aftermath and afterlife of the russian avant-garde
16 Jan - 17 Jan 2014

This symposium organized by Stedelijk Museum and Leiden University takes place in the context of the exhibition Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-garde. It focuses on the interrelation between the dismantling and repression of the Avant-garde in the 1920s and 1930s in Russia, and the subsequent revival and canonization of the Avant-garde narrative in both the West and in post-Soviet Russia.

Teijin Auditorium, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Entrance price to the Stedelijk Museum

It is necessary to make a reservation. Send an email with your name, phone number and the date of the program you want to visit.

Foto: Gert Jan van Rooij
Foto: Gert Jan van Rooij

While the demise of the Russian avant-garde was made definitive in the 1930s by forced unification of artistic groups into the “Union of Artists,” the fate of the Russian avant-garde was in many ways already decided in the first half of the 1920s. This was partly due to the emigration of artists (such as Kandinsky, Chagall, Gabo, Falk, and Redko) and to the stylistic recalibration of a large group of moderate avant-gardists, like Aristarkh Lentulov, Vladimir Lebedev, and Pyotr Konchalovsky, into a less progressive or outright conservative painterly style.

After WWII, a new generation of artists, critics, and historians in the western hemisphere returned to the Russian avant-garde. This embrace by the western neo-avant-garde was inspired by the radicalism of the Russian aesthetic strategies and its political radicalism. Moving between cold war politics on the one hand and a neo-Marxist resistance to capitalist consumer culture on the other, this multifaceted afterlife of the Russian avant-garde in the West remained influential for a long period, ensuring that the Russian avant-garde would become a beacon for artistic freedom, radical innovation, and nonconformity in the West.

After Stalin, the avant-garde in Russia remained an ambiguous phenomenon. While it served as an important model and inspiration for the various non-conformist groups that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, it was also considered elitist and foreign, even long after the demise of the Soviet Union.

In Russian politics, the contemporary wish to highlight and strengthen the continuity between Soviet and post-Soviet period seems to be a guiding force behind the continuously problematic position of avant-garde art in and with regard to Russia.

The most important questions which this symposium seeks to address, are connected with the political nature of the avant-garde. To what extent were artists in Russia shaped by the political context of their work, or did their philosophical and aesthetic concerns prevail in the end? And if so, what strategies did they employ to preserve this aesthetical independence? In terms of reception, to what extent did the political context of the avant-garde shape a positive reception, and subsequent canonization, in the West? The question of political context also applies to the various afterlives of the avant-garde, both in the West and in Russia. How did politics shape their aesthetics, and their philosophical program? A broad spectrum of speakers will discuss these questions and more, and relate them to the current exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum: Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde.


January 16, 2014

10:00 a.m.  Doors open

10:30 a.m. Welcome by Hendrik Folkerts (Curator Public Program, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam) and introduction by Sjeng Scheijen (post-doctoral researcher/VENI laureate, University of Leiden) 

Session 1: Neo- and post-Avant-garde

The various afterlives of the Russian Avant-garde used elements of the Avant-garde legacy for their own aesthetic and philosophical needs. How did these artists access and understand the Avant-garde legacy, and how did various canonizations (the cold war reception of the Russian Avant-garde, for example) shape their understanding of what the Avant-garde was? Subsequently, how did these understandings shape their reactions, which is contained in their artistic output?

11:00 a.m. Keynote lecture Christina Lodder (Professor Art History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent)

11:45 a.m. Questions from the audience

12:15 p.m. Roundtable with Christina Lodder (Professor Art History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent), Natalia Murray (Lecturer, Courtauld Institute of Art), and Eric de Bruyn (Lecturer Art History, University of Leiden), moderated by Margriet Schavemaker (Head of Research, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

1:30 p.m. End of session

1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Lunch break 

Session 2: Canonization

The Russian Avant-garde canon is a problematic notion because of the political and geographical divide between various understandings of what the Russian Avant-garde represents. Why is Malevich revered and Filonov almost unknown? This roundtable will confront this problem through various case studies, with an emphasis on the historical context but also including post-war interpretations.  

3:00 p.m.  Short lectures of 20 minutes by Linda Boersma (Lecturer Art History, University of Utrecht), Christina Kiaer (Professor Art History, Northwestern University), and Nicoletta Misler (Professor Modern East European Art, Instituto Universitario Orientale Napels)

4:00 p.m. Panel discussion following lectures, moderated by Jane Sharp (University Associate Professor 20th Century Art, Rutgers University NJ)

4:30 p.m. End of session 


January 17, 2014

10:30 a.m. Doors open

10:45 a.m. Brief introduction – recap of January 16 sessions by Sjeng Scheijen 

Session 3: Artistic strategies

Artists use aesthetic strategies to express political concerns, but also to circumvent or negate them. In strongly politicized circumstances, artists often use their creativity to generate inner worlds that are havens for an eccentric, spiritual, and very personal understanding of reality, which can be specific to the contemporary political situation or utopian. This “inner world” quality of the Avant-garde (in its various manifestations) often seems overlooked. This session will explore this aspect of the Avant-garde to understand how an anti-political attitude shaped the Avant-garde.

11:00 a.m. Short lectures of 20 minutes by Jane Sharp (University Docent 20th Century Art, Rutgers University NJ), Tim Harte (University Docent Russian Language and Culture and Co-director of the Russian Flagship Program, Bryn Mawr College), and John Bowlt (Professor Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Southern California)

12:00 a.m.  Panel discussion following lectures, moderated by Inge Wierda (freelance art historian)

12:30 p.m.  End of session

12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Lunch break

Session 4: Politics

Both private political concerns and the realities of Soviet and pre-revolutionary political life affected the Russian Avant-garde. How did the private and the public interact? How did political concerns relate to aesthetic outcomes, or was the political context maybe less important than is conventionally assumed?

2:00 p.m. Short lectures of 20 minutes by Sjeng Scheijen (post-doctoral researcher/VENI laureate, University of Leiden), Alexandra Shatskikh (freelance scholar, Moscow), and Susan E. Reid (Professor Russian and Soviet Art History, University of Sheffield)

3:00 p.m. Panel discussion following lectures, moderated by: Ellen Rutten (Professor Slavonic Literature and Cultures, University of Amsterdam)

3:30 p.m. End of session

3:45 p.m. Concluding remarks by Margriet Schavemaker (Head of Research, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

4:30 p.m. End of symposium