Masterpieces of Soviet Arts–Beyond Propaganda: A Five-Part Course with Vladimir Ivanov - Context Travel

Masterpieces of Soviet Arts–Beyond Propaganda: A Five-Part Course with Vladimir Ivanov


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As a result of the Iron Curtain and Cold War-era myths, Soviet art remains terra incognita for most Western audiences. This course aims to unpack the artistic processes within the socialist society, and complex relationships between arts, ideology, and politics.

What makes Soviet art so different and distinct? Was there, in fact, total state control over creativity in the Soviet Union? How did artists help to spread the message of the October Revolution across the world?

We will discuss such renowned figures as Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, and Rodchenko, as well as lesser-known names, such as Petrov-Vodkin, Filonov, or Samokhvalov. Apart from painting, the course focuses on other artistic media, including architectural graphics, design for everyday objects (such as textiles and furniture), and folk crafts.

The course delves into ground-breaking ideas of the Russian avant-garde (1917-1931): the innovative visual language of early Soviet art was later absorbed and developed by various artists in Europe and the USA. What is more important, we will explore various aspects of “socialist realism” (1932-1980s) – a unique form of Soviet art, which was not only about the glorification of the state and revolutionary heroes.

The course is led by Vladimir Ivanov, a young researcher from St Petersburg. In 2017, his book called Inspired by Outer Space: Images of the Future in Late Soviet Architecture became a best-seller, and he has curated a number of art exhibitions in his home city. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the artistic heritage of the USSR.

Lecture 1: Cultural Revolution–Ideology, Politics and Arts

The October Revolution of 1917 and the following decades were a period of momentous changes in cultural life in Russia which could be described as a cultural revolution. In this seminar, we will build up a conceptual and historical framework for further discussion of Soviet art by looking at key elements of the cultural revolution (such as the elimination of illiteracy), and the place art occupies within the communist ideology.

Lecture 2: Radicalizing Visual Language–From Eisenstein to Soviet Porcelain

This seminar focuses on the early Soviet experiments of the 1920s in constructing visual language which is capable of defying the bourgeois mainstream. We will speak about the non-figurative abstractions of Malevich and his circle, Kandinsky's psychoanalytic compositions, and conclude with mass design and groundbreaking ideas in film-making (which, according to Lenin, “of all the arts is the most important to us”).

Lecture 3: Great “Paper” Projects of Soviet Architecture–Tatlin's Tower and Palace of the Soviets

This session explores two architectural projects which were never fulfilled but had a long-lasting influence on architectural processes both in the USSR and abroad: a 400-meter tower designed for a meeting of Comintern in Petrograd (St Petersburg) by Vladimir Tatlin in 1919 and a series of projects submitted for an architectural contest to build a headquarters of party organs in Moscow in 1931.

Lecture 4: Stalin's Socialist Realism

In 1932, socialist realism became virtually the only possible form of creative activity in the Soviet Union. Although mandated from above, the movement itself was deeply rooted in the 19th-century Russian and European tradition. Together we will discuss its origins, tenets, and main names across different artistic media: Deineka and Samokhvalov – in painting, Zholtovsky – in architecture, Mukhina – in sculpture.

Lecture 5: The Cold War in the Arts–1953-1991

The last decades of the USSR were marked by the co-existence of the official, state-approved art and the art of the dissidents, so that an artist, such as Ilya Kabakov, for example, could, in fact, lead a double life. It was also a time when art became a battlefield between two systems: capitalist and socialist. We will discuss the “severe” style in painting, Soviet modernist architecture, and the way foreign, primarily American, art started to seduce Soviet people.

Holding an MA in Classics, Vladimir is an author of a book called “Inspired by outer space: images of the future in late Soviet architecture” and a key contributor to TASCHEN's edition "CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed". Vladimir has written articles on contemporary art for local media, done podcasts on photography and the Russian revolution. He has also curated a number of exhibitions, including "The Cradle of the Faith: Christian Presence in the Middle East" in New Michael Palace and "Lingua Sacra" in the Imperial Public Library. Currently, he is doing architectural walks in St Petersburg and shares his vast knowledge of arts through the tours of the Hermitage and Russian museums.

How does it work?

This is a five-part journey series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in Soviet art, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $175 for five lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 12 reviews
83%
(10)
8%
(1)
8%
(1)
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T
T.
Excellent Course

Excellent course. I had very limited knowledge of the topic before taking the course and learned so much. Really liked the connection of the art to the history. The course gave me a new appreciation of how artists are expressing what is going on in the world around them .

J
J.G.
Insightful Presentation on Soviet Art and Architecture

This 5-lecture presentation by Vladimir Ivanov exceeds expectation. Using beautifully-created slides, Vladimir brings to life the art and architecture of a era virtually unknown in the West, namely, the art and architecture of the Soviet Union from the 1917 Revolution until its collapse in 1991. I learned a lot; and Vladimir's anecdotes and personal reflections made this course fascinating.

A
A.

Guest did not leave comment

C
C.J.

Guest did not leave comment

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Customer Reviews

Based on 12 reviews
83%
(10)
8%
(1)
8%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
T
T.
Excellent Course

Excellent course. I had very limited knowledge of the topic before taking the course and learned so much. Really liked the connection of the art to the history. The course gave me a new appreciation of how artists are expressing what is going on in the world around them .

J
J.G.
Insightful Presentation on Soviet Art and Architecture

This 5-lecture presentation by Vladimir Ivanov exceeds expectation. Using beautifully-created slides, Vladimir brings to life the art and architecture of a era virtually unknown in the West, namely, the art and architecture of the Soviet Union from the 1917 Revolution until its collapse in 1991. I learned a lot; and Vladimir's anecdotes and personal reflections made this course fascinating.

A
A.

Guest did not leave comment

C
C.J.

Guest did not leave comment

A
A.

Guest did not leave comment