Thursday June 7, 2012 – Mayakovsky

A Soviet portico:

We walk to Red Square and visit the eternal flame dedicated to the Russians who fought to defend the motherland in 1941-45. 20 million people died, and 90% of the battlefield casualties in WW2 happened on the Russian front. So they have every reason to feel that they defeated Hitler, though the Nazi-Soviet pact never gets mentioned for some reason.

The GUM mall next door, where I can’t afford anything:

I can recommend a visit to the Mayakovsky Museum, dedicated to the Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

He and his small band of compatriots were the only artists to support the Bolsheviks, after the entire intellectual elite ran for the hills after the Revolution. The gallery itself is worth a look as much as for what’s in it: every display is a cubist, futurist item that relates to the topic it’s presenting. So his travel documents are presented in a wire mesh airplane, the Revolution in a metal globe, and the entire gallery itself is ‘inside’ Tatlin’s Tower, which you ascend a mock-up of to get to the start.

A constructivist rendering of his death bed

It was a necessary rejoinder to the official Soviet symbology still displayed everywhere: Mayakovsky and his compatriots made vivid, non-representative art that still managed to capture the spirit of revolution better than a row of hammer-and-sickles at the top of a building.

Indeed, the exhibit ended with Soviet poster art of static, determined workers and peasants that he would have hated – and since he killed himself in 1930, there’s some evidence for that conclusion. I also liked the newspaper pages from the American Daily Worker, 1925, detailing his tour of the U.S. It’s easy to forget there was a burgeoning socialist movement in the States as well.


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