Curator Margarita Tupitsyn, who organized the exhibition and edited the accompanying catalogue, hopes to shed light on the unique position of the Russian Dadaists. “Dada manifested itself in different countries, under different circumstances,” she told Artsy. Only in Russia, however, did it seem possible that the avant-gardists’ rejection of the past could directly influence their political and social future. “The Russians were working in a rather unique atmosphere of state support, and were directly involved in establishing state institutions,” Tupitsyn said. “Their influence was unprecedentedly widespread, and impacted the education of millions of people.”
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, led by leftist Vladimir Lenin (who lived across the street from the Cabaret Voltaire while in exile), marked the end of centuries of imperial czarist rule. The emergent Communist Party represented change—a new world order—that had engineered what F. Scott Fitzgerald termed “the greatest experiment ever made by humanity” in his 1934 novel Tender is the Night. This robust period of utopian, Marxist experimentation ended with Lenin’s death in 1924 and the quick rise of Joseph Stalin, whose brutal dictatorial reign perverted the Revolution’s ideals.
For Russian artists, politics and activism took precedence in their work over the aesthetic concerns of their Dada counterparts in Europe and the United States. The Communist regime supported their endeavors, creating “channels for exhibitions, publications, and international alliances,” Tupitsyn explained. Reflecting this radical socialist background, Russian Dadaists saw themselves as politically active, “a democratic union that embraced international artists working in various ‘isms’ and techniques, including film and photography,” she added.