Ride Your Sky Horse, Peasant, and Other News


On the Shelf

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Fantasy, 1925. Image via New York Review of Books.


  • An exhibition at the Royal Academy pays tribute to a famous 1932 Soviet art show, “Fifteen Years of Artists of the Russian Soviet Republic”—the last gasp of the avant-garde before the state tightened its grip and forced its artists to churn out only propaganda. Jenny Uglow writes of the new show, “This is a big, dynamic, disturbing exhibition, a blaze of artistic hope undermined by suffering, death, and despair. It is all about power and its perils … At first painters, composers, and poets thrilled to the Revolution, which seemed to offer untold freedoms, a chance to use bold new forms—Cubism, abstraction, street art, film, jazz, satire, fantasy—and to share in the making of a new nation. The mystical Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall, and the Constructivists Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Lyubov Popova, responded with equal euphoric intensity … Yet there is a sense of terror, as well as hope, in these blazing, color-filled canvases. As cosmic spheres hurtle forward in spear-like shards of light in Konstantin Yuon’s apocalyptic New Planet (1921), the dwarfed crowds seem to cower as much as to rejoice … Even the distinctive figurative paintings of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin … feel full of a yearning nostalgia. In his huge canvas, Fantasy (1925) the peasant riding the leaping red horse of revolution does not look forward, but back, to a vanished world.”

  • H. P. Lovecraft had a robust correspondence with one of his young fans, Robert Barlow. Their friendship, as Paul LaFarge writes, came to surpass the confines of fandom in an unusual and extreme way: “‘I had no friends nor studies except in a sphere bound together by the U.S. mails,’ he wrote in a memoir about his summer with Lovecraft, published in 1944. Letter by letter, Barlow drew Lovecraft into that sphere. He offered to type Lovecraft’s manuscripts. He told Lovecraft about his rabbits. He wrote stories that Lovecraft revised. Finally, in the spring of 1934, Barlow invited Lovecraft to visit him in Florida, and Lovecraft went. Barlow hadn’t mentioned his age, and he was reluctant to send along a photo of himself, because, he said, he had a ‘boil.’ Lovecraft was surprised to discover, when he got off the bus in DeLand, [Florida,] that Barlow had just turned sixteen. Lovecraft was forty-three.”
  • Here’s Phoebe Boatwright on the power of the degraded image—“a DVD filmed from a theater, dragged from computer to computer, sold a couple times over; an image stolen from news site, edited, reposted, edited again, reposted again”—as samizdat: “When images are restricted and coveted, image quality becomes irrelevant … accessibility trumps technical quality, and ‘poor images’ capable of being easily spread, optimized for the broadest possible availability under adverse circumstances, become the most valuable—for the people, if no longer for markets. These images do not conform to any sovereign nation’s intellectual property law. They become mass art by and for the masses, not because of their content (which is mostly U.S. entertainment industry product) but because of how they are circulated. Mass art, then, turns out to be a means rather than a particular message.”