Awkward Truths of the Past. Russian Avant-Garde and Soviet Hippies in Malmö
Moderna Museet Malmö starts this autumn with two exhibitions in which emotional flashbacks are guaranteed. Especially for the generation of Eastern Europeans who have experienced the Soviet era. John Peter Nilsson, Director of Moderna Museet Malmö, believes that art history is always in motion, and that our past is something to learn from and not deny, even if that includes awkward truths. “Behind the Iron Curtain, there happened a lot more than the Cold War propaganda in the East, as well in the West, communicated to the rest of the world. I believe that we are just beginning to unveil many different new stories from the former Soviet empire”, John Peter Nilsson says.
Moderna Museet Malmö wants to alter the image of the Soviet era as it welcomes two intriguing shows - “Russian Avant-Garde - Visions of a Future”, and “Soviet Hippies: the Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Soviet Estonia”.
The Russian Avant-garde exhibition is based upon the Moderna Museet collection, whereas “Soviet Hippies” is an exhibition curated by KIWA & Terje Toomistu from Estonia, and contains objects that they mostly collected themselves.
“The future is now” is the common feeling of both exhibitions – the museum director explains as he welcomes us to feel the atmosphere of the Russian Avant-garde within almost the whole of the museum space, the exception being the ambiance of Soviet hippies in one room.
Aleksandr Rodtjenko. Sports Parade, 1936
“Russian Avant-Garde - Visions of a Future” Modrena Museet, Malmö 14 September 2013 - 12 January 2014
Between 1905 and the 1930s, Russia and the Soviet Union experienced radical political change and furious social development, and this was also reflected in the field of art. The Russian avant-garde was far from a homogeneous artist group, but they all shared a desire to express their era. They were inspired by the latest trends in Western contemporary art, such as cubism and Italian futurism, but also by Eastern folk art and icon painting.
In “Russian Avant-Garde - Visions of a Future”, 150 works highlight several of the main tendencies that emerged in Russia at the time, such as constructivism and suprematism. The exhibition demonstrates how the new radical art was used as an ideological tool to create a new world, but it also presents artists who were opposed to art in the service of the state.
Vladimir Tatlin. Model for Monument for the 3rd International, 1919–1920, rekonstruction 1968/1976. Photo: Moderna Museet/Albin Dahlström
Naturally, highlights such as Vladimir Tatlin’s model for a monument for the Third International, “Tatlin’s Tower”, will be featured, along with Kazimir Malevich’s Black and White. Suprematist Composition – both of which are being shown in the Öresund region for the first time. The multi-faceted Alexander Rodchenko is highlighted in the exhibition, especially for his work in revolutionising the art of photography. Key works by Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter and Wassily Kandinsky, and, above all, by the Swedish pioneer of abstract art Hilma af Klint, will also be shown.
The exhibition also includes many propaganda posters, and avant-garde films such as the critically acclaimed Battleship Potemkin by Sergey Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, and a unique portfolio of Soviet periodicals that have never before been shown.
We were interested in asking Mr. Nilsson a few more questions, which he then graciously answered.
Why do you think it is essential today to talk about Soviet art?
Despite the later ruling horrors of Stalin and post-Stalin times, the early Russian avant-garde still has a fascinating aura around its visions. I want the show to be an energy boost in today’s blasé way of thinking.
Why does the Moderna Museet have such great interest in the Russian avant-garde?
The Moderna Museet has a reasonably good collection of paintings and sculptures, but also photographs, propaganda posters and other paraphernalia connected to the visual arts, the latter mostly acquired during the directorship of David Elliott.
What sort of audience are you expecting for the Russian Avant-Garde exhibition?
We have a steady general audience of middle-class, educated people that always come to the museum. I know there is also a special interest among architectural students, and I hope it will attract a younger audience than usual because of its visionary views.
Could you give us three keywords that would best describe this exhibition?
Soviet Hippies: the Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Soviet Estonia” Modrena Museet, Malmö 14 September 2013 - 13 October 2013
The hippie movement, which converted hundreds of thousands of young people in the west to the cult of "peace, love and freedom" during the 1960s and 1970s, also had an impact on the other side of the Iron curtain. Coveting western freedoms and spiritually inspired by the cultures of the east, a counterculture of flower children developed in the Soviet Union, which was disengaged from the official ideology and expressed itself through rock music, love, pacifism and a physical appearance that was considered unacceptable for soviet citizens.
The hippie movement in Soviet Estonia was not a clearly defined phenomenon, but rather the distinctive flow of an explosive youth culture with a perception of life that could unite vagabonds and academicians. However, the mere trend toward hippie fashions, long hair and great rock concerts was enough to make the soviet authorities see a political threat that could subvert the regime. But the more absurd the reality, the more fanatical the soviet flower power became. They created their own world in the shadow of harsh rules and repressions, and opposed the ruling system through symbolic expression.
In the opinion of Mr. Nilsson, the highlights of this exhibition are: a map depicting where the hippies traveled all over the Soviet empire; the interviews with surviving hippies; psychedelic illustrations in children books (the only books allowed to have such aesthetics); legal drugs of the time; and a photograph of the first (and illegal) Hare Krishna marriage.