The Russian Avant-Garde

February 19, 2009

I have already written about the Cubist and Futurist influences to graphic design. Well, you can argue about the former but when I get into modernist French design I think there is a influence of cubism and a general strong connection to the fine arts. Futurism seems to have had a profound  influence on Dada and Constructivist designs and that leads to the De Stijl movement to the Bauhaus school (which has had the most profound and influence on modern design, art and on how design and art was/is taught).

It seems as though Constructivists of Russia mingled with the De Stijl artists and designers (Lissitzky and Van Doesburg). In addition, eventually, many Constructivist and De Stijl artists and designers went on the teach or had some connection to the Bauhaus in Germany (Mondrian and Lissitzky) and vice versa (Maholy-Nagy, Schwitters, Van Doesburg). Really, it seems all these movements are somewhat interconnected and stylistically it does seem that way. To me it makes sense.

So what is Constructivism? This is a primarily an art movement that was based in Russia in the early 20th century. It had a considerable link to the Russian Communist Revolution. They merged the arts with modern technological rationalism for political and ideological uses. Basically, it was a form of Soviet-era Russian propaganda. 

The aesthetics of Constructivism is similar to the geometric abstract Suprematist paintings of Kasimir Malevich. Constructivism was also a departure from Russian Futurism that sought to break and destroy traditions (similar to Italian Futurism).

 

Malevich's Black Square of White Painting

Malevich's Black Square of White Painting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malevich's Aeroplane Flying

Malevich's Aeroplane Flying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know of three different kinds of propaganda machines the Soviets used. The first being in the form of graphic patriotic street bulletins known as the Rosta Windows that Lenin launched in 1918.

 

Example of a Rosta Window by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Example of a Rosta Window by Vladimir Mayakovsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next was the works from Constructivist artists that used geometric abstraction along with dynamic angles and view points, photomontage, cinema, abstract uses of light and contrast. The best example of this is “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” by El Lissitzky in 1920.

 

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally there was Social Realism that became the dominant form of propaganda during the regime of Stalin up until the fall of the USSR. This form of work can still be seen today and is most notibly used in China. Scroll down to another blog of mine that shows some examples of Social Realism. It was a return to a more “conservative” representational image that the modernists rebelled against. 

A good early example of Soviet Social Realism is work of Gustav Klutsis’s work that used photomontage but you can still see the modernist geometric simplifications that the constructivists used. 

 

Klutsis Poster

Klutsis Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you notice, the Constructivists works are probably the most “difficult” out of the propaganda bunch. Here are some more examples of works of the Constructivist movement. I do want to make note that it seems as time went on the constructivists went from strict geometric forms and abstration to using photo and photomontage in conjunction with the abstract forms. I am thinking this had to do with political regime changes. Eventually abstraction was dropped all together for the social realism that came eventually.

 

Rodchenko Poster/Flier

Rodchenko Poster/Flier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Lissitzky "installation" work

El Lissitzky "installation" work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poster for the movie, The Man with the Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov, 1929

Poster for the movie, The Man with the Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov, 1929

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rodchenko Photograph

Rodchenko Photograph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lissitzky and Mayakovsky Design

Lissitzky and Mayakovsky Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tatlin's model of Monument to the Third International (1919-20)(note: never built)

Tatlin's model of Monument to the Third International (1919-20)(note: never built)

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Dada and It’s Influence

January 30, 2009

This is part two of my “history” series. It has been a little while since I last post to my blog. The snow and winter weather has been a distraction. Even though a lot of time has been spent inside, I have decided to work on some art instead of writing. Plus I have been doing some sledding and made a snowman.Well, now I am back…with a sore tailbone from sledding. Ouch, I am getting old.

So part two will be on Dada and it’s sub-movements and how they influenced visual communications/graphic design.

Dada started as a literary movement when Hugo Ball opened the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland around 1917. A huge member of this group, in addition to Hugo Ball, was Tristan Tzara, a poet. He published poetry and edited a publication called DADA. 

Example of Tristan Tzara's work

Example of Tristan Tzara's work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These literary figures were interested in sound, nonsense,  and chance poetry. This did spill out into the visual art field in the form of automatic drawing and the allowance of chance and the absurd to infiltrate too.

The Dada movement claimed to be “anti-art” and had a strong destructive and negative element. It was a rejection of tradition and the seeking of complete freedom from past traditions. This was familiar territory of the Futurists and I am sure they did have some influence. 

Also, like the Cubists, they had an interest in letter forms as concrete visual shapes. Letters were not just phonetic symbols.

The art of photo-montage was said to originate from this same movement. The most famous artist to use this was Hannah Hoch. She took found elements from printed sources and patched them together in rather random and/or absurd ways.

Example of Hannah Hoch's work

Example of Hannah Hoch's work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Schwitters…not technically part of the Dada Movement.

They rejected him.

However, he did have great influence on 20th century typography. However, in the art world he is most known for his collage compositions created from printed ephemera , rubbish and other found materials. In all of his work, he combined Dada’s nonsense and chance with strong use design elements and principles. I suppose he was too structured for the Dadaists then. I suppose this is why they rejected him.

From 1923-32 he published a periodical called Merz. Typography and design were major subjects of the publication. In addition, he worked with El Lissitzky, a Russian Constructivist, and he worked with Theo Van Doesburg, a Dutch De Stijl artist who was also famous for his architectural and design/typographic work. 

Schwittters also ran a graphic design studio and the city of Hanover, Germany employed him as a typography consultant for years.

A Kurt Schwitters collage

A Kurt Schwitters collage

Example of Schwitter's work for Merz

Example of Schwitter's work for Merz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sub-movement of Dada were the Berlin Dadaists. Two of their most famous members were John Heartfield and George Grosz. They sought to raise public consciousness and promote social change through visual communications.

Grosz and Heartfield Design

Grosz and Heartfield Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both were highly critical of Germany’s politics and society. Heartfield used the art of photo-montage as a propaganda weapon and innovated the way work was prepared for offset printing. He hated Hitler and Nazi Germany…so much he changed his name from Helmut Herzfelde as a protest against German militarism. 

"Adolf, The Superman" by Heartfield

"Adolf, The Superman" by Heartfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Grosz, mainly known as a visual artist who is known for his paintings and drawings. He attacked a “decadent and degenerate” society through satire and characature. He did work for several publications such as, Der Blutige Ernst. 

Grosz drawing

Grosz drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, Dada dissolved into rival factions in 1921-22. One faction led by Andre Breton lead to the founding of Surrealism.

Surrealism will be next. I also checked out a book about woman designers so you will probably see some stuff on that soon. As a woman, I am interested in what woman have contributed to design since it seems like, historically, that men have dominated the field.