Art / Exhibitions

How does Russia remember its revolution?

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When a group of us visited St Petersburg and Moscow last month to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution we were not expecting much by way of official commemoration. We were pleasantly surprised to find lots of exhibitions marking the anniversary and even more gratified to discover that many portray the revolution sympathetically.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism

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Art that attacks the establishment is not new. The Dadaists in Berlin from 1919 held a series of events aimed at the ruling class — they hung from the ceiling carcasses of dead pigs dressed in the uniforms of generals of the German Imperial army; they released a herd of cows among the critics at one of their openings.

Just as the horror at the First World War led to Dada so the current state of Russia has given rise to an art fuelled by anger, Pussy Riot being the most famous.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

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Any attempt to root opera in a broader social, political and cultural context is to be welcomed. The leitmotiv (so to speak) of this new exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, is the link between an opera and the city of its first performance. It starts with Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea in Venice in 1642, and ends with Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Moscow in 1934.

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz

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Käthe Kollwitz was a leading German artist, whose work spanned the end of the 19th century and both World Wars.

Not as well known in Britain as her male contempories Otto Dix and George Grosz, she comes from the same socially critical tradition and her keen interest in politics is reflected in all her work.

In the exhibition powerful woodcuts and prints depict the realities of hunger, motherhood, death and bereavement and offer us an insight into the experience and struggle of working people during one of Germany’s most turbulent periods.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

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This is a celebration of the work of Black American artists in the 1960s and 1970s. While the art on display is inspired by the mass Civil Rights Movement in the US during that time it is incredibly poignant that the issues raised remain so relevant today.

Norman Lewis’s America the Beautiful, for example, is an almost abstract painting depicting the KKK and burning crosses that could be a representation of Donald Trump’s America.

The Life and Work of Marx and Engels

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The Working Class Movement Library, in the heart of Salford, hosts a large collection of socialist literature and materials. Their latest exhibition focuses on the lives of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. There is a particular spotlight on the lives of the working class of Manchester and Salford in 1842.

Among the many photographs and examples of their writing on display, the library gives detailed accounts both of the works and personal lives of the pair.

Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933

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Germany after the First World War was a society in deep crisis. The war ended with the overthrow of the Kaiser and with Germany on the brink of socialist revolution. The Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was racked by war debts, hyperinflation, economic crises, mass unemployment, dramatic political conflict and the growth of both the revolutionary left and fascism.

Queer British Art 1861-1967

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Tate Britain’s first ever LGBT+-related exhibition explores connections between art and a diverse range of sexualities and gender identities. It covers the period between the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 and the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which partially decriminalised consensual sex between men over 21 (both legal changes affected England and Wales only). This is a historic exhibition then, inventive, fascinating, surprising and affecting. Nevertheless there are some interesting contradictions at play.

Never Going Underground

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There is a delicious irony here in that the infamous Section 28 of 1988’s Local Government Act specifically prohibited “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” and this exhibition, named after the campaign to repeal the act, is overwhelmingly family friendly.

The exhibition marks 50 years since the passing of another piece of legislation — the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967.

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