In September, 2013, the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, will host The Russian Avant-garde, Siberia and the East. It’s the first international exhibition to examine the fundamental importance of the Oriental and Eurasian connection to Russian Modernism, follows the destinies of Russia’s self-proclaimed “Barbarians” in their search for new sources of artistic inspiration. Neolithic stone figures, Siberian shaman rituals, popular Chinese prints, Japanese engravings, Theosophical doctrine and Indian philosophy are some of the elements which inspired Russia’s new artists and writers as they developed their aesthetic and theoretical ideas just before and after the Revolution of October, 1917. The exhibition demonstrates how modern Russian culture experienced a deep attraction to—and an apprehension of—the exotic, the unknown and the “other”, qualities which artists and writers identified with the spirit of the taiga, the virgin territories of desert and steppe and the “otherness” of Oriental culture.
Emphasising the key role which radical Russian artists played in the development of Modern art over a century ago, the exhibition underscores their complex relationship with the Orient (both the Russian East and the Far East). Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Pavel Filonov, Natalia Goncharova, Wassily Kandinsky, Mikhail Larionov, Kazimir Malevich and other prime movers of the avant-garde were deeply aware of the importance of the East and contributed to the rich debate (“West or East?”) which left a profound and permanent imprint upon their creative imagination. In addition to the heroes of the Russian Avant-garde, the exhibition also acquaints us with other, less familiar, but still original, artists of the time such as Nikolai Kalmakov, Sergei Konenkov and Vasilii Vatagin, many of whose works are being shown in the West for the first time. Organised by: Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi Curated by: John E. Bowlt, Nicoletta Misler, Evgenia Petrova Dates: 27 September 2013-19 January 2014