Slade Lectures in Fine Art 2015: John E. Bowlt


‘Suddenly I forgot which comes first, 7 or 8’. Making Sense of the Russian Avant-Garde

The Slade Lectures in Fine Art will be given in Michaelmas term 2015 by Professor John E. Bowlt of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA. After two years of postgraduate study at Moscow State University he completed his doctorate, on Russian Symbolism, at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and from 1971 onwards has been teaching in the USA. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including American Council of Learned Societies, The British Council, Fulbright-Hayes and National Endowment for the Humanities, and in Los Angeles also directs the Institute of Modern Russian Culture. John E. Bowlt has written extensively on Russian visual culture, especially on the art of Symbolism and the avant-garde, and has curated or co-curated exhibitions of Russian art, including “A Feast of Wonders. Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes” at the Nouveau Musée de Monte Carlo, Monaco, and the State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow; “El Cosmos de la vanguardia rusa” at the Fundacion Marcelino Botin, Santander, and the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki; “L’avanguardia russa, Siberia e l’Oriente” at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; and “Russian Avant-Garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design, 1913-1933” at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; he is now preparing a retrospective of the work of Léon Bakst for the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, in 2016. In addition to the catalogues for these exhibitions, his books include The Russian Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, 1902-1934; The Salon Album of Vera Sudeikin-Stravinsky; and Moscow, St. Petersburg. Art and Culture during the Russian Silver Age. In 2010, he received the Order of Friendship from the Russian Federation for his promotion of Russian culture in the USA.

The lectures will take place weekly at 5.00 pm on Tuesdays in Lecture Room 3, Mill Lane, Cambridge, starting on 13 October and ending on 1 December 2015.

The Russian avant-garde was a synthetic phenomenon affecting not only the visual arts, but also literature, music, dance, dramatic theatre, fashion, social deportment and material culture. For their inspiration artists such as Léon Bakst, Marc Chagall, Pavel Filonov, Natalia Goncharova, Vasilii Kandinsky, Mikhail Larionov, Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin drew on the most diverse sources – from Theosophy to structural engineering, from X-rays to children’s drawings, from Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso to graffiti and from nonsense to nudism, subjects which will be discussed during the eight lectures. Reprocessing countless ideas and images, the artists of the Russian avant-garde produced startling artifacts such as Bakst’s ballet costumes, Malevich’s Black Square, Tatlin’s Monument to the III International and Filonov’s living universe.

These and other such dramatic experiments in Russian art constitute a primary contribution to the history of Modernism. The twilight aura of Symbolism, the disruption of Cubo-Futurism and the extreme heat of Revolutionary culture generated ideas, movements and styles which undermined traditional values, crossed disciplines and established radical visual codes. The object of this cycle of lectures is to revisit these innovations and to place them in a comparative context — taking due account of philosophical doctrines, the literary and performing arts and socio-political change.

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