Dressing Up and Dressing Down: The Body of the Avant-Garde

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"Dressing Up and Dressing Down: The Body of the Avant-Garde"

From Amazons of the Avant-Garde
Nicoletta Misler
Published in 1999
13 pages, fully illustrated

Nicoletta Misler defines the women of the Russian avant-garde through their contradictory attitudes towards clothing, the body, and domesticity in this essay. While the Amazons were skilled in the textile arts and often included domestic objects in their paintings, they also created designs for gender-neutral clothing, negated the body as a sexual object, and edged towards re-appropriation of their bodies by eliminating what was seen as feminine plastic dance from their stage work and by incorporating desexualized nudes into their visual arts. Misler explores the rapidly changing attitudes of and towards women during the transition to Soviet power in Russia—pointing out the alternately revolutionary and conservative views of the women of the avant-garde in a time of political change.


Awareness of the body is awareness of one's own body, and if we look at our six Amazons, we see that at least four of them (excluding the tall, thin Goncharova and the petite Rozanova) could hardly have been reduced to the movement of a single line. Rather, their solid, squarish bodies were compatible with the radical simplification of the prozodezhda, designs that almost banished sexuality and eroticism. In Popova's Composition with Figures, 1913, the solid, tubular figures resemble Popova herself, whose female form seemed to presage the ideal Soviet female body, in opposition to the androgynous silhouette of the Symbolist heroines. Popova's Portrait of a Lady (Plastic Design), 1915, presents an image so scarcely female that it seems to be a direct extension of the jug in her Jug on Table. Plastic Painting of the same year.

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