New East Digital Archive

The history of Russian avant-garde art according to Peter Greenaway

The history of Russian avant-garde art according to Peter Greenaway

15 April 2014
Text Nadia Beard
Additional reporting Inna Logunova

Visionary British filmmaker Peter Greenaway has digitally reproduced more than 400 masterpieces of the Russian avant-garde at Moscow’s Manege exhibition hall as part of a large-scale multimedia project that aims to immerse viewers in 20th-century art.

Together with Dutch artist Saskia Boddeke, Greenaway created The Golden Age of Russian Avant-Garde, a multi-screen installation using light, sound and projection across the 5,000-square-metre space as an alternative guide to the history of Russian art in the 20th century. The result is a thoughtful and compelling animation of some of the most iconic works of this epoch that introduce the viewer to the artistic developments of this time through a contemporary lens.

Emphasising the importance of historical interpretation, Greenaway told The Calvert Journal: “There is no such thing as history, there are only historians. History cannot be revisited … What we can do is take eyewitnesses from certain periods in time and their evidence, which comes in the form of artworks and anecdotes.”

Neither Greenaway nor Boddeke make a claim to objectivity within the show, instead asserting that subjectivity, like history, is fluid and vital to any exhibition. Greenaway said: “There is no such thing as an objective exhibition, and we have to treasure that. Your subjectivity is very important. There has to be a change of frame here, a change in the way we look at the vast cultural heritage we all enjoy and experience.”

Boddeke added that the installation could not be described as either documentary, film or theatre performance. She said: “It’s something of everything together. It’s an emotional experience. People do not get the story from A to Z. Everyone who goes into the space will make his or her own story, and the experience will be different for everyone.”

The exhibition will show rarely seen avant-garde artworks from museums within Russia but also the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece; Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; and from private collections.

Greenaway, who won a Bafta this year for his outstanding contribution to British cinema, is renowned for his integration of Renaissance art into his films. In 2006, he began work on Nine Classic Paintings Revisited, a project that directly examines the relationship between the language of film and painting. The project comprises video installations that reinterpret artworks such as Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The Golden Age of Russian Avant-Garde is one of the main exhibitions in this year’s UK-Russian Year of Culture and will run until 18 May.