of artistic sensibility that lingers in our age bids fair to be
systematically crushed out by these exhibitions…This is
the end of the history of pictures… Once the symbol of the
holiest, diffusing reverence in the church, and standing above
mankind like the Divinity itself, the picture has become the diversion
of an idle moment; the church is now a booth in a fair; the worshippers
of old are frivolous characters”(2)
Beyond the major
art exhibitions issuing from the tradition of the Salons, this
statement by the art historian Julius Meier-Graefe was meant to
encompass the general phenomenon of the temporary exhibition as
the emblematic arts institution of capitalist modernity which,
in transforming the ways in which works circulate, are distributed,
and are received, had affected how artistic practices were defined
and indeed shook up the very notion of the work of art. A visible
indication of the diversification of artistic practices and of
their respective audiences, as well as of the growing propinquity
between artworks and commercial commodities, exhibitions became
a special target for criticism at the turn of the twentieth century.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in the view of several
art critics and artists, this modern socioeconomic constraint
exemplified at the time the crisis of the symbolic authority of
In Russia, these
preoccupations made themselves felt all the more strongly as temporary
group shows remained, in the absence of larger structures of the
“Salon” type as well as of the established dealer-critic
system, the dominant form for the presentation of art. The exhibitions
of Russian avant-garde artists in the 1910s fitted therefore into
a preexisting format, though they shook up conventions by exploiting
the implicit eventfulness of that format and by adopting various
practices for intervening in the public space (manifestos, provocative
debates, an effort to expand exhibitions toward the space of the
entitled The Store, which was organized by Vladimir Tatlin
from March 19 to April 20, 1916, presented ninety-five post-Cubist
works by thirteen artists on the premises of a vacant storefront
in central Moscow (Figure 1)(3). While continuing the tradition
of Futurist exhibitions, this particular one stood out on account
of the little discursive effort addressed to the public and the
press. The Store nonetheless afforded a particularly
audacious attempt to rethink, starting from the site where art
is offered to one’s view, the conventions governing its
perception and its appreciation, the distinctions between artworks,
everyday objects, and commodities in the capitalist art economy,
as well as the role of exhibitions. While beliefs in the magical
economy of contact with the work of art still dominated the expectations
of most artists and art critics toward art, The Store
demonstrated--through its choice of title and of site and through
the selection of works--that socioeconomic conditions had to be
taken into consideration in dialogue with, and not in opposition
to, artistic practices. In order to understand this provocative
move, we must first situate existing usages of exhibitions, which
entailed a recognition that temporary exhibitions were a new kind
of arts institution, but tended however to minimize, nay to contain,
the commercial side of exhibitions either by emphasizing the spiritual
side of art or by drawing a clear distinction between artistic
value and commercial value.
The Promise of the “Chapel-Exhibition”
In the quest for
a viable alternative to the alleged misdeeds of commercial exhibitions,
the critics had forged in their discourses the paradoxical figure
of the “chapel-exhibition.” Consider, for example,
the following review of the 1907 Symbolist exhibition called The
“For a long
time, art was called a temple. Now we speak of chapels for art.
Each new group of artists--a new chapel, for a few. Is this not
because the temple has been transformed into a street bazaar?
The Blue Rose
is a beautiful chapel exhibition. For a very few. And it is all
the further removed from the sacrilege of the ‘merchants
in the temple.’
And pictures--like prayers. Timid and maladroit, too solitary
or insufficiently pious, yet still prayers.”(4)
These brief lines
were formulating a major concern of Russian art criticism: How,
when the number of artists’ societies and groups of artists
was constantly growing and when the channels of production and
distribution were expanding and audiences were scattering, was
one to rediscover a unified concept of art that would give rise
to unifying experiences for the public? The “chapel-exhibition”
was able to convert the existing socioeconomic constraints, thanks
to the formal and thematic coherence afforded by a limited set
of works (in The Blue Rose exhibition, the irresolute
impressionist technique evoked the elusive immateriality of the
mysteries being represented; see Figure 2). But above all, this
sort of exhibition could allow for a convergence of artistic and
religious experience and create the conditions for a communion
among those visiting the exhibition. The “chapel-exhibition”
thus mitigated another modern danger that accompanied the desacralization
of art and its transformation into a commodity: individualism,
which the critic Alexandre Benois had described in 1906 as an
“artistic heresy” precisely because it failed to create
for the public the conditions for a shared experience of art.
On the Distinction Between an Art Store and an Exhibition
A more secular
way of containing the effects of the constraints exhibitions impose
upon artworks was to specify the characteristics of public exhibitions
and to delineate the latter through their usage from the more
commercial contexts for the presentation of art. The critical
journal Apollo could thus reproach Nadezhda Dobychina’s
Artistic Bureau, the first private modern gallery in Saint Petersburg,
for coming close to being an exhibition and for not respecting
its professional territory: “Why does her store (even though
it is nicely and carefully organized) publish a catalogue for
sale and collect entrance fees, attempting to look not like what
it is in reality, a store, but like an exhibition?”(5)
like art stores, were channels for the distribution of art, the
values they allocated to artworks were appraised differently.
The entrance fee ensured a public role for exhibitions, and works
could become “not liable to public exhibition” (to
borrow the expression of a critic on the topic of Futurist exhibitions)
if they infringed upon the accumulation of symbolic capital.(6)
Artistic value was therefore based on the capitalization of time
spent in front of the work in a public context, which justified
the fee-based nature of exhibitions; as for the commercial value,
it concerned only the good to be acquired in the private context
of art “stores.” Even in the absence of overtly religious
references, the value of art remained based on a magical economy
of contact with the work, which public exhibitions ought to guarantee.
An “Austere Shopwindow for Things”
Tatlin organized in 1916 destabilized belief in the “chapel-exhibition.”
It also disturbed the established distinctions between artistic
value and commercial value.
In addition to
the tautological reference to the site at which it was held (a
choice that also was revelatory of the penury of places for exhibitions
in Moscow), the title The Store was redundant with respect
to the everyday themes and materials of the works exhibited. The
Post-Cubist drawings, paintings, and assemblages represented the
quotidian modernity of urban sites (Figure 3) and of technological
innovations (Figure 4); they made it present, too, through the
artists’ recourse to such mundane materials as glass, untreated
wood, and metal (Figures 5 and 6).
Such works were
at the time either ignored by critics as not belonging to the
domain of art (Alexandre Benois) or seen as the epitome of the
crisis of modern Russian art. For Yakov Tugendkhold, for example,
Tatlin’s counter-reliefs no longer pertained to experimentation
with art as device but marked, rather, the ultimate retreat
into an individualistic monologue that was no longer artistic
in character since it offered no common basis for a shared experience.
In his 1915 article, “In the Iron Dead-End,” he had
reproached Tatlin for breaking down the difference between representation
and presence and for replacing the Cubist quest for the representation
of contrasting forms, volumes, and textures (faktura)
with the presence of the forms, volumes, and textures of the materials
being used (iron, glass, aluminum, and tar; see Figure 6). Their
exclusively material value relegated them in Tugendkhold's opinion
to “the austere black-gray-and-white shopwindow of Tatlin’s
choice, at the time of The Store, to bring together Futurist
and Cubist canvases and assemblages on commercial premises with
a tautological title was a manifestation of his willingness to
think art and the market together without, for all that, “reducing”
works to commodities. This placed him in a position where he stood
apart from the majority of his contemporaries, including Mikhail
Larionov, that Russian Marinetti for whom the market was but an
evil necessary for the survival of art.
This claim of
continuity cohered very strongly with the artistic practice of
Tatlin, whose respect for materials led him to use them as such,
without altering them or sublimating them into a representation.
The form of each assemblage was determined by the specificities
of each material and its encounter with the other materials.(8)
This concern to work with the parameters and the characteristics
of the environment was one of the major points of disagreement
between Tatlin and Malevich, whose Suprematist project was aimed,
on the contrary, at expressing the experience of the world in
a codified pictorial language. And while Malevich was invited
to participate in The Store, it was on the condition
that he not show there his Suprematist paintings. The Store’s
materialist stance, which expanded Tatlin’s preoccupations
to the scale of an entire exhibition, can thus be read as a riposte
to The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0, 10 (Zero-Ten)
held three months earlier in Petrograd.
Now, while Tatlin
was undoing the customs connected with exhibitions and stores,
he was not unknotting their relationship but was opting, instead,
for a strategy of indetermination. Although less known than Malevich’s
visual manifesto of Suprematism at 0, 10, this approach
was at once audacious and fragile, and it disturbed the usual
criteria for evaluating works as much as it upset the existing
beliefs in what spaces for art and their role should be.
Indeed, an exhibition
entitled The Store, being held on the premises of a store
and showing things that were not art, infringed upon the religious
economy of the “chapel-exhibition.” It was not an
“art store,” since the institutional conditions he
assembled were those of a public exhibition. A critic suggested
that this was an exhibition whose premises were “laid out
like” a store, thereby misreading, through this representational
figure, the import of Tatlin’s gesture: doing an exhibition
in a store, not staging it.
A Materialist Utopia of Continuity
connects to Tatlin’s counter-reliefs and other assemblages
in what Viktor Shklovsky was to call, in 1920, the utopia of a
“continuous world,” in other words, of a view of art
as a way of actualizing everyday life (byt), rather than
as a way of rejecting it. For Shklovsky, Tatlin’s project
both had the ambition and gave itself the means to produce “a
new palpable world” that was not opposed to the external
world. Yet in this homage to continuity, the theorist quite lucidly
discerned a side that was utopian and unrealizable:
“I do not
know whether Tatlin is right or wrong. I do not know whether the
bent tin sheets in his students' compositions can grow into the
hammered counter-reliefs of the new world. I do not believe in
miracles, but that is why I am not an artist.”(9)
attempt to organize a group show belongs, even if before the revolution,
to the same utopian impulse. (This would perhaps explain why it
was a practical failure, in terms of media coverage, visits, and
sales.) Yet above all, The Store shows that modern artists
like Tatlin were aware that exhibitions were a condition for seeing,
perceiving, understanding, and remembering art in the process
of its being made and that the experience in which works were
perceived depended upon the conditions of display, circulation,
and commercial distribution of art.
1. Other versions of this text
have been presented at the Center for Russian, East European and
Eurasian Studies (CREEES) and at the Department of Art and Art
History at Stanford University. I wish to thank Robert Wessling
and especially Maria Gough, as well as the public for their comments.
2. Julius Meier-Graefe, “The Mediums of
Art, Past and Present,” in Modern Art: Being a Contribution
to a New System of Aesthetics . Trans. F. Simmonds
and G. Chrystal (London and New York: William Heinemann and G.
P. Putnam's Sons, 1908), vol. 1, p. 11.
3. Lev Bruni, Alexandra Exter, Valentin Yustitsky,
Ivan Kliun, Kazimir Malevich, Alexei Morgunov, Nadezhda Udaltsova,
Vera Pestel, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin,
Sophia Tolstaya, Marie Vassilieff. For a reproduction of the catalogue,
see Larissa Zhadova, ed., Tatlin . London: Thames
and Hudson, 1988.
4. Sergei Makovsky, “Golubaya Roza”
[The Blue Rose], Zolotoe runo, 5 (1907): 25.
5. Anon. “Postoyannaya vystavka khudozhestvennogo
byuro N. E. Dobychinoi ” [The permanent exhibition of the
Artistic Bureau of de N. E. Dobychina], Apollo, 8 (1913):
6. L. S-ii,“Iz tekushchei zhizni”
[On everyday life], Petrogradskie vedomosti, 288 (December
30, 1915). On the relationship between time and artworks, see
Eric Michaud, “Capitalisation du temps et réalité
du charisme,” in Pierre Encrevé et Rose-Marie Lagrave
(eds.), Travailler avec Bourdieu (Paris: Flammarion,
2003), pp. 281-88.
7. Yakov Tugendkhold, “V zheleznom tupike
(po povodu odnoi moskovskoi vystavki)” [In the iron dead-end
(On a Moscow exhibition)], Severnye zapiski, 7-8 (July-August
1915): 105, emphasis added.
8. See Maria Gough, “Faktura: The Making
of the Russian Avant-Garde,” RES, 36 (Autumn 1999):
9. Viktor Shklovsky, "O fakture i kontrrel’efakh",
Zhizn’ iskusstva, October 20, 1920; English translation
"On Faktura and Counter-Reliefs," in Larissa Zhadova,
ed., Tatlin  (London: Thames and Hudson, 1988),
Bätschmann, Oskar. The
Artist in the Modern World: The Conflict Between Market and Self-Expression.
Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1997.
Benois, Alexandre.“Khudozhestvennye eresi/Les
hérésies artistiques.” In Zolotoe Runo/La
Toison d'or, 2 (1906): 80-88 (bilingual publication).
Dulguerova, Elitza. L’exposition d’avant-garde
comme utopie de l’espace public. Doctoral thesis. Paris/Montréal:
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Socales/Université
de Montréal, 2006.
Gough, Maria. “Faktura. The Making of the
Russian Avant-Garde.” RES, 36 (Autumn 1999): 32-59.
Makovsky, Sergei. “Golubaya Roza”
[The Blue Rose]. Zolotoe Runo, 5 (1907): 25-28.
Michaud, Eric. “Capitalisation du temps
et réalité du charisme.” In Pierre Encrevé
et Rose-Marie Lagrave. Eds. Travailler avec Bourdieu.
Paris: Flammarion, 2003. Pp. 281-88.
Shklovsky, Viktor. "On Faktura and Counter-Reliefs."
In Larissa Zhadova. Ed. Tatlin . London: Thames
and Hudson, 1988. Pp. 340-342.
Tugendkhold, Yakov. “V zheleznom tupike
(po povodu odnoi moskovskoi vystavki).” [In the iron dead-end
(On a Moscow exhibition)]. Severnye zapiski, 7-8 (July-August
Zhadova, Larissa. Ed. Tatlin
. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.
1 Alexandra Exter in front of Nadezhda Udaltsova’s paintings
at The Store exhibition. Moscow, 1916.
2 Pavel Kuznetsov, Birth, 1906, pastels on canvas,
73 x 66 cm, Moscow, Tretyakov National Gallery.
3 Nadezhda Udaltsova, Restaurant, 1915, oil on
canvas, 134 x 116 cm, Saint Petersburg, Russian Museum.
4 Ivan Kliun, Ozonator, 1914, oil on canvas, 75x66
cm, Saint Petersburg, Russian Museum.
5 Sofia Dymshits-Tolstaya, Glass Relief, ca. 1920,
mixed media on glass with steel frame, 24 x 17.5 x 5 cm,
New York, Rosa Esman Gallery.
6 Vladimir Tatlin, Pictorial Relief 1915, 1915,
wood, plaster, tar, glass, metal leaves, 110 x 85 cm [extrapolated
materials; work has disappeared].