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Love in Times of Revolution - Artist couples of the Russian avant-garde

23. October 2015

„Down with Art. Long live technical science“ was the slogan of the productivist manifest by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Exhibiting the life and work of five artist couples of the Russian avant-garde, the Bank Austria Kunstforum Vienna illustrates the development from painting towards art as a production process.  


Illustration of the decline of the bourgeoisie or of the rise of the new working class? Common to all exhibited artists is the repudiation of the past and history, regarding revolutionary practice as well as the art production of the Russian Avant-garde.

The exhibition „Love in Times of Revolution“in the Kunstforum Bank Austria shows a large section of the Russian avant-garde. Curated by Heike Eipeldauer and Florian Steininger, the enthusiasm and subsequent development of the conception of art in these revolutionary times is documented with the work and life of five artist couples in times of the Russian revolution. This new conception of art manifested itself also by an increasing number of artist couples living and creating on an equal footing, as social conditions underwent profound changes in the course of the October revolution.

The curators’ assumption is that equal rights for women and social reforms –legislation regarding divorce, abortion, adultery, homosexuality and others- that went further than ever before in history, encouraged the formation of emancipated artist couples. Questioning the dominant image of the solitary artistic genius, collective creativity prevailed in the revolutionary avant-garde.

Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, Liubov Popova and Alexandr Vesnin, Olga Rosanova und Alexei Kruchenykh, and finally Valentina Kulagina and Gastav Klutsis are the artist couples that illustrate this part of the history of the Russian avant-garde, not only from a viewpoint of art history, but also from a social and private viewpoint, by including biographical material.

The Russian avant-garde reached its peak of creativity and popularity between 1917 and 1932, when the ideas of modern art and freedom were eventually confronted with the Soviet concept of socialist realism, with the known sad results. However, a few years before, Russian art was on the forefront of global artistic creativity. The reform of painting, developing over decades in France, was compressed to 15 years in Russia.

Parallel to the Russian revolution there was a transformation of the notions of artistic expressivity and intellectual content of the works. New tendencies arose in Russian art, replacing the eclectic and modernist and monumental movements that predominated towards the end of Tsarism. The avant-garde, with a different conception of naturalism and realism from traditional art, found new points of reference and other sources of inspiration in perspective, colour, representation and perception of reality as a basis for a new form of expression. The example of Rayonism, a special episode in the aesthetic history of modernisms movements of the time, is represented with some fine works in this exhibition.

The concept of the artist’s role and his contribution to society was transformed until he or she was regarded as a means of production, serving the ideals of the revolution and being in line with the spirit of his time. Some artists sacrificed their creative freedom incorporating their art into collective production, as in the production of some tool in the production line. In this spirit artists were no more than another element of the production process.

Nevertheless, this exhibition does not only display beautiful works but dynamic and provocative visions that have lost nothing of their expressivity over the years. These works are very much alive, representing the artistic and revolutionary hopes of an entire generation of artists, revealing Larionov, Stepanova, Rodchenko and the others as essential pioneers of the 20th century’s abstract art. (written by Cem Angeli)

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