‘The artist’s work lies beyond the boundaries of the useful and the useless. It is the revolutionary path along which the whole of creation is striding forward and along which man must also bend his steps.’ El Lissitzky 1920 1
El Lissitzky is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, embodying the spirit of the ‘new art’ which crossed traditional boundaries between architecture, design and fine art. Lissitzky’s influence is not just limited to constructivist tendencies or to suprematism. His use of photography with montage and collage was influential for the design department of the Bauhaus and opened the way for critically inspired dada works, both as art and as political comment. The trajectory of art into life, including the innovatory use of text and image in both art and design, continues throughout the 20th century into the present. There is a direct lineage through dada to conceptual art and various forms of protest from the situationists to Barbara Kruger. The belief that art could and should be used in the service of humanity – to improve the built environment or educate the masses – was an important part of the revolutionary art of the early 20th century.
This work is an original photo-collage with ink and painted additions by Lissitzky. In 1928 he was the official designer and commissioner for the Soviet pavilion at the Köln International Pressa exhibition. The exhibition showed graphic design, publishing and press material and Lissitzky was in charge of arranging the pavilion and designing the catalogue. His design for the exhibition brought together architecture, graphics, photography, film and sound. He combined photomurals, and letters of every thickness and type running in every direction, turning the Soviet pavilion into a vast multimedia installation. This photo-collage can be read as a maquette that gives us an idea of the spirit of the installation and the catalogue it depicts.
1. Lissitzky E 1920, ‘Suprematism in world reconstruction’, in Perloff N ed 1998, ‘Designs by El Lissitzky: monuments of the future’, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
photo-collage, ink and paint on photographic paper
14.9 x 10.9 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
El Lissitzky/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Shown in 4 exhibitions
El Lissitzky - architect, painter, photographer, typography:
El Lissitzky: Jenseits der abstraktion (Beyond the abstract cabinet):
The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910-1937:
Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 05 Jul 2017–08 Oct 2017
Referenced in 6 publications
Anthony Bond, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International modernism', pg.93-111, Sydney, 2007, 95 (colour illus.), 100 (colour illus.).
Jan Debbaut (Editor), El Lissitzky, Architect, Painter, Photographer, Typography, 1990, 170 (illus.), 212. plate no. 101
Mathew Drutt and Ulrich Pohlmann (Curators), El Lissitzky: Jenseits der abstraktion, Hannover, 1999, 119 (colour illus.), 230. cat.no. 55
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Photography', pg. 93-99, Sydney, 1999, 93 (colour illus.).
Marcia Langton, Art and Australia (Vol. 34, No. 3), 'Exhibition commentary: recent aquisitions from the state galleries', pg.128, Sydney, Jan 1997-Mar 1997, 128 (colour illus.).
Jacqueline Strecker (Editor), The mad square: modernity in German art 1910-37, Sydney, 2011, 179 (colour illus.).