The Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism: An Introductory Reader

The Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism: An Introductory Reader

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Edited by Dennis G. Ioffe & Frederick H. White

Series: Cultural Syllabus
ISBN: 9781936235292 (hardcover) / 9781936235452 (paper)
Pages: 488 pp.
Publication Date: October 2012

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The Russian avant-garde was a composite of antagonistic groups who wished to overthrow the basic aesthetics of classical realism. Modernism was the totality of these numerous aesthetic theories, which achieved a measure of coherence immediately after the First World War. This collection of essays by leading scholars examines the major figures, movements, and manifestos of the period. Scholarly attention is given to literature, visual arts, cinema, and theatre in an attempt to capture the complex nature of the modernist movement in Russia. This book would be especially relevant for university courses on the Russian twentieth century as well as for those looking for a comprehensive approach to the various movements and artistic expressions that constitute the Russian avant-garde.

Dennis G. Ioffe  (PhD University of Amsterdam), is an Assistant Professor ("Doctor-Assistent"), at The Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University, Belgium. He is also a research fellow at the the University of Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). Previously he served as Visiting Assistant Professor in Russian and German Studies at Memorial University (Canada) and as Teaching & Research Fellow, managing the Russian Centre at the University of Edinburgh, (Scotland, the UK). Dr Ioffe has authored more than 50 scholarly articles, edited & co-edited several academic collections.

Frederick H. White holds a PhD from the University of Southern California. Presently, he is the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Utah Valley University. He is one of the leading specialists on the Russian writer Leonid Andreev and has published in the areas of Russian Modernism, psychology and literature, pseudoscience in the Russian fin de siecle and the economics of culture.


This introductory book provides comprehensive analysis of the radical artistic movement Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism, included [sic] well written biographical articles, critical analyses and collected samples of the Russian Avant-Garde and Modernism. It is a remarkable resource for not only researchers but also students who study Russian literature and culture, particularly the movement Russian Avant-Garde and Modernism.
— Ayse Dietrich, Middle East Technical University, International Journal of Russian Studies Issue no. 6, Jan 2017
Gracefully written by some of the best scholars in contemporary Russian and modernism studies, the essays are simple, precise, filled with detail and will capture the interest of anyone attracted to this period of Russian culture. . . . Dennis Ioffe and Frederick White have produced a challenging, thought-provoking collection that will certainly inspire readers to explore the topic further.
— Maria Pasholok, Magdalen College, University of Oxford, in the Slavonic and East European Review, 92, 4, 2014
Indeed, this introductory reader is a handy book that can replace or augment course packs and online course websites that require painstaking effort to compile. Students and faculty who read these essays can be confident that they have access to a thoughtful selection of important primary source documents and some recent scholarship in the field. . . . The Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism: An Introductory Reader is a valuable resource for students and teachers of Russian modernism, and a relevant, useful source to add to every syllabus.
— Pamela Kachurin, Duke University, in The Russian Review, October 2014 issue (Vol. 73, No. 4)
One of the few volumes on the Russian avant-garde designed with an undergraduate audience in mind, Dennis Ioffe and Fredrick White’s critical reader proves a welcome addition to the field. . . . This book offers an impressive selection of critical work, including several pieces newly commissioned for this volume as well as reprinted or adapted versions of previously published materials. . . . Accessibility is key to the success of any volume designed for undergraduates, and Ioffe and White have judiciously chosen material that will prove engaging to a student audience. . . . The eclectic variety of critical approaches represented here will demonstrate to students the diverse ways to approach avant-garde culture, and introduce some key debates among scholars in the field...[O]ne must commend Ioffe and White for producing this valuable volume.
— Connor Doak, University of Bristol, in Slavic and East European Journal, 57.4 (Winter 2013)
Stimulating and comprehensive, gracefully written, filled with fascinating details and counterintuitive conclusions, this essential introduction to the Russian Avant-Garde offers a convincing and perceptive analysis of the Russian radical aesthetic thought and brings valuable new light to the most important developments in twentieth-century art. In the age of skepticism, repetition, and nostalgia for olden time dynamism a reading of these texts brings back a sense of freshness, power and fearlessness of Russian art in its heyday.
— Evgeny Dobrenko, University of Sheffield
A remarkable volume, The Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism brings together the most significant movements and figures in Russian experimental art, cinema, and literature of the early twentieth century (both pre-Soviet and Soviet) and presents them in commentary by leading scholars in the field. The result is a vibrant introduction to Russian aesthetic thought of the last century, as well as to cutting-edge assessments of its meaning. A volume like this has long been overdue. It will be enormously useful to students of Russian culture in the modern era as well as anyone seeking a better understanding of modernism in general—an artistic movement to which Russian artists made particularly brilliant contributions.
— Thomas Seifrid, University of Southern California

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note from the Editors

I. An Introduction to the Russian Avant-Garde and Radical Modernism by Dennis Ioffe and Frederick H. White
II. Russian Futurism and the Related Currents
1. Hylaea by Vladimir Markov
1a) Velimir Khlebnikov: A “Timid” Futurist by Willem G. Weststeijn
1b) Mayakovsky as Literary Critic by Willem G. Weststeijn
2. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Translated Texts: John E. Bowlt
Content and Form, 1910 — VASILII KANDINSKY
Preface to Catalogue of One-Man Exhibition, 1913 — NATALYA GONCHAROVA
Cubism (Surface-Plane), 1912 — DAVID BURLIUK
Why We Paint Ourselves: A Futurist Manifesto, 1913 — ILYA ZDANEVICH and MIKHAIL LARIONOV
Rayonists and Futurists. A Manifesto, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV and NATALYA GONCHAROVA
Rayonist Painting, 1913 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV
Pictorial Rayonism, 1914 — MIKHAIL LARIONOV
From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism,
Suprematism in World Reconstruction, 1920 — EL LISSITZKY
Program Declaration, 1919 — KOMFUT
3. The Phenomenon of David Burliuk in the History of the Russian Avant-Garde Movement by Elena Basner
4. The Revolutionary Art of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov by Jane A. Sharp
III. Russian Suprematism and Constructivism
1. Kazimir Malevich: His Creative Path by Evgenii Kovtun
2. Constructivism and Productivism in the 1920s by Christina Lodder
3. The Birth of Socialist Realism from the Spirit of the Russian Avant-Garde by Boris Groys
4. Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Translated Texts: John E. Bowlt
The Paths of Proletarian Creation, 1920 — ALEKSANDR BOGDANOV
Declaration: Comrades, Organizers of Life, 1923 — LEF
Constructivism [Extracts], 1922 — ALEKSEI GAN
IV. The OBERIU Circle (Daniil Kharms and His Associates)
1. OBERIU: Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky on/in Time and History by Evgeny Pavlov
2. Some Philosophical Positions in Some “OBERIU” Texts (Translator’s preface) by Eugene Ostashevsky
V. Russian Experimental Performance and Theater
1. Vsevolod Meyerhold by Alexander Burry
2. The Culture of Experiment in Russian Theatrical Modernism: the OBERIU Theater and the Biomechanics of Vsevolod Meyerhold by Michael Klebanov
VI. Avant-Garde Cinematography: Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov
1. Eisenstein: A Short Biography by Frederick H. White
2. Allegory and Accommodation: Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin
(1934) as a Stalinist Film by John MacKay
Concluding Addendum: The Tradition of Experimentation in Russian
Culture and the Russian Avant-Garde by Dennis Ioffe

List of Contributors