Friday, August 10, 2007

Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Exhibition of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Works
Alexei Gan, 1931

I shine with all my might -
and once more day is trumpeted.
Shine all the time,
forever shine.
the last days' depths to plumb,
to shine - !
spite every hell combined!
So runs my slogan -
and the sun's!

An Extraordinary Adventure by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Vladimir Mayakovsky (pictured on the poster) is one of the most notable Russian poets of the yearly 20th century. He was a member of Russian Futurism movement and was constantly exploring the boundaries of poetry. His famous works include “Listen!”, “A Cloud in Trousers”, “My Soviet Passport”, “Left March!”, "Conversation with Comrade Lenin", “But could you?.

The October revolution brought new trends not only in politics but also in art. Many artists worshiped Communism ideology, as it was so fresh and new, compared to contemporary art of the past. Very soon Mayakovsky became the poet of the revolution. His distinctive style was based on brisk and energetic verses which were ideal for propaganda.

In the twenties Mayakovsky was one of the few soviet artists who were allowed to travel freely, so his voyage across the world, including a trip to the USA, was a great inspiration for him. However in the late twenties Mayakovsky’s disappointment grew as the avant-garde movements in art were moved aside by socialist realism and Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality. The revolutionary values got buried under bureaucracy and formalism. All this along with a series of failures in his personal life led him to shooting himself in 1930. Later speculations arised that Mayakovsky was in fact murdered by Stalin’s order.

Mayakovsky’s poems were full of catch phrases which quickly became widely used. Even now almost 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union everybody recognizes his: “Say your word, comrade Mauser” (meaning shooting of a mauser gun) and “I pull out of my wide trouser-pockets duplicate of a priceless cargo. You know: read this and envy, I'm a citizen of the Soviet Union!” (people always modify the first verse like “I pull out something resembling a long cannon barrel.”)

During the soviet times popularity of Mayakovsky’s works was skyrocketing. In 1935 Stalin said: “Mayakovsky has always been the best, the most talented poet of the soviet era. It’s the indifference to his works and heritage, which is a crime.” This canonized Mayakovsky, entering his poems in all the school books of the country. And children still study his poems, because despite the communist propaganda, Mayakovsky’s works are bursting with energy and life.

This poster was created by Alexei Gan, a close friend of constructivism classic Alexander Rodchenko. In fact Alexei Gan was the man who introduced the term itself by publishing his book “Constructivism” in 1922. Gan’s life turned out to be as tragic as Mayakovsky’s. Although he was not subjected to Stalin’s repressions, the drinking habits which he desperately fought during his lifetime, finally undermined his health and brought him to the grave in 1940.