HAA 177G - Workshop of Revolution: From Studio to Street After 1917





Maria Gough

Wednesdays, 3:00 pm - 5:45 pm

Recent events have reminded us of the phenomenal power of the real-time convergence of people in public space.  What is the role and responsibility of the artist in such moments of far-reaching political, social, and cultural upheaval and transformation?  Should artists uphold the the (modernist) principle of the autonomy of the work of art?  Or should they commit to the social turn that has characterized much artistic production of the last decade or so?  To help us debate this fundamental question, this course brings to the table one of the most extraordinary historical examples we have of artists radicalizing their aesthetic practices, tactics, and strategies to meet revolutionary objectives—that of the avant-gardes that emerged in Russia in the wake of the 1917 revolutions.  Remarkable for the number of women in their ranks, the Soviet avant-gardes of the 1920s and 1930s reconceptualized what it meant to be an artist.  They advanced collective practices, counter-monuments, the politicization of abstraction, and innovative modes of exhibition design.  Inventing new typologies of small-form architecture, such as agitational kiosks and vehicles, they transcended their traditional domain (studio, gallery, and museum) to operate directly in the public realm of the street.  They designed demonstrations, outdoor theatrical spectacles, and workers’ clubs for the enlightenment, relaxation, and entertainment of ordinary people.  To expand their outreach, they moved away from the production of unique objects (paintings, sculpture) to engage instead the mass-distribution forms of industrial production, photography, film, print media, and poster, book, clothing, and textile design.  What lessons, whether positive or negative, might we learn from their example?  Artists include:  Vladimir Tatlin, Liubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova, Elena Semenova, Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandra Ekster, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Valentina Kulagina, Gustavs Klucis, Sophie Küppers, Mariia Bri-Bein, Aleksandr Deineka, Dziga Vertov, Elizaveta Svilova, and El Lissitzky.


Course readings comprise short polemical essays by artists and their contemporary apologists and critics, and key texts by art historians and theorists.  All readings in English. 


Open to all graduate and undergraduate students.  (To facilitate their preparation, undergrads will have, in addition to the regular course meeting, a dedicated one-hour section with a TF.)



--Weekly preparation of readings (all available on Canvas); 

--Attendance and participation (via Zoom) at a two-hour meeting per week (and, for undergrads, also the one-hour prep section)

--One or two 10-minute class presentations on the reading;

--Paper of 10-12 pages (undergrads), 15-25 pages (grad students).