Art A-Z: A – Avant-garde

Avant-garde or Russian avant-garde –  movement of the first quarter of the XX century that implemented new artistic ideas.  The name “avant-garde” was given to the movement because it was the time when Russian art succeeded on the international arena.

N.Goncharova, Cyclist, 1913

Avant-garde was influenced by…:

  • French cubism – a lot of Russian painters studied in Paris, including L.Popova, N.Udaltsova, V.Pestel. Besides, painters could visit the collection of S.Shchukin in Moscow, which was open for the public. Since the beginning of the 1910 Shchukin had in his collection works of P.Picasso and J.Braque. K.Malevich was among famous visitors of the collection.
  • Italian futurism – especially the way how movement is depicted. However futurism did not take strong roots in Russia, but rather a synthesis of cubism and futurism emerged (“cubofuturism”).
  • Russian traditions. Although this seems controversial, because many avantgardists were hostile toward the past, but they mostly criticised academic style and bourgeois culture, rather than traditions as a whole. Russian ancient art was one of sources of inspiration for avant-garde painters. We can find traits of icons in their works – flat images, contrast colours, tension, etc. Symbolic meaning of icons as objects of cult is also reflected in avant-garde painting, for example, Malevich refered to his Black Square as “my icon” and suggested to place it in a corner at exhibitions, like icon. Lubok also influenced avant-garde (see Art A-Z: L – Lubok).
V.Tatlin, design of monument of the III International, 1919-1920

Famous Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel  is considered as one of predecessors of avant- garde, because he was one of few artists who understood value of line and colour per se.

Avant-garde developed in the framework of artistic fellowships and groups, emerged at late 1900s. Since 1910s young avantgardists started to participate in exhibitions in Europe – Burlyuk brothers, Kandinsky, Goncharova, Larionov took part in Blue Knight exhibitions in Munich, Arkhipenko, Baranov-Rossine, Mashkov, Shagal – in Salon d’Automne in Paris.

M.Shagal, Blue House, 1917

The beginning of the World War I could not stop development of avant-garde and by 1915 the movement gained momentum. In short time Russian avant-garde produced multiple styles, but the biggest of them were postcubism and objectlessness. After October Revolution of 1917 new authorities appreciated avant-garde, and for a short period of time supported the movement. A number of new organisations, museums, as well as new system of artistic education appeared.

In terms of ideas avant-garde already told everything by the end of 1910s, and at the beginning of 1920 it started to adapt them to the reality. Avant-garde influenced architecture, including constructivism.

Since mid 1920s Soviet government insisted on creation of mass culture, and avant-garde was not associated with the Soviet future anymore, many avantgagdists lost their posts. In 1932, an ordinance On reshuffle of literature and artistic organisations was issued, all artistic organisations merged onto unions, controlled by the Communist Party. It was the official end of avant-garde in Russia.


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