Lyubov Popova. Painterly Architectonic. 1917. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 × 38 5/8" (80 × 98 cm). Philip Johnson Fund
  • MoMA, Floor 5, 512 The David Geffen Wing

Envision a new artistic language in stride with a changed world: this ambition was shared by many artists across Europe in the early 20th century. In the context of the Russian Revolution of 1917, artists proclaimed that a revolutionary society demanded forms of art liberated from the past. Rejecting traditional painting’s loyalty to recognizable subject matter, they instead promoted nonrepresentational art, exhilarated by its potential to free viewers from the material realm while connecting to radical politics and imagining a more perfect future. In Holland, a group called De Stijl championed abstraction as a model for cultivating the values of universality and connectedness. “If we cannot free ourselves, we can free our vision,” declared the artist Piet Mondrian. “Art must move not only parallel with human progress but must advance ahead of it.”

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