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The Russian Avant Garde

Option coordinator: 
Dr Justin Doherty


The aim of this course is to acquaint students with the history of the Russian avant-garde of the early 20 th century, to examine the textual and visual practices of leading participants in the movement, and to study the theoretical basis for major strands of this movement.

Working methods

The course will follow a standard lecture-seminar format. Each week students will be required to familiarize themselves with a set topic or body of work, as well as to complete reading assignments; students will be required to present their own work individually in the form of seminar papers, to be delivered in the second (seminar) hour on a weekly basis. Knowledge of Russian is not a formal requirement for this course, but will be an advantage; for students who do not know Russian, familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet will be essential.

Learning outcomes

After completing the course students should be able to

  • Appreciate and analyse critically literary works and artwork produced by leading members of the Russian avant-garde
  • Have a detailed understanding of the theoretical writings underpinning Russian avant-garde practices
  • Have an understanding of the international impact of the Russian avant-garde as well as an appreciation of its enduring importance in Russian culture


Lecture/Seminar Topics:

1. Introduction to the Russian avant-garde: history, ideas and ideologies, practices

2. Primitivism (1): the Russian and European roots of avant-garde art

3. Primitivism (2): the art of Larionov, Gonacharova and early Malevich

4. Literary futurism: origins and influences; early Khlebnikov and Kruchecnykh

5. Zaum poetry: the theory and practice of an alternative poetic language

6. Futurist texts: book production, graphic design and artist-poet collaborations


8. Beyond futurism: Suprematism and Constructivism

9. Constructivism in literature: Mayakovsky; art, literature and the Revolution

10. Revolutionary art (1): Constructivist poster and book design

11. Revolutionary art (2): architectural and industrial design

12. Review session


Students will write an essay of 3,500-5,000 words on an approved topic relating to the course content. It should be submitted within four weeks of the end of the semester in which the course is taught.

Introductory Bibliography

Markov, Vladimir,  Russian Futurism: A History (Berkeley, 1968), LECKY 891.71 K9

Janecek, Gerald, Zaum: The Transrational Poetry of Russian Futurism (San Diego, 1996) STACKS: PL-280-102

Khlebnikov, Velimir, The King of Time: Selected Writings of the Russian Futurian, Velimir Khlebnikov , transl. Paul Schmidt (London, 1985) SANTRY PL-162- 63

Camilla Gray,  The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922 (London, 1971) LEN 709.47 K2*1

John E Bowlt, Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism (New York, 1976)   Stacks PL-142-153

Margit Rowell, Deborah Wye (eds), The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934 (New York, 2002) Ussher, Lending LEN 891.709 P21