After reading great reviews of the Rodchenko exhibition at the Hayward Gallery I finally popped down on a Saturday afternoon ready to be inspired and learn something about Soviet modernist photography.
The Russians are dominating British Art Galleries at the moment, Russian money is pouring in, they are buying back their heritage – this exhibition was made made possible, I read, “with the support of Roman Abramovich”.
Rodchenko is classed as one of the key figures of European modernism. I don't doubt his importance. However it wasn't long before a fog of Soviet boredom rolled in. With the best will in the world, there are only so many thrusting factory chimneys and gleaming rows of identical Moscow machine cogs that can keep one's interest, no matter how wonky, worm's eye, or bird's eye they are. And yes, I know "the photomontage" was a new and radical concept at the time, I appreciate that, I do, but it all appeared a bit bluepeter-ish to me, now have we got our scissors and prit stick ready?
What I did find interesting is the intermingling of art forms. Rodchenko began as a painter and never really became a pure photographer. But he stuck with photography because he believed it to be the most appropriate artistic medium for the times ahead: fast, mechanical, futuristic. I also found his views on politics and photography interesting: "I want to lead people to art, not use art to lead them somewhere else", he said, "art must be separate from politics". I find it very hard to separate documentary photography from politics, especially when the backdrop is Soviet Russia and the title of the exhibition has the word "revolution" in it! May be Rodchenko felt the brunt of this himself when, in the 1930s, Stalin consolidated his power and clamped down on photography in public places. Rodchenko's shows fizzled out.
Sadly, the ticket also paid for me to visit the exhibition in the ground floor galleries "Laughing in a foreign language". I really don't want to talk about that other than it's hard enough to find something funny in art in your own language without dragging yourself through Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Scandanavian perspectives.
1. Lengiz, Books in all Branches of Knowledge (1925)
2. The Critic Osip Brik (1924)
"Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography" is on at the Hayward Gallery, SE1, until April 27th 2008. Tickets cost £9 and unfortunately get you into "Laughing in a Foreign Language", on until 13th April 2008.