Look, Just Look, the Vistula is Near
‘Look, just look, the Vistula is near’
Russian Prints from World War 1
This exhibition features Russian prints made during the First World War and its aftermath. Taking its title from an early propaganda print produced by Kazimir Malevich, the suprematist painter, and revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, the show presents work produced as part of a propaganda effort from the Tsarist war mobilisation in 1914 through to the Bolshevik era and the Civil War. One of the most dramatic and tragic eras in modern history, the period was also one of relentless artistic experiment, in which revolutionary images were generated that continue to influence the contemporary world.
At the outset of WW1 huge quantities of war illustrations were produced in Russia, reviving the popular ‘lubok’ print tradition that had been in decline. The exhibition features images from publishing houses like Segodniashnii Lubok (Today’s Lubok) set up specifically to satisfy new public demand for patriotic posters – using the work of leading Russian avant garde artists working in ‘Lubok’ style. Modernist artists including Ilya Ivanovitch Mashkov (Ivan Gorskin), Lentulov and Malevich all worked in a deliberately naive style to appeal to unsophisticated audiences hungry for images of victory.
Relative military success in late 1914 and early 1915 gave way to failure and disillusionment as huge casualties were sustained, and the state’s capacity to supply frontline troops faltered. Growing chaos within Russia reflected an unstable governing elite, a mutinous army, and resistance to conscription. Administrative, financial and logistical failures brought hunger and hardship to the masses. The artistic elites of Russia turned their backs on the popular war effort and re- immersed themselves in formal experiments in art and music .
Prints in the exhibition move on to the Bolshevik style from 1917 – simple shapes in predominantly red, black and white, with simplified geometric forms. There are OKNA ROSTA images, designed during and immediately after the Russian Civil War. Artists who produced these posters included Mayakovsky and Mikhail Cheremnykh. Texts and images addressed workers directly with the purpose of recruiting support for the emerging Soviet state. ROSTA posters tell a story with a specific format and subject, and feature sequential images with cartoons and texts. There are Civil War propaganda images.
The images in this exhibition demonstrate changing reactions to War. Russia suffered huge losses. None of the governments fighting on the Eastern front survived the conflict – all came to face revolutionary change. In Russia the renewed violent conflict lasted until 1923. The exhibition shows the origins of one of the most extraordinary artistic experiments in history, which still has relevance to us today.
Exhibition runs April 8th – May 7th