Late Stalinism: Marxist Magic Realism

“In Late Stalinism: The Aesthetics of Power, Evgeny Dobrenko (professor of Russian studies at University of Sheffield) characterises Late Stalinism as a state of low-level civil war with the overt features of “aggressive nationalism […] anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, imperialism”. That imperialism extended both outside the USSR (the Eastern Bloc) and inside the USSR, by suppressing the distinct cultural identities of non-Russian states. Stalinist culture was propaganda made during the Cold War, created for the purpose of maintaining the status quo domestically and internationally, preventing escalation to military conflict (externally) and political dissent (internally).

“Andrei Zhdanov’s 1934 definition is “Socialist Realism, as the fundamental method of Soviet artistic literature and literary criticism, demands of the artist a truthful, historically concrete portrayal of reality in its revolutionary development….”

Read the full review on The Critic website here: https://thecritic.co.uk/marxist-magic-realism/

In Search of Old Mistresses

“”Where are the Old Mistresses?” That was the cry in the early 1970s among female art historians. The Women’s Liberation movement caused a wave of cultural reassessment to sweep through academia and it had no greater impact than in the field of art history. There was a scramble to find overlooked female artists and balance Old Masters with Old Mistresses. Artemisia, the currently suspended exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1654 or later) at the National Gallery, is the most recent attempt to advance the status of women artists. The exhibition is now set to take place at the National Gallery 3 October 2020 – 24 January 2021.

“In 1971 Linda Nochlin published the landmark feminist essay “Why are there no great women artists?”. Nochlin theorised that women’s creativity had been sublimated into craft and that, consequently, Western high art was shaped according to male standards. Finding overlooked women painters and reassessing their abilities was beside the point, Nochlin argued, because the standards were discriminatory. It was a bold statement and strategically astute: women artists could never be found justly neglected due to deficiencies because they were being judged by masculine standards designed to exclude them. Therefore there would never be any Old Mistresses. Nonetheless, every year fresh books and exhibitions about female artists appear, evidence of a compact of curatorial, academic and commercial interests….”

Read the article at The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/in-search-of-old-mistresses/

“The Melancholy of Obsolete Futures”

“Brutalism has seen a surge in interest among young people keen on bold uncompromising Modernist design. Whole books of moody photographic studies of concrete buildings are snapped up by fans of urban life and retro design. A crop of new books explores the Brutalism of socialist states.

“While Constructivism and avant-gardism in fine art came to prominence during the October Revolution, it was suppressed in favour of Socialist Realism by the mid-1930s. In architecture more adventurous forms and materials persisted, although in the minority. Under Stalin there was a degree of stylistic conformity and austerity, yet adventurous architecture was not seen as “bourgeois formalism” as it was in art. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, historicism receded and a greater variety of art, design and architecture (including Modernist architecture) became possible. While supposedly for the masses, many of the showpiece constructions were moribund from the start: inverted ziggurat hotels that were barely occupied and shopping centres with few consumer goods to offer. Much of this architecture was completed less than a decade before the economic and political collapse of the Eastern Bloc….”

Read the full review online at The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/melancholy-of-obsolete-futures/

“Property is Speech”

“For many of us, the wake-up call about the untrustworthiness of the soft centrism espoused by the managerial elite which dominates public discourse was its response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. No sooner had leading politicians locked arms in Paris and proclaimed “Nous sommes Charlie”, than they were adding a caveat. “We unequivocally support free speech unless it undermines community cohesion.” In other words, they did not understand that the principle of free speech means supporting not just the speech with which you agree but also – in fact, especially – speech you consider erroneous or distasteful.

“I was reminded by this when a mob in my home city toppled a statue of Edward Colston MP, merchant, city benefactor and slave trader. What struck me was not the righteous fury of the mob in Bristol or the shallow posturing. What struck me was the response of putative moderates. Rather than rejecting the mob violence, they proclaimed that maybe after all it was time to show society had moved on. By granting that, society also seems to have “moved on” from the principles of violent protest being wrong, destruction of art being undesirable and wrecking of public property being a net negative.

“There is something childish or primitive about destroying symbols of ideologies that are now impotent…”

Read the rest of the article on The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/property-is-speech/

“How artivism captured the ICA – and why the Arts Council is to blame”

“Journalists get a slew of press releases every day, with press departments of arts venues seeking coverage to compensate for public lockdown. One must-read staple are the ICA’s daily list of recommendations, including music, cinema, books, talks and less orthodox material. One email links to a discussion on “what autonomous, feminist healthcare could be now” (ICA Press Release 25 March 2020); another link “explores the imaginaries created by [homosexual] public sex” (ICA Press Release 11 April 2020). Other recommendations promote queer visibility, transactivism, eco-activism, anarchism, anti-capitalism, anti-racist action, migration advocacy, anti-colonialism, radical feminism and other progressive causes. Not a single item among the hundreds sent is even mildly conservative.

“Staff of a publicly-funded arts venue see nothing improper about using emails to advance political causes. Promoting anal sex and polyamory to fight Nazism is just another day’s work for the ICA’s press department. Enter the sphere of publicly-funded fine art, where directors declare themselves activists, deem the public in need of moral tutelage and are intent on transforming museums and galleries into engines of social change. It is a field populated by firebrand curators, timid administrators, ignorant ministers and millionaires with saviour complexes…”

Read the full article in The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/how-artivism-captured-the-ica-and-why-the-arts-council-is-to-blame/

(c) 2020 Alexander Adams

To see my books and art visit http://www.alexanderadams.art

“Belgian light amid the gloom”

“I once lived in Belgium by mistake. I moved into a flat in Ixelles, a district of central Brussels, and spent my free time in museums, where I encountered art by remarkable artists of whom I had never heard. Among these artists were two who are receiving current attention: Fernand Khnopff and Léon Spilliaert.

“Symbolism is a late manifestation of Romanticism, the movement dedicated to the irrational, mystical and emotional in art. Symbolism (which flourished from 1840-1914) was an approach which allowed artists to deal with fundamental fears, desires and the meaning of human life through use of general symbols to induce strong emotions in the audience. Both Symbolism and Romanticism were founded on morbidity — a hyperawareness of death and the brevity of life — and a sense of loss at a receding past of heroism. The greatest Symbolists came from Northern Europe (and Switzerland), as if a hostile climate and long cold nights nurture a melancholy attachment to a fantastic past…” 

Read the full review here: https://thecritic.co.uk/belgian-light-amid-the-gloom/

“True Feminism has never been Tried, Comrade”

“Before starting Women Can’t Paint: Gender, The Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art I was filled with apprehension. Having read dozens of books on feminism in recent months, I expected something turgid and dispiriting. I should not have worried. Women Can’t Paint is one of the funniest books of the year and unintentional comedy gold. If Titania McGrath had written a polemic on the art world, this is the book she would have produced. Andrew Doyle’s latest comic creation is pitch perfect. According to the back cover, Helen Gørrill is an “artist, futurist, writer, editor and educator”. In the opening pages, she describes how her article for The Guardian on gender inequality in the arts received so much derision that its comments section had to be closed. By page 2 I was laughing aloud.

In 2018, I wrote a new Access art and design course for a prestigious Scottish university,underpinning the contextual studies design with equality rather than the traditional white heteromasculinist canon […] Two male colleagues made attempts to remove this vanguard, but I stuck to my guns and received a tremendous backlash […] Sadly, as soon as I left the institution the vanguard was immediately quashed, with only a tokenistic selection of women and BME artists (less than 6 per cent of the total) represented […] The white masculine canon alas endures […]

“Moral indignation, grandiloquence, reduction of art to quotas, use of jargon and the lack of self-awareness typify the feminist woke scolds of art administration and university faculties. The author’s imperiousness and lack of humour allow her to deliver towering inanities and spiteful asides in a manner surely not even our most skilful comic writers could contrive….”

Read the full review in The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/true-feminism-has-never-been-tried-comrade/

How Banksy hoodwinked a Generation

“In October 2019, Banksy’s 2009 painting of Devolved Parliament (showing the House of Commons populated by chimpanzees) sold for a record-setting £9.9 million at auction. Banksy has reached the level of Blue Chip Moderns and Old Masters in auction rooms, books of his art are in museum bookshops worldwide and his street paintings are beloved by ordinary people and tastemakers. For anyone who has looked at his art with a sharp critical eye, the question is: how did such banality hoodwink so many people?

“To answer that question and understand Banksy, one has to go back to his native Bristol of the 1980s and early 1990s. To many Bristolians Banksy is a folk hero; to others he is a sell-out. Banksy formed his political outlook in a city that is a hotbed of left-wing attitudes, from community activism and student politics to rave culture and non-conforming lifestyles. It was an obvious place for graffiti to develop into elaborate grand-scale street art. Being an anti-authoritarian progressive is utterly conventional in Bristol. When protesters stand in Bristol’s College Green with signs welcoming migrants they face not riot police or ridicule but sympathetic students…”

Read my full review on The Critic website: https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/january-2020/banksy-and-the-triumph-of-banality/

Hidden London: Discovering the Forgotten Underground

“When riding the Tube, passengers sometimes get flashing glimpses of lit side tunnels or abandoned stations. Before they fully register them, the sights are gone and passengers are left with a short-lived curiosity about the hidden life of their primary means of travel about London. The long complex history of the London Underground network has generated a legacy of disused stations, defunct lines and disregarded buildings. Hidden London: Discovering the Forgotten Underground (published by London Transport Museum in association with Yale University Press) presents some of those in pictorial format with extensive explanatory commentary.

“Parts of this story will be familiar to anyone who has disappeared down those rabbit holes of Wikipedia that beckon us when we are killing time. Closed stations, merged stations, tracks abandoned and service tunnels not open to the public are the inevitable by-product of a system that emerged piecemeal under multiple companies since 1863 and has had to serve a vast and changing city. Amateur historians of LU have long applied formidable scrutiny to plentiful available documentation, so there is little in this book that will be unknown to dedicated fans of LU trivia, but for general readers this is an ideal companion to lost elements of London’s underground rail system.

“There is a strange power to encountering these images of lost ages, at once melancholy and sinister. These are time capsules…”

Read the full review online at The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/hidden-london/

Review: Airline Maps: A century of art and design

“From the beginning of scheduled commercial flights for the public, designers have used the excitement and liberation of air travel to inform innovative designs. Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design collects a diverse range of plans and posters in a book that is truly global in ambition. It covers the period 1919 up to 2019 and includes material published for famous airlines of today and yesteryear. The book illustrates posters, sketches and original artwork for promotional material used by airlines.

 

“The book acts as a history of aviation. We see the birth of commercial carriers using unpressurised biplanes, through the period of colonial consolidation with turbo-prop craft and seaplanes for coastal or island stops through the heyday of national carriers with jet planes up to today’s budget carriers serving tiny regional airports. There is a roll call of lost companies: BOAC, Pan Am, Sabena, Air Ceylon. Imperial Airways embodies in its name and its routes the British Empire as it was it its final decades. Lesser known carriers, such as Iraqi Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Sudan Airways and Air Jamaica are represented.

“Following the end of the Great War, the large number of aeroplanes and trained pilots found employment in postal carriage and – soon after – providing passenger services for the rich…”

Read the full review here: https://thecritic.co.uk/airline-maps-a-century-of-art-and-design/