Around the Square from the series The Christmas Present
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 mid-1930's.

"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.


Decorative plate with emblem
Larger view

Pitcher-Measuring Glass
After 1920
Larger view

Decorative plate "The Sower"
Larger view

Dish: Telephonist. With the slogan around the figure: Peace to humanity building on the ruins of the past
Larger view

Design: Dinamyc composition
Larger view

Statuette: Woodcutter (April). Figure from the series Months of the year
1923 from model of 1921
Larger view

Teapot with Lid: The Time according to Malevich
Larger view

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