The Modernist movement holds a large debt to the art and artists that emerged from the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. While Modernism encompasses many styles, it ultimately represents a departure away from the classical and traditional. Indeed, aspects of Marxism mirror this movement, theorising an overthrow of capitalism and end to the traditional hierarchal class systems. On Wednesday evening the Newcastle Marxist Society held a talk at Bar Loco on ‘Marxism and Art’, discussing not just the art of Kandinsky and Malevich that conveyed a new post-revolution optimism, but Stalin’s censorship and manipulation of art to promote the Soviet Union.
A Marxism understanding of art recognises a deep-rooted economic commentary within the art work. Lissitzky’s Wolkenbugel (Cloud Iron) stood out to me especially in regard to this; the skyscraper-esque structures erected in Moscow were highly reminiscent of the tall buildings rapidly rising up in American. Lissitzky conveys a criticism towards the American capitalist system that puts workers on the same elevated level, above that of those on the ground. In the same realm of Constructivism, Kandinsky’s Composition 8 explores a conflict between the dynamic and calm.
The criticism of capitalism can be seen to be extended by Marxist’s to the criticism of placing an artist’s name over the art itself. Both Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death and Tracey Emin’s My Bed were used to exemplify this, with it being argued that these pieces were self-concerned. While I disagree, and view My Bed to represent a sentiment that is widely accessible and relatable, I do acknowledge that art is often exclusively reserved for the elite and can feed the capitalist system.