Look out! The Comintern’s about! Rereading 20th-century globalisation before 1939

Day: Saturday 7 April


Sarah Wilson (Courtauld Institute of Art)
Konstantin Akinsha

Session Abstract

The first global cultural programme was the USSR’s propaganda drive in cities from Mexico to Shanghai, coopting intellectuals globally (Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’) and functioning quite overtly (or clandestinely), with many a spy story and sticky end. Despite many international historical Comintern conferences, the ‘Cultural Comintern’ has been ignored. Yet it played a defining role in worldwide avantgardes, ‘revolutionary realism’ and the photographic representation of industrial nations at work.

Is it a pervasive ‘anti-communism’ – now 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – which accounts for art historians’ ‘blind eye’? Directed from Moscow via Berlin and later Paris, with 67 national sections in the early 1930s, the Comintern aimed to operate in major cities, and former or current colonial situations, fomenting not only revolutionary politics but a revolutionary art, its rhetoric coinciding so often with that of ‘revolutionary’ avant-gardes. It sponsored the German worker’s magazine AIZ, with John Heartfield’s photomontages; French Surrealists’ ‘anti-colonial’ exhibition of 1931, the International Writers’ Congress of 1935, and the international promotion of countless films (including Aelita or Battleship Potemkin). The Soviet push for socialist realism from 1934 coincided with established academic painting practices from New York to Tokyo: the Communist affiliations and subject matter of Rivera and Kahlo in Mexico are a case in point.

Speakers & Papers

Konstantin Akinsha (Independent) All the Useful Idiots. The export of revolution and cultural pilgrimage

Cristina P D Cuevas-Wolf (The Wende Museum of the Cold War, Max Kade Institute/USC for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies) John Heartfield’s Thälmann Montages or How the Comintern Sabotaged the AIZ

Megan R Flattley (Tulane University) ‘The Montage Principle’: The influence of Soviet film aesthetics on postrevolutionary Mexican photography

Sergey Fofanov (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) The Reception of the First Exhibition of German Artists among the Public in the USSR and the Role of Otto Nagel in Promoting the Show in Saratov

Fiks Yevgeny – artist intervention tbc

Barnaby Haran (University of Hull) Tractor Travelogues: Louis Lozowick’s lithographs of the Sovietisation of Tajikistan

Maria Mileeva (Courtauld Institute of Art) Exhibiting Revolutionary Art: The invisible arm of the Comintern in interwar Europe and USSR

Przemysł aw Stroż ek (Institute of Art Polish Academy of Sciences) Red Sport International, Communist avant-gardes and the global aspects of worker sport

Joe Thornberry (Lancaster University) A British Artist in Stalin’s Russia: Cliff Rowe in Moscow 1932–33

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