27 November 2011


I share the enthusiasm of many for the high-modernist experimentation in the arts that was part of the early phase of the Russian revolution, but the current exhibition at the Royal Academy,"Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935" (until 22 January) is a disappointment. They've got a marvellous attempt to construct a scaled-down version of Vladimir Tatlin's never-built wiry "Monument to the Third International" in the courtyard outside, but that's the best bit (and free). Inside it's (very good) photos of decaying 1920s and 1930s Futurist and Constructivist buildings taken over the past 20 years -- have any been restored? -- and lots of architects' plans. The full catalogue that goes with the exhibition explains it all, but the casual viewer can get little of the context from what's on show or from the bare notes made available on the walls. I don't think you can make sense of the avant-grade of the first decade of Soviet power without reference to what was happening elsewhere in Europe and in the United States at the time: here we get the bare minimum, and a very confused account of how the disgusting spectacle of Lenin's mausoleum came about. A wasted opportunity to put the Soviet architectural modernists up where they belong with Gropius and Le Corbusier.

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