Skip to main content

Response by Leonie Roushman to Jonathan Jone's review of 'Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932’

Valid until: 02/05/20

"It is important to show revolutionary Russian artwork to the public, the problem is not that it is ‘brutalist propaganda’[1] but that it is in danger of being seen as apolitical because of the art market."


In this article I am going to respond to a recent review written for the Guardian by art critic Jonathan Jones which discussed The Royal Academy’s new show ‘Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932' [2] under the headline: “We cannot celebrate revolutionary Russian art- it is brutal propaganda”[3].  In doing so I am going to argue why attempts to draw parallels between forms of Russian Totalitarianism between 1917 and 1932 and rivalled nazism is not an interesting argument when it comes to discussing this artistic content and movements like constructivism and suprematism.Rather, it is more interesting to recognise the importance of bringing these artworks, such as Malevich’s 1915 ‘The Black Square' [4] into the public realm.

Whilst recognising that there are some underlining problems that exist in regards to this RA show and the way that the institution ‘wrongly’ contextualises the artwork, this is a result of broader failures within a broader art world and market and cannot be solved by hiding the work. We should be wary of presenting art in institutions like the RA and MoMa (which exhibited these artworks a couple of years ago) which are situated in the capitalist heart of Manhattan and London. They are huge institutions whose ethos invariably contradicts the incentives behind these revolutionary pieces and provide a potentially harmful apolitical context.

Important quote to use:

Makaovsky said: ’Art must not be concentrated in dead shrines called museums. It must be spread everywhere- on the streets, in the trams, factories workshop, and in the workers’ homes.’ [5] This quote eloquently provides a context for Russian artwork during the first years of the revolution in 1917 and underline the radical role it took, a role that exists beyond the art market and values places by institutions. There in lies the paradox that I wish to discuss in this article, but, ultimately conclude with the point that- it may not be helpful to show these artworks in RA, it is better than hiding them, they should be open to the public and parallels made with nazism as Jones suggests are not helpful or interesting- knowing the context of an artwork or movement is incredibly important and ideally these revolutionary works would be presented in a Marxist gallery or on the streets or in a more suited environment- but, because of the price of these works now, that is not possible, hence, Jones should be making a critique of the art market instead.


Photos: Red Wedge by El Lissitzky

[1] Quote by Jonathan Jones

[2] Current RA show Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

[3] Quote by Jonathan Jones

[4] Malevich, 1915, The Black Square , part of The Supremacist Movement

[5]Makaovsky quote 1917