The beginning of 20th century was undoubtedly one of the most exciting eras in the history of art and architecture. On a practical level, technological inventions as far as materials and construction methods were concerned, made possible the emergence of new forms and scales. However, the influence of breakthroughs in communication and transportation had the most dramatic effect in broadening humanity’s perception and experience. Especially in Russia, or rather CCCP at the time, this wide horizon of possibilities seemed truly infinite as it was ignited by the fiery promises of revolution.
Forms, compositions, ideas and manifestos of Russian Constructivism and Suprematism set solid foundations for Bauhaus, De Stijl, Art Deco and Modernism to develop upon. The blooming of the arts in Russia was so intense that most of the products of that era still strike us with their innovativeness and manage to stay forever contemporary. Both art and architecture equally expressed and inspired the huge political changes that the country underwent and this is very eloquently depicted in the ‘Building the Revolution’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.
The choice of works from Popova, Malevich, Klutsis and many others is quite successful in distilling the essence of art’s influence on the revolution and also in displaying the revolution that occurred within visual arts during that time.
The architectural exhibit is presented in four major categories: State and communication, Industry, Housing and Education and health. These categories round eloquently all areas of public life and the way that architecture was used as propaganda to promote the new-born socialism.
All buildings are portrayed beautifully through the juxtaposition of contemporary pictures by the uniquely talented Richard Pare, and old photographs taken from former CCCP’s Academy of Architecture archives. Age and weathering imprinted on buildings are in the foreground. This is a very refreshing choice in a time when mainly the polished and new are celebrated. The contradiction of old photographs with young buildings and new photographs of old buildings is where the simple beauty of this exhibition lies and from where the visitor draws the most interesting conclusions.