ARTMargins Online April 7, 2018
At a time when our own political moment has given rise to dangerous neoliberalism and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the United States, Revolutionary Russia of a century ago with its promise of social equality and transformation continues to seduce our imagination (at least in the former West), despite the ultimate failure of the Soviet project. This seduction fueled two recent shows in Chicago that marked the centennial of the October Revolution through the art, design and material culture of its artists and social architects, part of a wave of international exhibitions each devoted to some facet of the subject. Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test, at the Art Institute of Chicago, gathered some 550 objects that included the innovative artistic forms of the Russian avant-garde alongside the state mechanisms and propaganda machine all deployed to construct the new Soviet state. Revolution Every Day, at the Smart Museum of Art, was smaller and more tightly thematic, assembling documentary films, historical posters and other archival materials, alongside works by contemporary artists, to explore the role of women and women artists in “build[ing] a new everyday life under socialism.” Together both shows offered a fascinating archeology of the period, even if at the expense of a distanced, critical view of the dissonance between socialist reality and political rhetoric.