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Russian art and architecture

The Twentieth Century

Around the turn of the century Mir Iskusstva (World of Art Group) was initiated, a movement akin to art nouveau. It served as the background for some of the first truly abstract artists who prevailed briefly in Russia after the 1917 revolution (see constructivism and suprematism). Among the more radical modern artists were Casimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Chaim Soutine, Aleksey von Jawlensky, Antoine Pevsner, Naum Gabo, Wassily Kandinsky, Mikhail Larinov, Marc Chagall, and Alexander Archipenko. Most of them left the country after 1923 and settled in Western Europe and the United States.

The Ministry of Culture soon took over the direction of Russian art, and a standardized literal style known as socialist realism was enforced while abstraction was renounced as decadent. Socialist realist artists include Georgi Nisski and Vera Mukina. Only with the death of Stalin was there a slight relaxation of government strictures, although artists working in an abstract idiom continued to be rarely exhibited and harshly criticized. From the mid-1950s to the decline of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s, so-called nonconformist art was widely practiced in the USSR. This late Soviet art encompassed a number of styles, met with official disapproval, was infrequently seen by the public, and often dealt with the harshness of life in the USSR. Among the leading artists of the period were Ilya Kabakov, Leonid Lamm, and Yevgeny Rukhin. Under Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership and with the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, artistic freedom has increased markedly. Russian architecture in the 20th cent., after a brief phase of constructivist experimentation in the 1920s, tended toward an unimaginative combination of neoclassicism and skyscraper construction.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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