Russian Dada 1914–1924
Russian Dada 1914–1924
In the exhibition Russian Dada 1914–1924, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía focuses on an episode that is little known in Spain but was extremely influential for the development of artistic modernism: the impact of Dadaism in Russia during the years leading up to the Revolution and immediately following it. In a context of enormous social and political upheaval both before and after the outbreak of revolution, a radical modernism germinated in the Russian artistic milieu and permeated the rest of the continent. These tendencies have already received attention from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in exhibitions such as Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism (2009) and The Russian Avant-Garde Book (2013). Dada was born in 1916 as a disorderly response rather than a movement with a sense of purpose, something that undoubtedly distances it from the programmatic nature of both the artistic avant-gardes and the political proposals that fed the totalitarianisms of the time. It emerged in a Zurich that was sheltering exiles, war refugees, deserters, and conspirators, one of them Vladimir Lenin, whose home was just yards from the Cabaret Voltaire, the nerve center of the origins of Dada. The chronology of this exhibition thus starts with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, continues with the birth of Dada, and ends with the death of the Bolshevik leader, an event that was to lead on to the origins of Stalinism and its subsequent demand for an academicist, realist, and antimodernist propaganda, far removed from the artistic production that had put Russia at the most radical forefront of the avant-garde. The transnational character of the Dada experiment responds to a loss of confidence in the values established by the nationalist movements of the nineteenth century. It proceeds by challenging logic, established verbal and visual languages, and the values they represent. Its members therefore declared, “The signatories of this manifesto live in France, the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, etc., but have no nationality.” Nevertheless, the various local branches of the movement were to have characteristics of their own, and it was from this specificity that they made their contributions to a modern art defined precisely as a response to the debates on identity inherited from the previous century, and as a result of weariness at forms of art seen as the products of a world in decline. In the case of Russia, several critics of the time pointed out the Dadaist tendencies of the Russian avant-garde in its radical separation of form and content. Even Roman Jakobson came to speak of the October Revolution as the culmination of the political aspirations of Dada. What is beyond doubt is that there was a creative seedbed in Russia, where the pioneering antiacademic experiments of Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky (the pseudonym of Lazar Markovich Lissitzky) and Aleksandr Rodchenko served as a spur for those who were drawn to negation, irony, and the absurd as radical forms of response in a period marked, to use Friedrich Nietzsche’s term, by the “transvaluation of all values.” With more than two hundred paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, books, and films, the exhibition presents an in-depth survey of the period, arranged in several sections: abstraction, collage, and the readymade as mechanisms for contesting reason; revolutionary themes and the movement toward internationalism; and the interactions between Russia and the European Dadaists, with special reference to the groups in Berlin and Paris. Russian Dada 1914–1924 comes at a most opportune moment. With the new century, the commemoration in 2018 of the end of the World War I, and the reactivation of the debate on the October Revolution with its centenary in 2017, the context seems ripe for using today’s instruments and methods to rethink the contribution of the arts in the agitated Russian scene of the first decades of the twentieth century.
ÍÑIGO MÉNDEZ DE VIGO Y MONTOJO
MINISTER OF EDUCATION, CULTURE AND SPORT AND GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN