Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 review – a momentous show

By Laura Cumming

Tate Modern, London
Five decades of Soviet hopes turned to despair are captured for ever in David King's astonishing collection of rare propaganda posters, photographs and prints

There is an unforgettable photograph of a Soviet soldier raising the red flag over the Reichstag near the end of this momentous exhibition. The soldier crouches at a terrifying angle to hang his victorious banner above burned-out Berlin in May 1945. It is a famous shot – the figure high among the parapets beneath a thunderous sky – and known to have been staged, like the marines hoisting the flag at Iwo Jima. But in this context, one sees it completely new.

The photographer was Jewish. His father and sisters had been murdered by the Nazis. His uncle made the flag by hand, the hammer and sickle glowing an immaculate white almost at the epicentre of this dark image. And what has inspired Yevgeny Khaldei is not just the possibility of raising the figure high among the parapets, a worker on the same level as the imperial statues, but the dynamic geometries of Russian abstract art. His scene is all triangles and heroic diagonals, harking back to El Lissitzky and Malevich.

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Source: Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 review – a momentous show