Friday, March 31, 2017

America After the Fall and Revolution, Russian art 1917-1932

One of the things I like about my job is that we have corporate membership to the RA and today I've been making the most of it. I'd go to London more often if East Midland mainlines pricing structure was less prohibitive, but they can obviously get away with charging an arm and a leg (okay, around £50 return, but it's cheaper to get a ticket from Nottingham than it is Leicester, despite it being the same train, and Virgin can do Birmingham to London for around £20 return) and do so with enthusiasm. None of which has anything to do with the exhibitions I saw.

What I really wanted to see was Grant Wood's 'American Gothic' in the America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930's exhibition. I hoped a week day would mean that the Sackler gallery would be less crowded. I guess it was, I can only imagine what it would have been like on a Saturday, but inevitably it was still really crowded. Never the less it's an excellent exhibition, 'American Gothic' surpassed expectation - it's mesmerising, and seems much warmer and affectionate in life than it sometimes looks in reproductions.

Wood's 'Daughters of Revolution' was another highlight. He described it as a satire (there was apparently a spat about a stained glass window he was commissioned to design and the use of German glass in it, of which the DOR did not approve). It's a picture that clearly mocks its subjects, but it has the same magnetism that 'Gothic' does.

It's not a big exhibition but there's a lot to think about, and it's maybe not the worst place to start trying to understand American politics - it certainly hints at some of the contradictions that baffle me as I try and make some sense of it.

Revolution: Russian art 1917-1932 is on until the 17th of April, it was fairly quiet on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and if you can see it you should. Again, there's a lot to think about - in this case a journey from the hopeful chaos immediately after the revolution when everything must have seemed possible, to the depressingly speedy descent into Stalinist purges.

There's a whole range of objects and images to look at, the propaganda is genuinely uplifting (or at least it looked pretty good to someone who had just enjoyed tea and scones, and wasn't a starving peasant forced into collective farming - I've read enough Solzhenitsyn to know how that goes). Official portraits of Lenin looking commanding and imperial however are telling - one Tzar has replaced another.

I really should have bought the exhibition catalogue for Russia, and I wish I could go back (maybe a few times) to properly get to grips with it (there really is a tremendous amount to think about). It's epic, and moving, there's a room with a lot of Malevich's in it (which I personally consider a very good thing), and however fleeting a moment it proved to be, the sense of what was possible at the beginning of that revolution is tangible - especially in some of the ceramics, and it's exciting.


  1. I went to the American exhibition and loved it, esp the Woods and Hoppers. I wish I'd had time to do the Russian one too - next time I'm in London I hope.

  2. It was great to see a few Grant Woods together, turns out he's an even better artist than I'd imagined. Was not at all prepared for the impact of some of those pictures. There were other interesting things in there too, but the thing I really noticed in both exhibitions was the curation - they were the most politically oriented exhibitions I can remember seeing and I'll be interested to see if that's going to be a trend.