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The Avant-Garde Icon
Russian Avant-Garde Art and the Icon Painting Tradition
This unusual treatment of the Russian avant-garde offers original insights into the broad and complex unfolding of Russian art up to the 1950s. Beginning with an account of the movement's origins in about 1870, and concluding with the death of Stalin, Andrew Spira demonstrates how icons underpin the development of nineteenth and twentieth-century Russian art.
During this time new ideas grounded in a radical revolutionary secularism were providing a strong challenge to the values of a society steeped in religious, faith-based traditions. Great artists such as Malevich and Larionov offered an ambivalent response to their religious heritage. Whilst they rebelled against its stifling conservation and credulity, they were also profoundly influenced by its nationalist, populist, aesthetic appeal and, ultimately, its spirituality. Malevich in particular aimed to raise the status of contemporary art to that of icons. Andrew Spira traces the course of this paradoxical dialogue between artists at the cutting edge of modernity and the rich, sacred and artistic traditions of the past.
He also shows how communist designers continued to adapt the popular conventions of icon painting to their own purposes after the Russian Revolution.
The Avant-Garde Icon throws a new light on the deeper meaning and significance of icons. It adds to art-historical debates around early twentieth-century art, whilst also catering to those who have a general interest in icons and in the stunning images produced in Russia throughout this tumultuous period.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
'A fine selection of illustrations (90 colour, 40 black-and-white) and the enthusiastic commentary of Andrew Spira provide a beautiful overview of the icon tradition and the cultural inheritance of the avant-garde movement... Andrew Spira manages, quite successfully, to convey the cultural and artistic legacy of the Russian icon. The general narrative is both entertaining and academically pertinent. Furthermore, such a wide array of stunning and beautifully reproduced illustrations is rarely seen.' European History Quarterly