The October Revolution of 1917 changed the course of world history; it also turned Russia into a showcase filled with models. Every object and sphere of activity had to demonstrate how society could be remade according to revolutionary principles. It would take intensive experimentation and discussion to determine the shape of this unprecedented society. To be realized in any concrete way, communism had to be modeled and put on display.
Soviet Art Put to the Test accordingly fills Regenstein Hall with ten model displays from the early Soviet era. Each of these sections, detailed below, holds rare works of art and features expert, life-size reconstructions of early Soviet display objects or spaces, commissioned especially for this exhibition.
Battleground: Posters from the Civil War years (1918–21) surround a “Lenin Wall” with three dozen works devoted to the first Soviet leader.
School: Rare works from Soviet art schools convey breakthroughs in abstraction. Many loans come from the storied Costakis art collection in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Theater: Model sets, props, and drawings bring to life classic Constructivist stagings that merged viewers and performers in a mass spectacle.
Press: A 14-foot multimedia kiosk built from a design by artist Gustav Klutsis and a suite of his original drawings anchor an extensive display of rare magazines and unique poster maquettes.
Factory: A 30-foot-long Workers’ Club designed by Aleksandr Rodchenko can be entered to see period books and magazines.
Exhibition: A reconstructed 1926 exhibition room by El Lissitzky features paintings by artists included in the original exhibition, among them Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia, and Lissitzky himself.
Festival: A period model for Stalin’s Palace of the Soviets joins photographs of mass sports events and commemorative gatherings.
Cinema: A rotating program of Soviet cartoons and documentaries is shown in a space that evokes an agitprop train.
Storefront: Large picture windows showcase textiles, Constructivist advertisements, and Suprematist porcelain.
Home: Personal images of leading Soviet artists, porcelain figurines, and a painting by Socialist Realist Aleksandr Deineka populate a model interior also outfitted with furniture conceived for small or collective apartments.
These ten displays—containing nearly 550 works—come together in the largest exhibition of Soviet art to take place in the United States in 25 years. Visitors have the opportunity to explore the trajectory of early Soviet art in all its forms and consider what it tells us about socially minded art now.
Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the V-A-C Foundation.
Major support is provided by Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation.
Additional funding is contributed by Constance R. Caplan, Karen and Jim Frank, and the Tawani Foundation.
Annual support for Art Institute exhibitions is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Neil Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation; Jay Franke and David Herro; Kenneth Griffin; Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation; Liz and Eric Lefkofsky; Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy; Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff; Usha and Lakshmi N. Mittal; Thomas and Margot Pritzker; Anne and Chris Reyes; Betsy Bergman Rosenfield and Andrew M. Rosenfield; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation. Generous in-kind support for this exhibition is provided by Tru Vue, Inc. and JIT Companies.