During the first decades of the 20th century Russia experienced a cultural renaissance that informed all branches of the visual, literary and performing arts. The purpose of the international symposium, A Laboratory of Forms: Artistic Experiment and the Russian Avantgardes, directed by Professor John Bowlt, was to focus attention on some of the themes and episodes relevant to the concomitant exhibition, Russian Avantgardes, hosted by the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Fundación Caja Madrid.

During two days, Russian, European and American scholars discussed a broad range of issues, including abstract painting, stage design, technological invention and the historiographical relevance of artists such as Chagall, Filonov, Kandinsky, Malévich and Tatlin to experimental styles such as Symbolism, Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism. In turn, this combination of forces provided a rich context for a broader appreciation of the Russian vanguard, one of the primary aesthetic and intellectual movements of the modern era.