Friday, March 23, 2012

New York, New Art

In a New York showroom window,
Muted, muffled, homogenized—
Decor anyone?
Designers not taking the writers into consideration again…

We talk about blank books as having no content.
What do we call books that have no cover?

Then I saw this, a polar opposite, by artist/designers Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova (a married couple). It is currently on view in the Printin' exhibition at MoMA in gallery 2. What a terrific pop-up parachute, I thought.

The description says:
December 1935
Journal with inserts and folded spreads
Publisher: State Publishing House of Fine Arts, Moscow
Printer: Factory of Children Books, Moscow
Edition: 64,000
The Museum of Modern Art, New York,
Harvey S. Shipley Miller Fund, 2007

Except it wasn't what I thought it was. An article about this Russian propaganda journal said the magazine contained, "Esthetic mastery in the service of tyranny." Photomontage was used to play with power: "happy masses presided over by gigantic Stalins…." The journal was used to show the world the (seemingly) huge advances and developments in Soviet society and technology within a short span of time, with themes such as aircraft, coal mining, and railroads. El Lissitzky and his wife Sophie Lissitzky-Kuppers also designed several issues. 

The journal often incorporated fold-out pages like the one shown; other examples included gold leaf, pieces of a balloon, and an aluminum cover for an issue devoted to an aircraft. Heavy paper and rotogravure printing were used. No mention of the famine endured by much of the population, and later, The Great Purge. All artists had to serve the Soviet state and its philosophies of: "loyalty to the party…correct ideological stance and content…and…ready accessibility to the people." These artists may or may not have embraced the philosophies, but they certainly showed enthusiasm in their innovative design work.

White-washed books versus an avant-garde journal of manipulated truths.
Aesthetically pleasing, but philosophically wrong.
Maybe they aren't so different, after all.


Velma said...

very thoughtful looking, alisa. thanks for this.

Mo Crow said...

food for though indeed especially in these times of mass media and homogenized worldwide "designer" concepts... everything is design oriented now... haircuts, holidays, carpets... the way food is presented on a plate... sometimes I feel like unplugging from the net, running away to the bush and just living off the land again...

Iga Gawronska said...

Hi, I hope you don't mind but I would like to use your picture of the parachute spread in my dissertation about USSR in Construction - I am referencing your blog, of course. Whoever captioned the exhibit in MoMa was a bit wrong though - this particular issue was designed by Shagin, Petrusov and Yegorov, not Rodchenko and Stepanova who designed other issues. :)

This magazine is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful propaganda tools history has ever seen.

Alisa said...

Thank you for asking, and thanks for the corrected info, too. Yes, certainly, go ahead and use the picture with credits. Fascinating that MoMa got this one wrong.