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The Total Work of Art in European Modernism$
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David Roberts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801450235

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801450235.001.0001

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Art and Revolution: The Soviet Union

Art and Revolution: The Soviet Union

(p.207) 10 Art and Revolution: The Soviet Union
The Total Work of Art in European Modernism

David Roberts

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines the fraught relationship between art and revolution in light of three distinct attempts to realize the total work of art in the name of the revolution: the mass festivals of the revolution, which took the French revolutionary festivals as their guide; the avant-garde’s quest for a truly revolutionary culture that would transcend the limits of bourgeois art and reunite art with life; and Stalinism’s total work of art. Stalin’s total work—the show trials—represents something new: the specifically totalitarian total work, which literally liquidated the gap between art and life, just as conversely Soviet realism aimed to leap over the gap between reality and potentiality. The historical course of the Russian avant-garde may be measured against the total works that provide their prologue and epilogue, the futurists’ Victory over the Sun (1914) and Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, commissioned by Stalin in 1941.

Keywords:   Russia, totalitarian total work, art, revolution, mass festivals, avant-garde, Stalin, Stalinism, show trials, futurists

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