A Russian Red Star Has Risen Over Tate Modern

Red Star Over Russian, Tate Modern ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 13 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

A Russian Red Star Has Risen Over Tate Modern Red Star Over Russian, Tate Modern 3
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin - that's quite the poster. Copyright The David King collection at Tate.

Almost 100 years ago to the day Russia was revolutionised as war broke out, an empire fell and eventually the Soviet Union rose in its place.

This centenary is why London has been filled with exhibitions looking back at this pivotal point in Russian history and what came after. We've had exhibitions at Royal Academy of Arts, The British Library and Design Museum. So the big question for us is; what new perspectives can Tate Modern bring to the table?

An imperialist dragon makes a fearful sight. Copyright The David King collection at Tate

The exhibition opens with its strongest collection of works — a deep red wall covered in propaganda posters. A heroic soldier on horseback invites us to join the red cavalry, a strong and emancipated woman encourages us to 'Build Socialism' and the workers of the world unite.

Soldiers raising the red flag over the Reichstag. Copyright The David King Collection at Tate

A section on the 1930s shows us two sides of Russian life; there's the utopian image projected at the International Exposition in Paris where well-dressed, happy citizens stride forward in puff paintings where the people look as plastic as Barbie. The darker side is present in the mugshots of prisoners arrested by the Secret Police, weathered and weakened as they face being sentenced to work and die in a Gulag.

Encouraged to build socialism. Copyright The David King Collection at Tate

The selection of work is largely drawn from the impressive collection of the late graphic designer David King, and therein lies our issue with the show; its narrative is constrained by what's available from the collection, so there's a nod to fine art but it's very half-hearted. Coming off the back of the excellent Royal Academy of Arts show it feels extremely underwhelming.   

Fascism is show as the most evil enemy in this poster. Copyright The David King Collection at Tate

The real strength of the show lies in its propaganda posters and while they are great, the British Library exhibition earlier this year had a stronger collection.

It's the large photography collection that's left to carry the exhibition, and though there are some excellent images of the storming of the Winter Palace in 1902 and Berlin in 1945 where the red flag is being raised over the Reichstag, it's not enough by itself to elevate this show in our minds.

In truth we're all Russian-ed out this year and given what we've already seen in other exhibitions, this show offered us very little new material to offer a fresh perspective on the Revolution. Visitors who haven't seen any shows about the Russian Revolution this year will likely enjoy aspects of this exhibition, but for the exhibition regulars, this star is on the wane.  

Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture (1905-1955) at Tate Modern until 18 February. Tickets are £11.30 for adults.

Last Updated 10 December 2017