Thames & Hudson to release 'The Avant-Gardists: Artists in Revolt in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1917-1935'

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Thames & Hudson to release 'The Avant-Gardists: Artists in Revolt in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1917-1935'
The Avant-Gardists: Artists in Revolt in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1917–1935. By Sjeng Scheijen. Publication by Thames & Hudson: 16 May 2024 (UK), 28 May (USA) 504 pp, 128 illustrations, 23.4 × 15.3 cm, £35.00 hardback.

LONDON.- A gripping, narrative biography of the art movement that transformed the modern world, tracing the lives and activities of the key protagonists as they set about a revolution in art.

October 1917. The Russian Revolution has wiped the old tsarist empire off the map. Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir Tatlin and other avant-garde artists have thrown themselves into the revolutionary struggle, transforming the visual landscape with their progressive murals, posters, installations and performances. However, the new political leaders soon tire of these radical artists, and whilst their reputation is growing in Europe, they experience increasing pressure in the Soviet Union.

Against a background of violent social and political change, Sjeng Scheijen describes the events that shaped the artistic revolution in this, the first illustrated biography to relate the rise and fall of the Russian avant-garde. From philosophical and political subversion, involvement with the Bolshevik administration and links with Europe, to violent repression, incarcerations, and torture under Stalin, events are narrated through artists’ personal memories drawn from existing and important new archival findings. Excerpts from diaries and correspondence reveal the extent of the avant-garde’s energy and determination to survive a totalitarian regime, civil war, hunger and terror.

Scheijen’s vivid, dynamic style, authoritative narrative and extensive original research provides exceptional insight into the lives of these avant-gardists, whose work left a lasting legacy that transformed modern art.

‘Definitely the best overview of the Russian avant-garde…. Based on thorough research, it reads like a detective story’. Advance praise for the book by Natalia Murray (Courtauld Institute), curator ‘Revolution’ (2017), RA, London.

'In his exemplary account, it was a fierce moment of optimism followed by shattered dreams, of hysterical highs and crushing lows.....Schiejen's book is multi-faceted, handsome on the mantelpiece - and blood soaked.' -- The Avant-Gardists review in The Art Newspaper, by Stephen Smith, June issue

‘Marvellous…His [Scheijen’s] deeply researched study charts in particular the improbable and brief elevation of radical artists to central positions in the Bolshevik administration in the early revolutionary years, and reveals the rapid ‘orchestration of their own demise’, long before Stalin’s regimentation of the arts in the 1930s. It is a story he tells with verve.


‘There is little that could be deemed as superfluous in this compelling and voluminous study, and the chapters which explore the creation of Tatlin’s Tower and Chagall’s replacement by Malevich at the art school in Vitebsk are particularly rewarding.’ --The Avant-Gardists reviewed by Rosamund Bartlett, Apollo Magazine, June issue

'Sjeng Scheijen has written an exhilarating history of the movement, illuminated by new research and insights, and with many comic moments amid the unfolding tragedy. Most enjoyable is the vividness with which he conjures up the personalities in the group, in particular the two great rivals Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin.' --Avant-Gardists in The Spectator, review by Charlotte Hobson, 8 June issue

Sjeng Scheijen is an author and an internationally acclaimed expert on Russian art. He has curated several important exhibitions in London and elsewhere and is the former cultural attaché to the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Moscow. His previous book, Diaghilev: A Life (2009) received much critical acclaim, being described as ‘masterful’ by the Guardian and ‘magnificent’ by the Daily Mail.

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