Around the Square from the series The
23 December 2005 - 19 March 2006.
An exhibition of the unique collection of Russian Avant-Garde in porcelain opened
in the Winter Palace (Room Nr 152). This exhibition in the series The Christmas
Present was prepared by the Museum of Porcelain department of the State Hermitage
with the participation of the Imperial Porcelain Factory OJSC. The exhibition presents
around 250 works of porcelain and 15 sketches from the period between 1918 and the
"We are presenting to the public the very rarest part of the collection -
Suprematist porcelain," the Director of the State Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky,
explains. Besides the Suprematists, other facets of the Russian Avant-Garde are also
displayed: works by Kandinsky, Petrov-Vodkin, Chekhonin and other creative leaders
of the Revolutionary age.
The exhibition Around the Square presents works of porcelain created after
the Revolution of 1917 in the world-renowned State (formerly Imperial) Porcelain
Factory in Petrograd. It will acquaint visitors with the achievements of a group
of radical Avant-Gardå artists (Futurists, Cubists and especially with the
abstract art of the Suprematist artists from Kazimir Malevish's group). These pieces
fall within the broad context of Russian propaganda porcelain.
The majority of items on display come from the Museum of the Porcelain Factory,
which now is a new department of the State Hermitage, created from the historic collection
of the former Lomonosov Porcelain Factory. The section on Suprematism contains the
largest number of exhibits and is central to the show. For the first time the theory
of Suprematism with its laconic new aesthetic found a practical outlet at the State
Porcelain Factory in Petrograd.
The very white material and its glistening purity was interpreted by the Suprematists
to be a silent absolute space which sought to say something. The porcelain indeed
spoke in the language of the Suprematists by means of simple geometric figures of
contrasting colors which were dynamically borne in interstellar space. The plasticity
of porcelain allowed them to create what were in principle new shapes - "architectones"
- Suprematist compositions in space. In 1923 the State Porcelain Factory put out
a batch of Suprematist porcelain by Kazimir Malevich and his pupils Nikolai Suetin
and Ilya Chashkin.
The application of the conceptual ideas of Suprematism - an art concentrated in
abstract geometric forms (square, circle, cross) - to the artistic design of porcelain
was an unusually successful combination.
In the exhibition we find a teapot by Kazimir Malevich which resembles a complex
geometric system, and a demi-tasse or true "half-cup" which reflected the
principle of "utilitarian improvement" of an object. These and other exhibits
give us a good idea of how the Suprematists designed their forms.
The Imperial Factory was reorganized shortly after the October Revolution of 1917.
In March 1918, the factory was placed within the administration of Narkompros (People's
Commissariat of Education) and given the task of producing porcelain that would be
"revolutionary in content, perfect in shape and flawless in technical execution."
In 1918, the artist, illustrator and designer Sergei Chekhonin was appointed as director
of the artistic department of the factory. Chekhonin attracted artists from a variety
of creative movements to the factory, among them many of the leading representatives
of the Russian Avant-Garde: Nathan Altman, Ivan Puni, Vladimir Lebedev, Alexander
Samokhvalov and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, as well as Mikhail Adamovich and Nikolai Lapshin.
At the end of 1922, Sergei Chekhonin was replaced as artistic director by Nikolai
Punin, who invited the Suprematists Suetin and Chashnik to cooperate with the factory.
While in the service of the state, these artists and designers began to apply
the obviously international language of Futurism and Cubism to decorate unpainted
porcelain which remained in the closets of the Imperial Factory. The painting gave
expression to a propagandistic mission: in bright colors and bold modernistic forms
they sang the praises of Soviet power.
Plates, cups and saucers were decorated with the same slogans, aphorisms and sayings
that appeared on posters and billboards on the squares and streets. Special attention
should be shown to such exhibits as the plates made by Maria Lebedeva which bear
the slogan "Whoever doesn't' work shall not eat" and also the famous plate
with a painting in red and green by Nathan Altman bearing the slogan "Land -
to the Workers," dated 1919.
The exhibition also displays design sketches for porcelain which allow visitors
to compare the author's intent and its embodiment in porcelain (works by M.M. Adamovich,
R.f. Filde). On the other hand this gives visitors an idea of what porcelain not
present at the exhibition looked like (sketches by V.V. Kandinsky). Among the more
interesting items on display are works by modern artists at the porcelain factory
(now known as the Imperial Porcelain Factory OJSC) which show an interest in the
Suprematist legacy and develop the traditions of Suetin's school: the principles
used in creating shapes, the attention to the whiteness of the porcelain, and the
confident correlation between decoration and form.
The originator of the concept for the traditional Christmas exhibition is T.V.
Kudryavtseva, director of the Museum of the Porcelain Factory department of the State
Hermitage. The curator of the exhibition is T.V. Kumzerova from the Museum of the
Porcelain Factory department, State Hermitage.
A scholarly illustrated catalogue to the exhibition has been issued by the Publishing
House of the State Hermitage. The authors of articles in the catalogue are T.V. Kudryavtseva
and T.V. Kumzerova. Introductory articles have been written by Mikhail Piotrovsky,
Director of the State Hermitage, and G.V. Tsvetkova, Chairman of the Supervisory
Board of the Imperial Porcelain Factory OJSC.
The exhibition Around the Square was shown in the Hermitage's exhibition
center in Somerset House, London, from November 2004 to July 2005.