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Here’s your guide to modern Russian art and culture

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London’s Royal Academy of Arts recently presented an exhibition of Russian and Soviet art from 1917-1932.

Although some fine works are on display, much of the press around the exhibition has been full of ‘fake art news’ regarding the history of modern Russian art.

This is no surprise seeing as the Royal Academy has its own dubious relationship with one of the Soviet Union’s global antagonists, the CIA.  For anyone planning on going to the exhibition, here are some helpful real facts about modern Russian art and culture.

When Ivan IV proclaimed himself Tsar of All the Russians 1547, Russia began to emerge as one of the world’s most powerful states.  Some foreign observers characterise pre-Soviet Russia by Nikolai I’s mid-19th century policy of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nation(Правосла́вие, самодержа́вие, наро́дность), but this difficult to translate phrase belies the  reality of a  Russian society which has always been amongst the most multicultural in the world.

The Russian state has at various times encompassed cultures ranging from the Muslim lands of central Asia to the Roman Catholic and Protestant lands of central and eastern Europe. Russia’s geographic immensity has in turn created a culture that is uniquely Eurasian, blending visual, musical, intellectual and spiritual traditions from the many cultures within the Russian state. At no time in Russian history was this cacophony of cultures more explosive than in the 20th century.

(1) 1900-1917(When Future Met Past)

Prior to the October Revolution of 1917, Russian art was at its most cosmopolitan, but rarely did Russian artists sever ties to their culture which was often far removed from prevailing European trends. In the visual arts, the realism associated with the Peredvizhniki(Передви́жники) group continued to captivate imaginations with scenes portraying a wide array of Russian lifestyles and landscapes.

Simultaneously, many Russians began looking to the future as the turn of the 20th century brought new technological and philosophical ideas into Russian minds.

Composer Alexander Scriabin (Алекса́ндр Скря́бин) typified this new outlook. At the turn of the 20th century, Scriabin became regarded as Russia’s most important composer since Tchaikovsky, combining romantic tendencies with radically new concepts concerning polyphony and dissonance.

Like many of his contemporaries, Scriabin was informed equally by the post-Enlightenment thought of Europeans like Nietzsche and Freud as he was by ancient Russian mysticism. The ecumenical spiritualist Helena Blavatsky(Еле́на Блава́тская) proved to be one of the most lasting influences on Scriabin’s philosophical outlook. Scriabin’s own theory on the relation of colour to sound likewise resonated across the culture.

The age of Scriabin was also the age of Kandinsky (Канди́нский) and the abandonment by Kandinsky of traditional realistic forms paralleled Scriabin’s abandonment of traditional romantic idioms.

(2) 1917-1930 (Innovation And Revolution)

The decade after The October Revolution and subsequent civil and foreign wars, saw Russian culture explode with highly original concepts. Against the backdrop of the abolition of the pre-1917 social order, liberalised laws on birth control and homosexuality, and a new emphasis on mass education, artists from all fields began to experiment. Constructivist architecture emphasised the unity of material and shape whilst experiments with conductorless orchestras spoke to a more egalitarian age.

The technology which had captivated many earlier thinkers was now becoming the reality of everyday life across Russia. Lenin’s GOELRO Plan (план ГОЭЛРО) reflected the Communist leader’s desire to bring electricity to every Soviet street and village. With the gradual growth of electricity came film, a medium embraced both by Russian artists and the Communist Party.

Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov’s use of light and shadow to communicate themes of fraternity and struggles against oppression became the cinematic inspiration for European and American innovators such as Leni Riefenstahl and Orson Welles. Avant-garde painting also reached its zenith after 1917 as artists ranging from Pavel Filonov (Па́вел Фило́нов) to Russian Pole Kazimir Malevich challenged previous conceptions about the nature of painting.  Vladimir Mayakovsky (Влади́мир Маяко́вский) became the literary champion of the post-Revolutionary zeitgeist, writing poems that continue to resonate across the Russian speaking world. Not only was art changing rapidly in the 1920s, but so too was the background of artists.

In pre-Soviet times, the fine arts were largely the reserve of the aristocratic whilst after 1917 all Soviet citizens were given increasing opportunities to receive artistic training. Whilst many eyes were on the future in the 1920s, one must remember that even the most futuristic Russian artists retained a measure of influence from Russian spiritual traditions ranging from the mystical to the Orthodox. Thus even in the age where Communism broke Orthodoxy’s union with the state, Russians continued to be deeply informed by prior traditions.

(3) 1930-1947 (The Triumph of Realism and Patriotism).

Soviet society changed profoundly after Stalin consolidated his leadership in the 1930s.  Many socially liberal laws of the 1920s were quickly repealed to reflect a new, more centralised leadership.

In architecture, constructivism gave way to what is retrospectively called Stalinist architecture, a uniquely Soviet style which combined neo-classical grandeur with Soviet iconography on an erstwhile unprecedented scale. At this time many so-called avant-garde artists left Soviet soil to continue their work in Europe and North America.

As avant-garde painting declined a new school of art arose which would dominate the Soviet Union till the 1990s. Socialist Realism looked back to previous realistic traditions, whilst making use of contemporary painting techniques. Crucially unlike previous styles of realism, Socialist Realism imparted a clearly defined didacticism.

Socialist Realism ranged from inspirational historical paintings and paintings of Soviet leaders, to scenes from everyday life. In the 1930s Socialist Realist sculptors began pioneering a style of Soviet sculpture that can be seen on monuments and edifices throughout the world to this day.

The sound-films of the 1930s allowed Soviet composers to write scores to films which were increasingly produced during Stalin’s reign. The most prominent Soviet composers Shostakovich (Шостакович), Prokofiev (Прокофьев) and Khachaturian (Хачатурян/ Խաչատրյան) each provided numerous film scores during this time. The outbreak of the Great Patriotic War saw artists contributing greatly to the war effort. Shostakovich’s most enduring orchestral work, his 7th symphony was dedicated to the heroes of the siege of Leningrad.

Socialist realist painters were enlisted to keep moral high by painting triumphalist portraits of soldiers whilst denouncing the fascist enemy. Some of Socialist Realism’s most enduring sculptures were erected after 1945 in the form of war memorials which were erected in the Soviet Union and in countries where the Red Army won decisive battles.

(4) 1947-1964 (From Zhdanov to Khrushchev)

No man shaped post-war cultural policy more than Andrei Zhdanov (Андре́й  Жда́нов).

Zhdanov took a hard line against all forms of avant-garde and abstract art. Zhdanov condemned ‘formalism’ in the arts; this is to say, art where the form or methodology is perceived as eclipsing a socially pertinent meaning. Zhdanov’s theories whilst very much a product of Stalin’s age, continue to speak to the controversy over whether highly abstract art possesses the ability to resonate with the masses.

Interestingly, this was a time when the CIA was actively promoting obscure and abstract arts to try and feign a western superiority vis-a-vis the USSR, when in the Soviet Union, art that was considered meaningful and moving to ordinary citizens remained favoured by the artistic establishment.

Even artists who had contributed to the war effort were not immune as the infamous Zhdanov decree of 1947 which simultaneously proscribed  Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian, the last of whom was an enthusiastic Communist.

Although Zhdanov died in 1948, his policies remained mostly unchanged until the death of Stalin in 1953.

The post-war era was a fruitful time for architects as mass building projects were inaugurated, particularly in the ‘hero cities’ (город-герой) that bore the brunt of destruction during the war.  Whilst Stalinism remained a dominant form of architecture in the late 40s and early 50s, eventually many Soviet architects began pioneering brutalism.

Brutalism became a dominant feature in Soviet cityscapes in the decades after the Great Patriotic War. The so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ reached into the arts as many of the individuals proscribed under Stalin were publically rehabilitated. This included those proscribed in 1947 by Zhdanov.

The thaw saw the emergence of new avant-garde and abstract artists although their numbers were far lower than those working in the area of Socialist Realism. In spite of this, one event from this era remains emblematic of the disconnect between avant-garde artists and the government of the day. The incident took place in 1962 where Khrushchev viewed an exhibition of artists at the Moscow Manege. Upon seeing the avant-garde works, Khrushchev condemned the art as ‘horse shit’.

Just two years later Khrushchev was out of power, but his condemnation relegated much avant-garde art to the periphery of society where it would remain until the mid-1980s.

Today, Russian culture, like Russian society reflects a combination of comfort, curiosity and healthy criticism of the past. Contemporary composers, painters, sculptors and architects in Russia are as comfortable with international styles as they are with paying homage to Russia’s rich cultural heritage.

Whilst the 1990s was a time when Russia’s depressed economy meant that many individuals from outside Russia were able to purchase Russian masterworks for insanely low prices. Today, Russian art collectors are preserving and buying back much of Russia’s cultural heritage.

Russia’s art scene is commercially healthy. One can hope that with all of Russia’s young talent, a new great revolution in art may yet again be born in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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