A Russian (women's) revolution

'At the Piano" was painted by Nadezhda Udaltsova. She was one of a number of boldly modern women artists of the avant-garde in Russia a century ago.

A leading authority on the subject, John Bowlt, writes in the catalog that "the triumph of the Russian avant-garde is unthinkable without the participation of ... six women...." These six, including Udaltsova, are featured in a traveling exhibition organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Seen first in Berlin, "Amazons of the Avant-Garde" is now at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (until Feb. 6). It will go to Venice and finally New York.

The six women were distinctly individual, although some were close friends. They were determinedly new and very aware of developments in other parts of Europe.

Early in her career, Udaltsova went with one of the other women, Liubov Popova, from Moscow to Paris. There they studied Cubism. Cubism deconstructed and reconstructed the visible world as depicted in a painting, transforming the painting's space into a complexity of facets. It had been invented by Picasso and Braque. But Popova and Udaltsova explored the potential of this revolution in painting under the tutelage of Henri Le Fauconnier and Jean Metzinger.

Though neither man was at the creative fount of Cubism, both adopted it and developed it. Much more than a personal style, Cubism created reverberations that echoed through the entire 20th century.

Cubism presented something as new to the early 20th century as the invention of perspective had been to Renaissance Italy. Perspective enabled artists to make an illusion of a clearly defined space in a painting in which figures and objects could be placed as if they were in the "real" world.

Cubism vigorously exploded this illusion, abandoned perspective, and attempted to make paintings in which figures, like Udaltsova's pianist, might be explored not just from one viewpoint, but from all viewpoints simultaneously. The figure, existing in space and time, is broken into planes, each interrupted or overlapped by other planes. The viewer feels almost physically drawn into this difficult space.

Udaltsova invested her Cubism with interpenetrations of light and color. She has marvelously conveyed the elusive deftness of the pianist's movements as she deeply enmeshes herself in the music.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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