Tate Etc

Our Collective History Legacies of Soviet visual culture

by Natalia Sidlina and Juliet Bingham

Nina Vatolina's 1941 poster: 'Don't Chatter! Be alert. In days like these, the walls have ears. It's a small step from gossip to treason.'

Nina Vatolina's 1941 poster: ‘Don't Chatter! Be alert. In days like these, the walls have ears. It's a small step from gossip to treason.’

The David King Collection at Tate

This autumn, on the centenary of the October Revolution, Tate Modern opens two exhibitions that, in different ways, draw upon the visual history of the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55 tells the story of the fundamental changes in the way art was conceived, created and disseminated in the first half of the 20th century. Exploring artworks made by Russian and Soviet artists over five decades, from the first revolution of 1905 to the post-Stalin ‘Thaw’ period of the mid-1950s, the show includes rarely seen posters, photographs and other graphic works from the David King Collection, now part of Tate's collection. It concludes with the earliest works by Ilya Kabakov, representing the new generation of unofficial artists who emerged in Russia in the late 1950s. The second exhibition, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future, reveals how Soviet visual culture and socialist realism permeated the lives of artists, and how they appropriated these elements for their own experimental, unofficial practices.

Like the fictional characters in Ilya Kabakov’s ‘albums’ of the early 1970s, Soviet artists of various generations coexisted in a close-knit underground group of friends, relatives and neighbours who came to be known as Moscow conceptualists. The visual world that they created was, in its turn, adopted by the next generation of artists brought up after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Here, four artists from different generations reflect on the complex intertwining of Soviet imagery, narrative and personal experience in their work, all connected by Moscow conceptualism and its legacy.

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future, the Eyal Ofer Galleries, Tate Modern, 18 October – 28 January 2018.

Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55, Blavatnik Building, Tate Modern, 8 November – 18 February 2018.

Natalia Sidlina is Adjunct Research Curator, Russian Art, Tate Modern, supported by the V-A-C Foundation. Juliet Bingham is Curator, Tate Modern.