundred years later. To mark this centennial, new exhibitions on Soviet Russia abound. In particular, two shows held in London this past spring—at the Design Museum and at the Royal Academy of Arts—helped to gauge that fascination, but also reminded us of the opportunity, realized or misused, for political and cultural self-analysis that the occasion presents. Such concerns are on my own mind as an organizer of another survey of early Soviet art, shown in one version this past summer at Palazzo delle Zattere, Venice, and opening later this month in a quite different form at the Art Institute of Chicago.

At the Design Museum, “Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution,”

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