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20th-century Russia

In 2017, the Centre Pompidou launched a vast research programme devoted to the history of the arts in Russia and geographical areas influenced by the presence of Russian culture. This programme focuses on the 20th century and covers both political entities (the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation) and emigration destinations. 

With the involvement of various partners, and primarily the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, it is based on the observation of a shared history, i.e. the particular role of Paris in the artistic geography of modernity as a place of refuge, residence and work for many Russian artists in the early 20th century. The collection of the Musée national d’art moderne (Mnam) reflects this position through exceptionally vast resources, in addition to a significant body of archives held by the Kandinsky Library. 

The collection

The "20th-century Russia" programme follows an extensive acquisition campaign which enriched the collection with more than 500 works, presented to the public during the "Kollektsia!" (designed by Olga Sviblova, director of the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum) and "Kollektsia+" exhibitions between September 2016 to April 2017. This ensemble represents key moments in the history of post-war art in the USSR and Russia, in particular Non-conformism, Moscow Conceptualism, Sots Art, Perestroika Art or the Actionism Movement of the 1990s.  

It adds to the extraordinary modern collections held by the Mnam, which have been constantly enriched since the late 19th century with the works of Russian artists who have lived or sojourned in France. The generosity of those artists, their families and friends has played an essential role in these successive acquisitions, since added to through various dations. Marc Chagall, Natalia GoncharovaWassily Kandinsky, Mikhail Larionov or Antoine Pevsner, to name but a few, are represented by several thousand items. The "20th-century Russia" programme adds to the documentation of this vast collection and enables the preparation of further acquisitions. 

Particular attention is being given to the "Experimental Film" collection with an annual budget to enable the acquisition of film works. The public is introduced to the diversity and wealth of Russian cinema thanks to film sessions with specialist guest speakers. 

In December 2017, a programme devoted to Dziga Vertov and the emergence of sound films in the USSR brought together ten international experts, including François Albera, Oksana Bulgakowa, Maria Korolkova, Valérie Pozner, Andrei Smirnov, Antonio Somaini and Irina Tcherneva. 


Archives and documentation

Private archives

It was initially in preparation for the Paris-Moscow exhibition (31 May 1979 - 5 November 1979) that the Kandinsky Library (document centre of the Mnam at the time) acquired the first ensembles enabling a documentation of Russian or Russian-born artists living in France. These included references for Jacques Lipchitz (Lithuania, Russian Empire 1891 - Capri 1973), Mikhail Fyodorovich Larionov (Tiraspol, Russian Empire 1881 - Fontenay-aux-Roses 1964), Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova (Ladyjino, Tula Government 1881 - Paris 1962), Leopold Frédéric Leopoldovich Stürzwage aka Leopold Survage (Moscow 1879 - Paris 1968), and, among the architects, Vladimir Bodiansky (Kharkov 1894 - Paris 1966). 


Lastly, the bequest granted by Nina Kandinsky in 1981 added the archives of Wassili Kandinsky (Moscow 1866 - Paris 1944) to the collection, a part of which was declared a National Treasure by the State in 2008. The artist’s entire career is represented by personal papers and photographs, his theoretical work by drafts of his founding texts, and his key role by the substantial correspondence he maintained with other artists or the heads of museum institutes, etc. A portion of the artist’s library, in addition to a large part of his studio equipment were also donated.


Mention must also be made for the photographer Hélène Mossoloff aka Hélène Adant (Russia 1903 - France 1985), whose reports on Matisse in Vence were entrusted to the Library in 1990, along with some of the personal archives of Lydia Delectorskaya (Tomsk, Russia 1910 - France 1998), Matisse’s assistant and model. 


Finally, the Marc Vaux resources, of which 127,000 glass plates have been digitalised and recently placed online, provide around 360 references to Russian-born artists, including Chana Orloff (1888-1968), André Lanskoy (1902-1976), Boris Pastoukhoff (1894-1974), Serge Poliakov (1900-1969), Boris Smirnoff (1895-1976), Anna Semenov (1888-1977), Leopold Survage (1879-1968), Constantin Terechkovitch (1902-1978), Marie Vassiliev (1884-1957), Léon Zack (1892-1980) and Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967), etc. These reproductions of works and images of artists’ studios will be completed in due time by documentary files on the corresponding artists, in addition to a series of publications providing key resources for those with an interest in Russia. 

Publications and catalogues

Graphic design, the use of photography typefaces and publications all served as tools for the transmission of ideas and theories, alongside editorial and artistic laboratories. For example, the illustrated monthly journal URSS en construction was produced from 1929 to 1949 and included contributions from eminent artists such as El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko. There were also lesser-known journals, such as Strelec (1915-1923), Lef: Zurnal Levogo fronta iskusstv (Gosizdat Moscow, 1923-1925) or Novyj Lef: zurnal levogo fronta iskusstv (Gosizdat Moscow, 1925-1927).


Furthermore, the exhibition catalogues and major artist monographs have been enriched by key additions in recent years in the framework of the "Kollektsia!"and  "Kollektsia+"  exhibitions. In 2018, the donation by art historian and exhibition curator Vassili Rakitine (1936 - 2017) added a further 2000 works. This collection brings together key texts on 20th-century Russian art and its avant-gardists, in addition to works from the Soviet era and more recent monographs or exhibition catalogues. Reprints and early Russian publications of artists’ writings, such as Du spirituel dans l’art  by Kandinsky, also add to the wealth of this collection. 


The "20th-century Russia" programme has further enriched these documentary resources through the production of living archives. Extensive interviews have been carried out with Erik Bulatov, Boris Groys, Oscar Rabine or Igor Shelkovski. They will be available for consultation in the near future at the Kandinsky Library. 


On one Wednesday every month, from 2016 to 2022, "Russian Chronicles" retraced the history of art in Russia and the USSR from the early 20th century to the present day. At the crossroads of fields, artists and international specialists put the spotlight on various aspects of this history. 

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Scientific team

Project manager : Nicolas Liucci-Goutnikov, curator at the Mnam-Cci
Scientific coordinator : Natacha Milovzorova


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