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"Women of Genius"
Amazons of the Avant-Garde
John E. Bowlt
Published in 1999
17 pages, fully illustrated
Providing an informative introduction to several women of the historic Russian avant-garde, John E. Bowlt's essay decodes the cultural environment that allowed for radical women artists in the early twentieth century, a time when women's suffrage was a controversial topic. The rise and fall of the Amazons (as these women were called) is introduced here in the context of pre-Soviet Russia. The essay offers insight into the socio-political circumstances that allowed Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova to work, play, and experiment—not without some prejudices, but despite them.
The intention of Amazons of the Avant-Garde is not to imply that Exter, Goncharova, Popova, Rozanova, Stepanova, and Udaltsova supported a single artistic style, a single cultural tradition, or a single political ideology. On the contrary, just as the Russian avant-garde was a collective of disparate avant-gardes, so these artists were of different philosophical schools and had different social aspirations and aesthetic convictions. Here are six personalities, often in conflict, that do not constitute a homogeneous unit (even if Kruchenykh identified all modern Russian women as "half cats, combinations of tinplate and copper, domestic stuff and machines").