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"Painting Revolution: Kandinsky, Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde"
2000-04-01 until 2000-07-02
Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix, AZ, USA United States of America

Phoenix Art Museum is proud to present the world premiere of this extraordinary exhibition, which includes works by 31 Russian artists whose achievements put Russia at the forefront of contemporary art in the first three decades of the 20th century. The exhibition celebrates this rich artistic legacy, bringing together from Russia’s state museums 85 works by Vasilii Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko and their contemporaries. Many are seen in the United States for the first time in this exhibition, offering the visitor a unique opportunity to see works that have rarely, if ever, left Russia. Together they reveal the extraordinary vitality of early 20th century Russian painting.

Internationally acclaimed as pioneers of modern art, Kandinsky and Malevich were among the first artists to create abstract art, a style developing simultaneously throughout Europe. Around the time of World War I, however, it was the Russian artists who created a new language of abstraction - one of pure geometric form in a minimum of colors. It was called Suprematism, implying the supremacy of this new art over the art of the past. It made a huge impact internationally and largely influenced subsequent 20th century art, architecture, design and fashion.

Initially, the efforts of these artists were supported by the revolutionary government. Various agencies bought thousands of works by these artists and distributed them to museums and cities throughout Russia, quite literally to bring art to the masses. This was without precedent in Europe and the United States. Thus the Russian revolution gave birth to what may be regarded as the world’s first museums of contemporary art. After Lenin’s death and Stalin’s subsequent rise to power, however, many of the museums were closed and the works stored away, some not seen again until the recent breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Many Russian painters were profoundly influenced by the works of their French contemporaries, especially that of Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Some artists lived in Paris for extended periods and a few studied with French painters before returning to Russia. At the same time, Russian painters also were looking for inspiration within their own artistic and cultural traditions. They incorporated the stylistic advances they learned from the French artists into subjects drawn from daily life in Russia.

It also was a time when talented women artists were the full equal of their male counterparts. Natalia Goncharova, for example, became interested in the handicrafts and rituals of peasant life. She frequently painted peasants carrying out their daily tasks. Goncharova’s recognition of the vitality and potential of traditional Russian art, in fact, prompted her and fellow painter Mikhail Larionov to organize an exhibition of Icons and Broadsheets in Moscow in 1913.

Icons, perhaps the best known of all Russian art forms, depict religious subjects and make ample use of glittering gold backgrounds. Broadsheets were cheaply produced popular prints known as lubki and were intended to convey simple messages to largely illiterate audiences. Even commonplace things such as wallpaper, store signs, painted tin trays and graffiti provided inspiration for Russia’s young artists. It was from this fertile ground that the Russian avant-garde flourished.

Painting Revolution represents a unique organizational collaboration. It is organized and circulated in the United States by the Foundation for International Arts and Education, Bethesda, Maryland in conjunction with The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg and ROSIZO of the Russian Ministry of Culture, Moscow and circulated in the United States by Foundation for International Arts and Education, Bethesda, Maryland, in cooperation with ROSIZO, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Moscow. The works in the exhibition have come from 13 Russian museums. The Arizona showing is made possible by Miriam and Yefim Sukhman, and the Museums Contemporary Forum.

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