A Game in Hell

27 Sep — 30 Nov 2014 at GRAD Gallery, London

Unknown artist, A Chat at Tsargrad, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
Unknown artist, A Chat at Tsargrad, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
3 SEP 2014

Gallery for Russian Arts and Design presents ‘A Game in Hell’: The First World War in Russia, an exhibition curated by two of today’s most prominent Russian scholars, Prof John Bowlt and Dr Nicoletta Misler.

‘A Game in Hell’: The First World War in Russia examines the artistic and historical significance of the First World War in Russia. So rapidly was the First World War succeeded by the 1917 Revolution and the Russian Civil War that there was little time to process its impact during the changing regimes that followed. In collaboration with the Russian State Library and an important private collection, GRAD bring together a rich variety of contemporaneous materials, many of which are on display for the first time in a public context, to examine public, personal and artistic responses to the war. Exhibits include Natalia Goncharova’s woodcut portfolio ‘Mystical Images of War’ and handmade Futurist books, as well as propaganda lubki by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Kazimir Malevich and photographs of the conflict.

Many of the items on display at GRAD are part of the exceptional collection of Sergei Shestakov, which averages in total around 500 printed items, periodicals and graphic designs and over 2000 photographs. The collection is particularly important due to the dearth of materials relating to the First World War in Russian museums, which they were instructed to disregard during the Soviet period. Shestakov’s collection brings to light the personal stories of Russians affected by the War, unveiling a plurality of perspectives. Satirical prints, cartoons and illustrated periodicals show the changing attitudes of the public and the media to the unfolding conflict. Unique photograph albums, which have never before been exhibited, depict the daily routines of front line military service and illustrate the stories and exploits of an entire air force battalion.

The exhibition also examines the birth of Russia’s artistic avant-garde, whose members were influenced by the stylised aesthetics of popular prints and the naïve style of children’s drawings. Hand-crafted Futurist books by artists such as Olga Rozanova, Aleksei Kruchenykh, Velimir Khlebnikov and Pavel Filonov combine poetry with collage and various printing techniques. Examples of these books included in the exhibition are ‘A Game in Hell’, ‘War’ and ‘World Backwards’: today considered masterworks of the period, these books are rarely on display due to the delicate nature of their materials.

This year’s centennial commemoration provides an opportunity to examine the First World War from new perspectives, and GRAD’s exhibition makes a significant and enlightening contribution. Through careful curation of these rare and revealing objects, GRAD unearths the remarkable personal stories of those living in the wartime period in Russia, and the impact of the war on so many different individuals’ lives. This is the first time such an exhibition has been attempted outside Russia.

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Related images
  1. Kazimir Malevich, Our French Allies Have Filled a Cart with Captured Germans, And our British Brothers have a Barrell full, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
  2. Unknown artist, The Russian War Against the Germans, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
  3. Aristakh Lentulov, The Austrians Surrendered Lvov to the Russians like Rabbites Defeated by Lions, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
  4. Unknown artist, Everything for the War, 1914, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD
  5. A Panin, On the Frozen Ship, 1914, gouache on paper. Courtesy of GRAD
  6. Efim Cheptsov, More Money Means More Shells, 1916, lithograph. Courtesy of GRAD