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Nikolai Punin


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Russian art critic. From 1918 to 1921 he was active in the organization of Narkompros and in 1921 he was one of the founders of the Petrograd (St Petersburg) section of Inkhuk. During the 1920s he was one of the most widely read of Russian writers on art. He believed that modern art criticism should be scientific and even tried to reduce the creative process to a mathematical formula: S(Pi + Pii + Piii…)Y = T, where S is the sum of the principles (P), Y is intuition, and T is artistic creation. It is therefore not surprising that Punin preferred the ‘engineer’ Tatlin to the artist Malevich, concluding that Malevich was too subjective to examine material in a scientific and impartial manner. Even so, Punin was a keen supporter of many different members of the Russian avant-garde. He also did valuable research on earlier Russian art. His formalist views were opposed to the ideals of Socialist Realism demanded by Stalin, and after the Second World War he was one of a number of critics who were persecuted for their ‘cosmopolitan’ views (the campaign against them was led by Alexander Gerasimov). In 1949 Punin was arrested and sent to a prison camp in Siberia, where he died.

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