Glass visits Red Star over Russia at Tate Modern

THE Tate Modern has marked the centenary of the Russian revolution with Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture, 1905-1955. The exhibition is based on the extensive collection of David King, a graphic designer who recently passed away, and includes 250 posters, photographs, paintings, books and ephemera from 1905 until 1953.  The exhibition is organised to document the visual history of Russia and the USSR starting with the revolution of 1905 and ending two years after Stalin’s death in 1953 when Khrushchev implemented the thaw and gradual liberalisation in the USSR. It aims to reveal how political upheavals that caused social transformation triggered innovation in the Soviet art world.

Red Star over Russia Nina Vatolina, Fascism – The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascism (1941).
Lithograph on paper, 860 x 589 mm. Purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate.

Since this year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, many London galleries and museums have exhibitions documenting this event. Glass was very impressed, and pleased, that many of the photographs and posters in this show at Tate Modern I had never seen before. This exhibition certainly had something to offer those keen to learn more than the basics about the Russian revolution.

Additionally, I loved how much detail was provided about the personal lives of the artists featured. It was the norm for these artists working in the Soviet era to be almost anonymous, so it was fascinating to learn about their individual personal stories and what influenced their artistic creations – beyond a simple desire to stay alive and please the Soviet state. This exhibition showed how each propaganda poster is different since, although each one represents similar political messages, each artist has placed their own creative, stylistic stamp on their work.

Red Star over RussiaNina Vatolina, Don’t Chatter! Gossiping Borders on Treason (1941)
Lithograph on paper, 604 x 444mm. Purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate.


Red Star Over Russia exhibition Valentin Shcherbakov, A Spectre is Haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism (1924).
Lithograph on paper, 512 x 687 mm. Purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate.

Red star over Russia Gustav Klutsis (1895 – 1938), Moscow All-Union Olympiad (Spartakiada) (1928)
Postcard, print on paper, 148 x 105 mm. Purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate.

The most interesting room in the exhibition, in my opinion, was the penultimate one which presented doctored photographs that attempted to rewrite the history of the USSR under Stalin. The most well-known example of this are some photos where Trotsky and other purged senior Soviet politicians were gradually eliminated from photos in an attempt by the Stalinist regime to remove these so-called enemies of the state from history. It is clear how hard David King worked to collect the original images that included the disgraced politicians in order to prove just how paranoid Stalin’s regime became about sedition or overthrow. Another example is the addition of a red Soviet flag to an image of the liberation of Berlin from the Nazi’s in 1945.

Red star over Russia Yevgeny Khaldei (1917 1997), Soviet soldiers raising the red flag over the Reichstag, May 1945.
Printed 1955. Gelatin silver print. Purchased 2016. The David King Collection at Tate

by Allie Nawrat 

Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture, 1905-55 is open until February 18, 2017

Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG