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New Left Review 10, July-August 2001


Tony Wood on The Diaries of Nikolai Punin and N. N. Punin, Dnevniki. Pis’ma. The life and times of Russia’s leading theorist of the visual avant-garde, in times of war and revolution.

TONY WOOD

A GUEST FROM THE PAST

In November 1918, Petrograd’s Palace Square was invaded by an army of jagged, abstract forms, giant assemblies of colour-planes designed by Natan Altman to form the backdrop to the celebrations of the first anniversary of the October Revolution—prompting Mayakovsky to announce a month later, in his ‘Order to the Army of Art’, that ‘the streets are our brushes, the squares are our palettes’. Indeed, the early years of Bolshevik rule were rife with extravagant gestures and pronouncements, as avant-garde art sought to weave itself into the fabric of revolutionary life: in 1917 Malevich declared himself ‘the chairman of space’; in 1921 Aleksandr Rodchenko announced the ‘death of painting’, and in 1920 Tatlin designed his Monument to the Third International, twin spirals of steel around a core of colossal glass structures, intended—of course, it was never built—to rise to twice the height of the Empire State Building.

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