Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Who Curated This Exhibit--Stalin?

I went with my mom to see the Chagall exhibit at the at Art Gallery of Ontario. The show, which features several of the artist's most famous paintings--along with plenty of fiddlers on roofs--tries to marry Chagall to Russian "Constructivists," the decidedly totalitarian style of painting, graphics and architecture that arose post-Bolshevik victory. It doesn't really work, though, because even though, initially, Chagall was excited about the revolution, he was far too much of an individualist to take orders from a top-down bureacracy, and left Russia (and Communism) behind as soon as he could. The entire exhibit is thus predicated on something of a falsehood--that Chagall belonged to this "movement" when, in, fact, he did not, and was only in Russia at the time of the revolution because he returned (from France, where he'd lived for several years) to reunite with the beautiful young women he was in love with, and who he had left behind. Reading some of the exhibit's notes, though, one would think that not only was Chagall an avid Communist (he was not) but that, on the whole, the Russian Revolution was a positive development. Here, for instance, is a bit of prose from the exhibit that I copied down word for word:
"BUILD A NEW WORLD," cried the young artists. Liberated by Russia's revolution of 1917, they began to transform their dream of social equality into reality. For those devoted to the Communist movement, art was no longer a luxury but a political tool meant for the street, the factory, the worker and the masses. The Soviet state harnessed the energy of painters, sculptors, photographers and architects to carry its message of freedom to its citizens. The Constructivists no longer found themselves at the periphery of society. At the same time in 1918 Chagall became Arts Commissar for the province of Vitebsk [Chagall's hometown--now in Belarus], and founded the Vitebsk People's Art College. But soon his personal subjects seemed out of step with the radical new work of politics, industry and geometrical abstraction.
You can say that again. There was no way that this sort of thing--all fluid lines and limp figures--

fit it with the hard, angular, in-your-face totalitarian-style then emerging. For example, the exhibit features this poster by Constructivist El Lissitzky:

Part of the commentary accompanying this work informs us that
...El Lissitsky fuses photographs of two youthful heads--male and female--superimposing text and geometric forms to create an arresting design that evokes the forward-looking vision of the Soviet state.
Yeah, they were sooo "forward-looking," those Soviets. So "forward-looking," in fact, that they looked forward to the mass starvation of millions. Such was the "vision" of brutal dictator Stalin, whose amorality and cold-bloodedness was summed up in the famous quotation about mass deaths being a matter of mere statistics.

Is it just me, or is this exhibit being overly sanguine, to say the least, in its view of Lenin's lads and the horrors they wrought?


Carlos Perera said...

Silly Scaramouche: Haven't you heard it said before, "Pas d'ennemi à gauche?"

RickAtNight said...

Many contemporary artists cannot make a living selling their work to free people, they need a police state to extort a living for them. Hence, the instinctive sympathy for police states.