New York exhibitions. The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film. Presented at the Jewish Museum in New York. September 25, 2015 – February 7, 2016.
Striking Soviet Avant-Garde Photographs and Film from the Revolution to the Beginning of World War II. Highlight Art’s Impact on Social Change and Radical Political Engagement.
From early vanguard constructivist works by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, to the modernist images of Arkady Shaikhet and Max Penson, Soviet photographers played a pivotal role in the history of modern photography. The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film will examine how photography, film, and poster art were harnessed to disseminate Communist ideology, revisiting a moment in history when artists acted as engines of social change and radical political engagement. Covering the period from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution through the 1930s, the exhibition will explore how early modernist photography and film influenced a new Soviet style while energizing and expanding the nature of the media. Through 181 works, The Power of Pictures will reveal how striking images by master photographers and filmmakers were seen as powerful propaganda tools in the new Soviet Union. Looking at photography and film together as influential and formally related media, the exhibition will be on view at the Jewish Museum from September 25, 2015 through February 7, 2016. Following its New York showing, The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film will travel to two other venues.
“The innovations of early Soviet lens-based art are remarkably relevant-even prescient-for our contemporary moment,” said Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs, the Jewish Museum. “In a time when the relationship between art and politics is ill defined, it is opportune to look back at a period of enormous synergy between artistic creation and extreme political action.”
In a country where 70% of the population was illiterate, heavily illustrated periodicals and film were considered more effective tools than the written word for the propaganda needs of the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. Lenin himself declared that the camera, as much as the gun, was an important weapon in class struggle. Recognizing that images had the power to transform society, Lenin put lens-based art at the service of the Revolution – thereby acting as a historical demonstration of how artistic and political ambitions can coalesce and fortify one another. The Power of Pictures will illustrate that these photographs and films, developing alongside avant-garde art, encompassed a much wider range of artistic styles and thematic content than previously recognized. Through the lens of its most outstanding practitioners, the exhibition will consider salient landmarks in the history and culture of the former Soviet Union covering the period from the Revolution to the beginning of World War II. By contrasting works produced by Oktyabr (October) and the Russian Association of Proletarian Photographers (ROPF), the exhibition will consider the differences and similarities of these respective groups of photographers who defined Soviet style of the period.
The Power of Pictures highlights major constructivist photographers Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky, and Boris Ignatovich, whose work was presented in landmark exhibitions of the time. Such photographers influenced a new generation of photojournalists, such as Arkady Shaikhet, Max Penson, Eleazar Langman, and Georgy Zelma – the majority of whom were Jewish. Modernist photography in the Soviet Union developed alongside the avant-garde. Toward the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, it had started to acquire features brought about by the ideological requirements of the authorities, who specified that every artwork promote a political and social agenda, and reflect a Socialist Realist style.
The exhibition will include films by major directors of the era, such as the seminal Sergei Eisenstein film, Battleship Potemkin, and Man With a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov. Despite Eisenstein and Vertov’s relative fame, many of these filmmakers such as Grigory Kozintsev and Yakov Protazanov have been overlooked or excised from the history of the medium.
In addition, The Power of Pictures will feature a rich array of film posters and vintage books which integrate photography. Employing a radical graphic style, these posters and books reflect the utopian ideals and rigorous experimental aesthetics which were applied to the many modes of creative endeavor during the early Soviet era. Extreme color and dynamic geometric designs, combined with a highly innovative use of collage and photomontage, give these images a contemporary appeal. Nearly a century after many of these works were created, they still convey a fresh and revelatory sensibility. Also on view will be examples of periodicals in which major photographic works were published to convey the impact of photojournalism as a powerful propaganda tool.
The exhibition at the Jewish Museum will explore the core artistic factions and conflicts of the period, and demonstrate that early Soviet photography, film, and poster art encompassed a much wider range of style and content than previously known in the West. These vanguard artists were determined to define a new style, and use the inherent potential of the medium to energize and expand the very nature of photography.
The exhibition is organized by Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Senior Curator Emerita, and Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs, both at the Jewish Museum.
Exhibition Tour: The Jewish Museum, New York City (9/25/15-2/7/16); Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN (3/11/16-7/4/16); and Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands (7/24/16-11/27/16).
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Jewish Museum, New York, and Yale University Press are publishing a 240-page catalogue by Susan Tumarkin Goodman and Jens Hoffmann, with an essay by Alexander Lavrentiev. Alexander Lavrentiev is a Moscow-based art historian, grandson of the photographer Alexander Rodchenko, and Director of the Rodchenko-Stepanova archive. Featuring 148 color and 30 black and white illustrations, the hardcover book is available worldwide and at the Jewish Museum’s Cooper Shop for $45.00.
Support: The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography, Early Soviet Film is made possible by the Eugene and Emily Grant Family Foundation, The David Berg Foundation, Andrew and Marina Lewin Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Exhibition Fund.
The catalogue is supported with endowment funds from the Dorot Foundation.
Programming and marketing support is provided by Genesis Philanthropy Group.
The audio guide is produced in association with Acoustiguide and made possible by Bloomberg Philanthropies.