For the artists of the “historical avant-garde” movements, art did not—and could not—equate to the works alone. Some of the excess value of their projects is brought about in their manifestoes and other writings. Yet it is also important to consider the outreach of the display of their artworks, the effectiveness of exhibitions as such.
This book suggests that thinking about works in the very context of their first presentations can allow us to grasp the public and active stance of modern art—and that of the Russian avant-garde in particular. It offers the first systematic study of an ensemble of group exhibitions held between 1900 and 1916 that were organized, imagined and experimented by Sergei Diaghilev, Mikhail Larionov, Kazimir Malevich
, or Vladimir Tatlin.
In all of them the exhibition partakes in the artworks, and vice versa. By examining closely the physical conditions of presentation (spatial organization, means of display), as well as its temporal (duration, precariousness, recurrence) and public dimensions (relation to the mass media and to the art market, uses of photography), this book unveils certain utopias that lie at the core of avant-garde art: how to act upon the sensorial experience of the beholder, how to transform public space into a parameter—or even an extension—of the artwork. To such utopias, the exhibition offered a “precarious institution” of its own: this is one of the claims of this book.
Another of its aims is to show the extent to which exhibitions—as means to bring forward new representations of artworks, of artists, and even of society at large—were objects of intense debates within the Russian art world in the decades before the 1917 Revolution. This is reason why a selection of source texts was translated in French as an annex of this volume.