In the turbulent atmosphere of early twentieth-century Tsarist Russia, avant-garde artists took advantage of a newly pluralistic culture in order to challenge orthodoxies of form as well as social prohibitions. Very few did this as effectively, or to as broad an audience, as Mikhail Larionov. This groundbreaking study examines the complete range of his work (painting, book illustration, performance, and curatorial work), and demonstrates that Larionov was taking part in a broader cultural conversation that arose out of fundamental challenges to autocratic rule.
Sarah Warren brings the culture of late Imperial Russia out of obscurity, highlighting Larionov's specific interventions into conversations about nationality and empire, democracy and autocracy, and people and intelligentsia that colonized all areas of cultural production. Rather than analyzing Larionov's works within the same interpretive frameworks as those of his contemporaries in France or Germany-such as Matisse or Kirchner-Warren explores the Russian's negotiations with both nationalism and modernism. Further, this study shows that Larionov's group exhibitions, public debates, and face-painting performances were more than a derivative repetition of the techniques of the Italian Futurists. Rather, these activities were the culmination of his attempt to create a radical primitivism, one that exploited the widespread Russian desire for an authentic collective identity, while resisting imperial efforts to appropriate this revivalism to its own ends.