Commemorating centennial of 1917 Russian Revolution

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Let me start today with a question: if you were asked to name the defining year in the history of 20th century avant-garde art, which year would you choose? Considering the number of high profile museum exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic commemorating the centennial of the October Revolution in Russia, the answer should be 1917.

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"Revolution: New Art for a New World," 2017
Directed by Margy Kinmonth Foxtrot Films

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 8), at the Laemmle Theater Royal, we are invited to see the new fascinating documentary Revolution: New Art For A New World. I had the chance to see this documentary a few days ago and to talk to its director, Margy Kinmonth. If you attend tomorrow's 7:30 screening at the Royal, which I highly recommend, you will have the chance to participate in a Q&A with the documentary's director at the end of the screening.

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(L) Kazimir Malevich, "Woman with Rake," 1932
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
(R) Kazimir Malevich, "Suprematist Painting: Airplane Flying," 1915
Museum of Modern Art, New York

This feature-length documentary focuses on a momentous period in the history of Russia and the Russian Avant-Garde. Not only do we see the great works by Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky along with works of other major Russian artists of this period, we meet with their descendants and hear their (often painful) stories. Many of these artists embraced the Revolution, only later to be forced to abandon their innovative aesthetic in favor of the state-supported Socialist Realism.

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Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, "Fantasia," 1925
Photo by sailko

While some of these artists were able to leave Russia soon after the Revolution, others stayed and suffered through years of cultural and political repression under Lenin and Stalin. This was a period when a number of Russian artists, writers, and poets ended their lives in the gulag.

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Wassily Kandinsky, "Transverse Line," 1923
Kunstsammlung NRW, Dusseldorf, Germany

Margy Kinmonth, the documentary's director, did an excellent job of searching through the archives of Russian museums and institutions. Seeing archival footage of Lenin passionately addressing the revolutionary masses brings to mind the staging at the avant-garde Meyerhold Theater in Moscow.

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(T) Marc Chagall, "Over the Town," 1918
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
(B) Alexander Rodchenko, "Steps," 1930
Courtesy of the Rodchenko and Stepanova Archive
Alexander Rodchenko, Critic Osip Brik, 1924
© Estate of Alexander Rodchenko

More often than not, art documentaries deliver a straightforward lecture, similar to what you might expect to hear from a college professor. But Margy Kinmonth's Revolution: New Art For A New World has a welcoming and engaging way of speaking directly to the audience. Considering that it's her third documentary dealing with Russian culture, the other two, Hermitage Revealed (2014) and Mariinsky Theater (2008), I was curious to hear from her how this fascination with Russia came to be. Her answer was –– surprise, surprise –– from reading novels by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

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Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, "Petrograd in 1918," 1920
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

If you're lucky enough to be in New York this week, hurry to MoMA to see its exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, which closes this Sunday, March 12. And if you happen to be in London, the Royal Academy of Art has a Russian exhibition of its own, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932which runs through April 17. 

Revolution: New Art for a New World filmmaker Margy Kinmonth will participate in a Q&A following the 7:30pm screening at the Royal on Wednesday, March 8.
Laemmle Theatre Royal, Los Angeles, CA, March 8 (7:30pm)
Laemmle Theatre Noho 7, North Hollywood, CA, March 8 (7:30pm)
Laemmle Theatre Royal, Los Angeles, CA, April 24 (7:30pm), April 25 (1:00pm)
Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena, CA, April 24 (7:30pm) and April 25 (1:00pm)
Laemmle Claremont 5, Claremont, CA, April 24 (7:30pm) and April 25 (1:00pm)
Laemmle Theatre Town Center 5, Encino, CA, April 24 (7:30pm) and April 25 (1:00pm)



Benjamin Gottlieb