‘Eyes+Hands’ forge a new style

Moisei Nappelbaum. The Poet Anna Akhmatova, 1924. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Alex Lachmann

Moisei Nappelbaum. The Poet Anna Akhmatova, 1924. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Alex Lachmann

On view through July 11, 2016 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, the exhibition, The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography and Film explores how early modernist photography and film influenced a new Soviet style, covering the period from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution through the 1930s,  while energizing and expanding the nature of the media.

     Through more than 150 works, this show reveals how striking images by master photographers and filmmakers, such as works by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky to the modernist images of Arkady Shaikhet and Max Penson, were seen as powerful propaganda tools in the new Soviet Union, and looks at photography and film together as influential and formally related media.

The early years of the Soviet Union (1921–32) were a period of great turmoil and stunning creativity. After the Russian Revolution, new artistic approaches were required to reflect a dramatically altered reality. Artists turned to the camera as a new medium to document their young country. This exhibition presents iconic examples of both photography and film, uncovering their shared radical aesthetic in a moment of profound social transformation.

 

Arkady Shaikhet, Express, 1939. Gelatin silver print, 15 5/8 × 21 1/8 in. Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York. Artwork © Estate of Arkady Shaikhet, courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery.

Arkady Shaikhet, Express, 1939. Gelatin silver print, 15 5/8 × 21 1/8 in. Nailya Alexander Gallery, New York. Artwork © Estate of Arkady Shaikhet, courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery.

 

Initially, the Communist government encouraged the avant-garde: radical style was seen as the expression of radical politics. For a time, artistic invention operated in potent and fruitful synergy with activism. Photographers and filmmakers were urged to try unusual techniques: collage, montage, darkroom manipulation, unconventional camera angles, fast-paced editing, and shifts in depth of field allowed the viewer to experience a familiar reality from an unfamiliar perspective.

A large number of the most prominent photographers, photojournalists, and filmmakers were Jewish; as members of a recently emancipated minority, they welcomed the arrival of the Soviet Union, with its promise of a new, egalitarian world.

Georgy Zelma. Voice of Moscow, 1925. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Alex Lachmann.

Georgy Zelma. Voice of Moscow, 1925. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Alex Lachmann.

However by 1932, the period of intense innovation was brief. Joseph Stalin consolidated power, independent styles were no longer tolerated; the avant-garde itself became suspect. Artistic organizations were dissolved and replaced by state-run unions. Art was subject to strict state control, and required to promote an approved, idealized socialist agenda.

Organized by the Jewish Museum, New York, from Nashville, the exhibit will travel to Europe. “In keeping with the First Center’s goal of encouraging our audience to view the world in new ways through art, this exhibition may inspire visitors to assess the images that we are constantly inundated by today with a more critical and informed eye. The interplay of political messaging and art continues in the ever-evolving media outlets of the twenty-first century,” said Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez.

 




Published by on March 2016. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette NewsWire/AAPNW, At the Centers dept, At the Museums dept, News (Time related), Northwest Passage Record/NWPR, Palette News Arts Network/PNAN, PaletteBoards Section, Tennessee. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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