Posts Tagged ‘Sergei Eisenstein

09
Dec
18

Photographs: Germaine Krull ‘MÉTAL’ 1928

December 2018

 

Germaine Krull (photographer) Cover design by M. Tchimoukow. 'MÉTAL' cover 1928

 

Germaine Krull (photographer)
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow (Louis Bonin)
MÉTAL cover
1928
Librairie des Arts décoratifs
A. Calavas, Editeur

Portfolio comprising a title page, a preface by Florent Fels and sixty four (64) loose photogravures, each mentioning the photographer’s name, titled ‘MÉTAL’, plate number and publisher’s name. Original dust jacket.

folio 30 x 23.5 cm; 11 ¾ x 9 ¼ in.
plate 29.2 x 22,5 cm; 11 ½ x 8 ¾ in.
image 23.6 x 17.1 cm; 9 ¼ x 6 ½ in.

 

 

“Dans toute sa force” (In full force)

For my new body of work I have been researching the concept of The Oblique Function which was first developed in the 1960’s by Architecture Principe (Claude Parent and Paul Virilio). “The idea was to tilt the ground in order to revolutionise the old paradigm of the vertical wall. In fact, being inclined, the wall becomes experiencable and so are the cities imagined by the two French architects. The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space. The slope implies an effort to climb up and a speed to climb down; this way the body cannot abstract itself from the space and feel the degrees of inclination.”1

The key to the concept is: The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experiences a space.

Perhaps we can transfer this concept to the portfolio MÉTAL by Germaine Krull, one of the most important photobooks every produced … and ask how does Krull, her camera, and by extension the viewer, inhabit the spaces she creates.

In this portfolio Krull, through “extreme angles, producing dizzying compositions of overlapping and intersecting details”, one upside down image and two multiple exposures, “one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion”2 – produces and directs (Krull was also an avant-garde filmmaker) the creation of a molecular structure – both grand and intimate, macro and micro at one and the same time. Probing further, we can link her filmic structure, this oblique mass of machines and images, to Eisenstein’s dynamic comprehension of a work of art, that is, “The logic of organic form vs. the logic of rational form [which] yields, in collision, the dialectic of the art-form.”3

This dialectic (the tension that exists between two conflicting or interacting forces, elements, or ideas; and, the process, in Hegelian and Marxist thought, in which two apparently opposed ideas, the thesis and antithesis, become combined in a unified whole, the synthesis) rests on Eisenstein’s definition of the organic form as “the passive principle of being”, defining its limit to be nature, and his definition of the rational form as “the active principle of production”, defining its limit to be industry, with art falling where nature and industry intersects.4 How these two forces interact “produces and determines Dynamism”, in which:

The spatial form of this dynamism is expression.
The phases of its tension: rhythm.5

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These new concepts and viewpoints are the result of a constantly dynamic evolution from old perceptions to new perceptions which produce contradictions within the spectator’s mind. Eisenstein observes, “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity – that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”6 “And Baudelaire wrote in his journal: That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity-that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty. Upon closer examination of the particular beauty of irregularity as employed in painting, whether by Grünewald or by Renoir, it will be seen that it is a disproportion in the relation of a detail in one dimension to another detail in a different dimension. The spatial development of the relative size of one detail in correspondence with another, and the consequent collision between the proportions designed by the artist for that purpose, result in a characterization – a definition of the represented matter.”7

What could me appropriate for Krull’s multi-layered, distorted, scaled, twisted representations of the new temples of industry than this definition of represented matter – a symbiosis between nature and industry, acknowledging, through emotion, beauty in the nature of industry, and landscapes of plenty in a people-less world?

An anonymous author on the Cinema Confessions blog comments, “Any art form ought to be understood as a communicative medium in which the thing being communicated is not an idea, but an emotion. Language communicates intellect, whereas art communicates sensation. The two are certainly compatible, as in poetry, but also just as certainly inimitably unique. And as communication requires the process of a message being sent and received, we must acknowledge that distinct communication is impossible without the process of time. Thus, as words in a sentence are given meaning through context of contiguous words in the same sentence, and sentences are given sub-textual meaning through context of other sentences within a conversation, given shots within a scene will conform to an over-tonal meaning intrinsically contextualized by other shots within the same scene, and in a broader sense, other scenes throughout the film.”

They continue: “In the essay The Filmic Fourth Dimension, Eisenstein compares film to music thusly, “There, along with the vibration of a basic dominant tone, comes a whole series of similar vibrations … Their impacts against each other … envelop the basic tone in a whole host of secondary vibrations … We find the same thing in optics, as well. All sorts of aberrations, distortions, and other defects, which can be remedied by systems of lenses, can also be taken into account compositionally, providing a whole series of definite compositional effects.” To simplify, he is describing the methods by which musicians and filmmakers are capable of manipulating audience emotion.”8

Thus, through Krull’s definitive compositional effects, her tonal montages capture more than just linear time, construct more than the spectator’s eye directed along the lines of some immobile object … for her holistic movement of the piece is perceived in a wider sense: where the “montage is based on the characteristic emotional sound of the piece – of its dominant. The general tone of the piece… I do not mean to say that the emotional sound of the piece is to be measured “impressionistically.” The piece’s characteristics in this respect can be measured with as much exactitude as in the most elementary case of “by the ruler” measurement in metrical montage. But the units of measurement differ. And the amounts to be measured are different.”9

This is the key to the effective nature of Krull’s portfolio, the power of the emotional sound of the piece: her understanding of the compositional effects of tonal montage as a piece of theatre measured in a different unit – through rhythm, through the interruption of sequences, through the distortion of spaces – to create a single unit of sensory and emotional experience. As Eisenstein notes, “In the Kabuki … a single monistic sensation of theatrical “provocation” takes place. The Japanese regards each theatrical element, not as an incommensurable unit among the various categories of affect (on the various sense-organs), but as a single unit of theatre . . .. Directing himself to the various organs of sensation, he builds his summation [of individual “pieces”] to a grand total provocation of the human brain, without taking any notice which of these several paths he is following.”10

Pace Krull. Her holistic compositions are intertextual and multi-faceted at a time when “straight” photography and even avant-garde photography could not string an adequate sentence together, let alone a multi-dimensional visual, sensual and emotional narrative. This is why Krull’s portfolio is so revolutionary for its time. And just to reinforce this shock of the new, of surprise and astonishment, Krull gets the writer Florent Fels – a traditionalist who by this time (1928) did not like contemporary art – to write a romantic eulogy of an introduction to the new gods of the sky, an introduction which gives the reader a sense of the soaring romanticism which is ascribed to these machinic megaliths. Citing Dostoyevsky, Rousseau and Cocteau, Fels’ florid fornications are, just like Krull’s stunning images, a joy for the senses:

“The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.”11

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,438

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All of the photographs in this posting are published under “fair use” conditions for the purpose of educational research and academic comment. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. “# Great Speculations /// The Oblique Functon by Claude Parent and Pau Virilio” on The Funambulist website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  2. Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  3. Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 46
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Ibid., p. 47
  6. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals (13 May 1 856), translated by Christopher Isherwood. New York, Random House, 1930, quoted in Sergei Eisenstein. Film Form: Essay in Film Theory. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1949, p. 51
  7. Anonymous. “Film as Language: The Method and Form of Sergei Eisenstein,” on the Cinema Confessions blog 05/05/2011 [Online] Cited 09/12/2018
  8. Eisenstein op. cit., p. 51
  9. Ibid., p. 75
  10. Ibid., p. 64
  11. Extract of the Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL. Librairie des Arts décoratifs, A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928

 

 

I did not have a special intention or design when I took the Iron photographs. I wanted to show what I see, exactly as the eye sees it.
‘MÉTAL’ is a collection of photographs from the time. ‘MÉTAL’ initiated a new visual era and open the way or a new concept of photography.
‘MÉTAL’ was the starting point which allowed photography to become an artisanal trade and which made an artist of the photographer, because it was part of this new movement, of this new era which touched all art.

.
Germaine Krull. Extract from the Preface to the 1976 edition of ‘MÉTAL’

 

Roland Barthes was skeptical of Krull’s experimental photographs. In his famous 1980 meditation on photography, ‘Camera Lucida’, he wrote: “There are moments when I detest Photographs: what have I to do with Atget’s old tree trunks, with Pierre Boucher’s nudes, with Germaine Krull’s double exposures (to cite only the old names).”3 Barthes discounts what he calls photographic “contortions of technique: superimpressions, anamorphoses, deliberate exploitation of certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing),” and comments that “great photographers (Germaine Krull, Kertész, William Klein) have played on these surprises, without convincing me, if I understand their subversive bearing.”4 But while such photographs are sometimes subversive, to be sure, they are often celebratory in tone. Krull and her colleagues carried out their “contortions of technique” to produce metaphors for the swirling, confusing, exhilarating urban life in their post-World War I decade.

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Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida, p. 33 quoted in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Krull’s most renowned photographs are not street scenes but abstracted views of the Eiffel Tower, and three of these images, accompanied by a short text by Florent Fels and laid out in overlapping fashion, appeared in a ‘Vu’ article titled “Dans toute sa force” (In full force) published in May 1928, just before the tower’s fortieth birthday (fig. 8).19 According to Krull’s memoirs, Vogel told her, “Go and photograph the Eiffel Tower, Germaine. Photograph it as you really see it, and make sure that you don’t bring me a postcard view.”20 As Krull wrote, she did not see much in the “dead old form” until she began climbing the staircases and experiencing the tower from various vantage points. Some of the resultant images  – vertiginous views of the wrought iron structure - appeared in the German magazine UHU and Philippe Lamour’s journal ‘Grand’route’ as well as in ‘Vu’, and others (eleven in all) grace the pages of ‘Métal’.21

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“Protest gegen ein unmögliches Bauwerk,” ‘UHU’ 4 (December 1927): 106-11; Eric Hurel, “La Confusion des arts,” ‘Grand’route’ 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 71-74; and Krull, ‘Métal’, cover and pls. 2, 11, 19, 26, 28, 33, 37, 50, 54, 57. Footnote 21 in Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

 

Although a portfolio, rather than a book, MÉTAL is widely considered to be among the most important photographic publications of the 1920s. Not only was Krull able to create work that stood the test of time, but she managed it in a profession dominated by men. It is interesting that with MÉTAL, she embraces a clearly masculine theme.

Krull’s photographs, whether of bridges, cranes, or the Eiffel Tower, tend towards the unconventional. It seems as if her initial approach is quite conservative, but then she questions common rules of composition, avoiding the more obvious ways her subjects would have been photographed at the time. Krull consequently avoids implementing a strict visual language. Instead of striving for a “realistic” documentation of her subject in her photographs she chooses her angles instinctively, cropping the images tightly, or even reversing them. It is exactly this unexpected approach that makes MÉTAL stand out. …

The photographs were taken in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo.

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover. There appear to have been at least two versions of the portfolio. One with a black spine and band, and one with a brown spine and band. The brown cloth version (shown below) seems to be the rarer of the two. The portfolio consists of 64 plates with images printed on one side, and two folded sheets unbound resulting in 8 pages which include a two and a half page text by Florent Fels in French and a short explanatory text by Germaine Krull.

Text from the achtung.photography website

 

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
In the port of Amsterdam
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Museum of Technology, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Antwerp
1924
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Preface from Florent Fels to the first edition of MÉTAL

The industrial activity of our times spreads a spectacle before our eyes, to which they have not yet become accustomed. Its newness captures and frightens us like that of a large natural phenomenon. In turn it expresses an attitude of mind, to which painters and poets are among those who devote themselves.

Europe’s cities appear to us as outdated and anachronistic. The provincial towns with their promenades, pleasant fountains and music pavilion suddenly become somewhat old fashioned, whilst the lyricism of our time succeeds in writing itself in concrete and steel cathedrals. Yet we are witness to the paradoxical fact, that the largest enterprises serve as forms of progress with exception of those who can contribute to an improvement in human dwellings. Except for a privileged few the accommodation of our contemporaries shows a similarity with that of our forebears at the time of Richelieu and Cromwell. The people of the cities succumb to the push of commercial practises. We demand houses with windows, which give a free view of the garden. Modern housing for modern people in which the sun and the fresh air find an unhindered inlet. Concrete and steel are their most important constituents: Ten years after the end of the war steel will at last serve a noble purpose, it will perhaps be rehabilitated.

Steel changes our landscape. Forests of masts replacing trees centuries old. Blast furnaces replacing hills.

From this new expression of the world some aspects have no been captured by beautiful photographs representative of a new romanticism.

Germaine Krull is the Marceline Desbores-Valmore of this lyricism and her photographs are sonnets of shining, piercing verse. Like an orchid is the driving force of Farcot and like frightening insects are the cogs.

Double exposure lends to the finest mechanisms a fantastic appearance and in considering a milling machine covered in muddy oil and detritus and from water dripping, one thinks of Dostoyevsky. In the halo that surrounds them the powerful, noiseless and quietly working dynamos seem to radiate luminous vibrations, and whose chimneys ring out whose fanfare tones to the heavens, these new godly concepts laid out before us. The bridges penetrate into the space. The trains break the horizon with a deafening roar. They leave the ground and glide there on the ether into the inevitable advance of progress, dragging the living with wonder towards the astral stations.

The strong and soft movement of the hammer softens the ingots like lead elephants. And see the Eiffel Tower, now a bell tower of acoustic waves, its improper monstrosity has provided for surprise and confusion. Now lovers are treated there, three hundred metres above the ground, to a rendezvous with the birds. And the poets, from the old Douanier Rousseau to Jean Cocteau, claim that on beautiful spring evenings fairies ride tobogan on its wing.

This giant was missing a heavenly glow: One has been given to it. The luminous progress of industry is evident in every majestic metre of its height.

Aeroplane, elevator and wheel, with which some humans soar up to the kingdom of the birds, are suddenly transformed into elements of our nature.

The Tower is and remains the highest symbol of the modern age. As he left New York and its vapour crowned palaces it was the Eiffel Tower, this beacon of the air, which Lindbergh envisaged, in order to reach Paris in the sentimental heart of the modern world.

Florent Fels.

 

The Eiffel Tower, the cranes and bridges of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Marseille and Saint-Malo provided me with the material for a number of plates which form this album. I am indebted to others for the extreme kindness with which I was welcomed, by the Director of the Conservatoire des Arts-et-Métiers to his museum, by the Director of the CPDE at the Saint-Quen Power Station, and by M. André Citroën in his factories.
The cover of the book is a composition by M. Tchimoukow.

Germaine Krull
Cover design by M. Tchimoukow

Librairie des Arts décoratifs,
A. Calavas, Editeur, 68, Rue la Fayette, Paris, 1928
Portfolio

23.5 x 29.9cm (Portfolio)
22.5 x 29cm (Plates)

64 plates and 2 leaves

 

Marceline Desbores-Valmore

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was a French poet and novelist…

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion. In 1821 she published the narrative work Veillées des Antilles. It includes the novella Sarah, an important contribution to the genre of slave stories in France…

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Factory in Rotterdam
1923
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

 

Florent Fels

Ferdinand Florent Fels (1891-1977) was a French journalist, publisher and author prominent in discussing art in France. He often used the pseudonym Felsenberg. Fels launched the art magazine Action: Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art in 1919. Here he expressed his individualist anarchist philosophy. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Fels as an art critic before 1925

I now feel the need to make a step back on Fels. Born in 1891, he was recruited as a soldier-interpreter in the First World War thanks to his knowledge of English, and here became an anti-militaristic minded person. His experience at the front was quite parallel to that of Georg Grosz, the only German artist in his anthology, whose sad pages on the role of artists and critics during World War I corresponded largely to the thoughts of the French author. The experience of war convinced the young Fels of the need to overcome the traditional aesthetic models, linked to symbolism, but also of the emptiness of contemporary art, which had propagated or somehow supported the war effort. It is no coincidence that his friend de Vlaminck – in the Propos dedicated to him – used disdainful words on the role of Cubism in the years leading up to the war. According to Fels, the only art that, after the slaughter at the front, could still be trusted was the Dada movement, born in Zurich in 1916 and spread rapidly in Europe (it is also what can be read in the pages of Grosz, an artist about whom Fels published – in addition to the pages in the anthology – several other articles in the French world [14]).

Returning from the war front, in 1919, the twenty-eighty year old Fels launched with Robert Mortier (painter and poet) and Marcel Sauvage (poet) the journal Action. Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art (Action. Individualist Notebooks on Philosophy and Art), which would have a short life (the last issue was 1922). The editors were young ex-soldiers who invested the money they had got from the state at the time they left the army, to launch the new journal. The founders of Action attempted to both awake and open the French culture. In the field of literature, Action hosted a series of poets, writers and literary critics such as Andre Malraux, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud; in the area of art, the journal liaised with all contemporary avant-garde movements (dada, fauves, cubists), discussed and exalted the production of the greatest artists (Claude Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Henri Rousseau Le Douanier) and gave great emphasis to African art. Looking at the journal’s issues, all available on the Internet [15], it is also easy to find that Action also housed reproductions of paintings and prints by many of the painters who later on were included in Propos d’Artistes: Derain, Kisling, Léger, Lhote, Pascin, Utrillo, Vlaminck. There were also art criticism articles of Duret and poems by Vlaminck.

Within Dadaism, Action preached a ‘subjectivist’, or individualist, version of vanguard aesthetics. It did not propagate revolutions, but proclaimed the need for the absolute freedom of the artists. Fels’ points of reference were in fact the individualistic anarchist movements inspired by Rousseau and Proudhon; in March 1920, he held a conference on “Les Classiques de l’Esprit nouveau” and published the text in the journal L’un [16]: he rejected the traditional Dadaist attitude of total destruction of the past and identified the new classics (Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh) that were due to be the basis of the new art. Fels took distance from the anti-social attitudes typical of Dadaism, and animated a controversy over the direction of new art movements: for him, everyone should make his personal revolution, without destroying any social foundations. At the root of Fels’s aesthetic theory there was “the enhancement of individual psychologies, the free but orderly expression of the heart, the sense of art, inspiration, and individuality” [17].

In 1922, Action‘s experience ended: money was over and the attempt to counter the revolutionary drift within Dadaism had failed. Starting with 1924, André Breton imposed surrealism, inspired by a much more corrosive aesthetic and social criticism. Fels condemned it.

 

Florent Fels between 1923 and 1925

Once the experience of Action was concluded in 1922, Fels joined in 1923 the editorial staff of Les Nouvelles Littéraires. There he dealt not only with contemporary art, but with reviews of exhibitions of all kinds (from Renaissance to Art of Polynesia). Often, his articles updated the public on the developments of decorative arts (in those years, he published his already mentioned essay on French tapestries and carpets).

I already mentioned that Fels stated in the postscript of the anthology: “I wanted to produce a document dated 1925” [18]. The idea was therefore to offer the reader almost an instant book. In fact, as we have already said, the book gave readers a real-time image of the art discussion in 1923-1924. 1925 was however a very important year for Fels. In addition to the anthology, he published a monograph on Claude Monet with Gallimard and became chief editor of the new art journal “L’Art Vivant“, founded by Jacques Guenne (1896-1945) and Maurice Martin du Gard (1896-1970), i.e. the two directors of “Les Nouvelles Littéraires“. The new publication was in fact presented as the artistic attachment (complément artistique) to the literary weekly. Art Vivant. It was published by the house Larousse since January 1925.

As previously mentioned, Fels’s aesthetic taste (think again that only a few years before he had been forced to finance his own publication with the liquidation of the time spent in war as a simple soldier) was becoming closer to those of the great French progressive publishing companies (Gallimard, Larousse). In other words, he was taking on more and more classic aesthetic orientations. The Art Vivant magazine (which will have long life: Fels was his chief editor until 1939, when the magazine closed its doors in the wake of the war) became therefore one of the favourite targets of the communist intellectual and surrealist leader Louis Aragon (1897-1982), who called Fels “Paysan de Paris“, the peasant of Paris. From Aragon’s perspective, the only veritable surrealist anthology of art literature with a Marxist orientation will be published twenty years later by Paul Éluard.

Extract from Review by Francesco Mazzaferro of Florent Fels, Propos d’Artistes [The Propositions of the Artists], 1925. Part One 22 May 2017 [Online] Cited 30/11/2018

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Electricity France, Paris
1925
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Negative collotype print

 

Detail of a centrifugal speed governor?

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Motor industry Citreon, Paris
1926-27
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Technical Museum, Paris
1926
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Her book MÉTAL contains only two multiple exposures, one showing two overlapped power generators and the other several layered bicycle parts printed at right angles to one another to create an effect of circular motion.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Luise Krull (20 November 1897 – 31 July 1985) was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio MÉTAL.

Krull was born in Posen-Wilda, a district of Posen (then in Germany; now Poznań, Poland), of an affluent German family. In her early years, the family moved around Europe frequently; she did not receive a formal education, but instead received homeschooling from her father, an accomplished engineer and a free thinker (whom some characterised as a “ne’er-do-well”). Her father let her dress as a boy when she was young, which may have contributed to her ideas about women’s roles later in her life.[6] In addition, her father’s views on social justice “seem to have predisposed her to involvement with radical politics.”

Between 1915 and 1917 or 1918 she attended the Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie, a photography school in Munich, Germany, at which Frank Eugene’s teaching of pictorialism in 1907-1913 had been influential. She opened a studio in Munich in approximately 1918, took portraits of Kurt Eisner and others, and befriended prominent people such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Pollock, and Max Horkheimer.

Krull was politically active between 1918 and 1921. In 1919 she switched from the Independent Socialist Party of Bavaria to the Communist Party of Germany, and was arrested and imprisoned for assisting a Bolshevik emissary’s attempted escape to Austria. She was expelled from Bavaria in 1920 for her Communist activities, and traveled to Russia with lover Samuel Levit. After Levit abandoned her in 1921, Krull was imprisoned as an “anti-Bolshevik” and expelled from Russia.

She lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1925 where she resumed her photographic career. She and Kurt Hübschmann (later to be known as Kurt Hutton) worked together in a Berlin studio between 1922 and 1924. Among other photographs Krull produced in Berlin were a series of nudes (recently disparaged by an unimpressed 21st-century critic as “almost like satires of lesbian pornography”).

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay, Eli Lotar, André Malraux, Colette, Jean Cocteau, André Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio MÉTAL (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings (e.g., the Eiffel Tower), and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. Between 1930 and 1935 she contributed photographs for a number of travel and detective fiction books.

In 1935-1940, Krull lived in Monte Carlo where she had a photographic studio. Among her subjects during this period were buildings (such as casinos and palaces), automobiles, celebrities, and common people. She may have been a member of the Black Star photojournalism agency which had been founded in 1935, but “no trace of her work appears in the press with that label.”

In World War II, she became disenchanted with the Vichy France government, and sought to join the Free French Forces in Africa. Due to her Dutch passport and her need to obtain proper visas, her journey to Africa included over a year (1941-1942) in Brazil where she photographed the city of Ouro Preto. Between 1942 and 1944 she was in Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, after which she spent several months in Algiers and then returned to France.

After World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent, but by 1946 had become a co-owner of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, a role that she undertook until 1966. She published three books with photographs during this period, and also collaborated with Malraux on a project concerning the sculpture and architecture of Southeast Asia.

After retiring from the hotel business in 1966, she briefly lived near Paris, then moved to Northern India and converted to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. Her final major photographic project was the publication of a 1968 book Tibetans in India that included a portrait of the Dalai Lama. After a stroke, she moved to a nursing home in Wetzlar, Germany, where she died in 1985.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Railway lifting bridge, Rotterdam
1923-24
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985) Image from the portfolio 'MÉTAL' 1928

 

Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1927
Image from the portfolio MÉTAL
1928
Collotype

 

Curiously the cover image of the portfolio (also plate 37) is actually presented upside down. This decision was presumably taken by M. Tchimoukow (real name Louis Bonin), the designer of the portfolio’s cover.

 

 

Germaine Krull

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (MÉTAL)(1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-30), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!)Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018

 

Métal and Filmic Montage

For Krull, metal was the most powerful metaphor for the modern world, and her book Métal includes many of the industrial forms she saw in Europe. It features both multiple exposures and straight images, and the entire volume is structured according to the principles of film montage. As noted earlier, Krull was a member of the Dutch avant-garde film collective Filmliga, which was cofounded by Joris Ivens, who in 1927 became her husband. Both of them published work in Arthur Lehning’s related avant-garde journal i10.

They saw screenings of Soviet avant-garde films by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Sergei Eisenstein, and Krull made a portrait of Eisenstein when he visited Paris in 1930. Eisenstein’s theories of montage were particularly important to the couple, and Krull’s Métal serves to demonstrate them. She actively adopted the Soviet filmmaker’s ideas of rupture and “visual counterpoint,” involving graphic, planar, volumetric, and spatial conflicts.26

The book is technically an album, with sixty-four numbered but unbound collotype reproductions that can ostensibly be rearranged at will. There are no captions and no identifying markers, and the images include both vertical and horizontal compositions. In a brief note beneath an introductory text by Florent Fels, Krull tells us that these photographs include a lifting bridge over the Meuse River in Rotterdam (also the subject of Ivens’s renowned avant-garde montage film, The Bridge [De Brug], from that same year); the cranes in the Amsterdam port; the Eiffel Tower; Marseille’s transporter bridge; and other industrial forms she found.27 But it would be difficult to decipher these subjects from the photographs themselves. Although there are eleven Eiffel Tower images in the book, for example, they are often so abstracted that the subject is unidentifiable, and none are on contiguous pages. …

Scholars have often read Métal as a purely formal experiment, but Krull used it as a commentary on contemporary life, producing the kind of montage that her friend Walter Benjamin championed, in which “the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. … The discovery is accomplished by means of the interruption of sequences. Only interruption here has not the character of a stimulant but an energizing function.”29 The quality of interruption, according to Benjamin, differentiates truly revolutionary work from the mere aping of the modern world, an approach that he scornfully attributes to the work of Albert Renger-Patzsch.30 For Krull, interruption could occur in a multiple exposure, as in the aforementioned Métal image depicting overlapping views of bicycle parts. Or interruption can be found while turning a book’s pages, moving from a drive-belt detail to ominously large-scale cargo cranes, or from the Rotterdam Bridge over the Meuse to a detail of a centrifugal speed governor. Whether portraying a roller coaster, documenting the Eiffel Tower, or creating her book of industrial fragments, Krull engaged the decade’s cacophony and used provocative experimental techniques to capture its allure.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” p. 7 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 25/11/2018.

Kim Sichel. “Contortions of Technique: Germaine Krull’s Experimental Photography,” in Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg, eds. Object: Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949. An Online Project of The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

27. Sergei Eisenstein, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” (1929), in Jay Leyda, ed., Film Form: Essays in Film Theory (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949), pp. 52-54
29. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” (1934), in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), pp. 234-35
30. Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” p. 230

 

 

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09
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd December 2016 – 12th March 2017

 

My apologies to readers of Art Blart, but my postings will be short of comment in the next month or so as I try to take as much rest as possible. I have bad hands which is preventing me from using the keyboard. At the moment I am using dictation software to do the writing for me. I will keep the blog going as much as possible because it is my form of therapy for my mental health.

Which brings me to this posting, another slice of the brilliance of the European inter-war avant-garde, this time from Russia. Design, intense colouration (or lack of it), and complexity of form are hallmarks of this “new, militant art.” Photomontage, form and propaganda go hand in hand with this New Vision. The photograph and the cinema were social and essential elements of this new world order.

Perspective shifted. Pictorial planes fractured. Points of view pictured the unusual: from below, from above, with few vanishing points contained within the image or photomontage. Films had no sound and often no story and no actors. They were experimental intersections of man, machinery, and the world. Art was exciting and revolutionary. For me, Aleksandr Rodchenko is the star of the show. You only have to look at images such as Mother, Pioneer with Bugle, Pioneer girl, and the two photographs titled Dive (1934, below) – both with a sense of weightlessness and perspectival difference – to understand the genius of this artist.

It is indeed a telling indictment that such creativity, in both Russia and Germany (and by default, the rest of Europe), was snuffed out by two dictators who imposed on art a (usually masculine) utopian purity which stifled any hint of militant subversion and originality.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

We are breaking with the past, because we cannot accept its hypotheses. We ourselves are creating our own hypotheses anew and only upon them … can we build our new life and new world view.

.
Lyubov Popova

 

 

Various artists. 'Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)' 1912

 

Various artists with Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Nikolai Rogovin, Vladimir Tatlin
Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)
1912

 

 

For the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci explains how artists such as Malevich, Rodchenko, and Vertov attempted to revolutionise Russian society through new means of artistic production – and how the styles developed by the Russian Avant-Garde still affect how we look at art today.

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962) 'Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest' 1913

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962)
Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest
1913
Oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 19 1/2″ (54.6 x 49.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918) 'The Factory and the Bridge' 1913

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918)
The Factory and the Bridge
1913
Oil on canvas
32 3/4 x 24 1/4″ (83.2 x 61.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935) 'Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying' 1915

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying
1915
Oil on canvas
22 7/8 x 19″ (58.1 x 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924) 'Untitled' c. 1916-17

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924)
Untitled
c. 1916-17
Gouache on board
19 1/2 x 15 1/2″ (49.5 x 39.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich. 'Suprematist Composition: White on White' 1918

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: White on White
1918
Oil on canvas
31 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (79.4 x 79.4 cm)
1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. ' Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)' 1918

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)
1918
Oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (81.9 x 79.4 cm)
Gift of the artist, through Jay Leyda

 

 

This work belongs to a series of eight black paintings Rodchenko made in direct response to a group of white paintings of the same year by the older and more established artist Kazimir Malevich. Malevich relied on a severely reduced palette of whites to suggest a floating form in an infinite spatial expanse; Rodchenko moved toward eliminating colour completely in order to focus instead on the material quality of the paintings surface. “Where the black works are winning is in the fact that they have no colour, they are strong through painting …,” declared artist Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko’s wife. “Nothing besides painting exists.” Both series were first shown in Moscow in April 1919, in the 10th State Exhibition: Non-Objective Art and Suprematism. The black works were received with enthusiasm and helped establish Rodchenko as a leader of the Russian avant-garde. (MoMA gallery label 2015)

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956) 'Flight of Forms' 1919

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956)
Flight of Forms
1919
Gouache and pencil on paper
51 1/8 x 51 1/2″ (129.7 x 130.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

A new art was needed, armed by technology and chemistry, an art that stood side by side with socialist industry, a new, militant art, which could organize the will of the masses.

.
Gustav Klutsis

 

 

In the first decades after the 1917 Revolution, a central focus of the nascent Soviet Union was the modernisation of its vast territories. Through a series of comprehensive economic development plans, the socialist state attempted to institute rapid industrialisation, collectivise agriculture, achieve nationwide literacy, and update the infrastructure of towns and cities. Artists, often working in official capacities, captured these aspirations in a variety of projects, many of which were propagandistic.

Some turned to agitational photomontage, in which photographs and images culled from mass media were spliced together to create ideologically charged designs for posters, book covers, advertisements, and postcards. Artists also made illustrations for children’s books that feature didactic tales aimed at rallying the next generation of Soviet citizens. Architects were tasked with reconceiving domestic and civic spaces in order to advance a communal way of life, reflected in studies for buildings and triumphant photographs of construction. While much of this work celebrates Soviet might and ingenuity, Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime began to reign in the activities of artists and other cultural producers in the 1920s, terminating this period of utopian innovation in the early 1930s with the declaration of Socialist Realism as the official Soviet style.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 1 D' 1920

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 1 D
1920
One from a portfolio of eleven lithographs
Composition: 8 7/16 x 10 9/16″ (21.5 x 26.9 cm); sheet: 13 1/2 x 17 5/8″ (34.3 x 44.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vincent d’Aquila and Harry Soviak Bequest, by exchange, Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund, Orentreich Family Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment, Mrs. Sash A. Spencer, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Peter H. Friedland, Maud I. Welles, Deborah Wye Endowment Fund, Riva Castlemen Endowment Fund, Lily Auchincloss Fund, Monroe Wheeler Fund, and John M. Shapiro
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 19D' 1920 or 1921

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 19D
1920 or 1921
Gesso, oil, varnish, crayon, colored papers, sandpaper, graph paper, cardboard, metallic paint, and metal foil on plywood
38 3/8 x 38 1/4″ (97.5 x 97.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katherine S. Dreier Bequest

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Spatial Construction no. 12' c. 1920

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Spatial Construction no. 12
c. 1920
Plywood, open construction partially painted with aluminum paint, and wire
24 x 33 x 18 1/2″ (61 x 83.7 x 47 cm)
Acquisition made possible through the extraordinary efforts of George and Zinaida Costakis, and through the Nate B. and Frances Spingold, Matthew H. and Erna Futter, and Enid A. Haupt Funds

 

 

The nesting ovals that compose this construction were measured out on a single sheet of aluminium-painted plywood, precisely cut, then rotated and suspended to make a three-dimensional object suggestive of planetary orbits. It was made at a time of both civic turmoil and great possibility in Russia, when Rodchenko and his fellow Constructivist artists sought to apply aesthetic ideals to everyday materials. They hoped their approach to art would help create a new language for the Communist state. Reflecting back on this time, Rodchenko said, “We created a new understanding of beauty, and enlarged the concept of art.”

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954) 'Teapot' c. 1923

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954)
Teapot
c. 1923
Porcelain with overglaze painted decoration
5 1/2 x 4 1/2″ (14 x 11.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Estée and Joseph Lauder Design Fund

 

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

 

Installation views of A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Robert Gerhardt

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, an exhibition that brings together 260 works from MoMA’s collection, tracing the arc of a period of artistic innovation between 1912 and 1935. The exhibition will be on view December 3, 2016 – March 12, 2017. Planned in anticipation of the centennial year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the exhibition highlights breakthrough developments in the conception of Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as in avant-garde poetry, theater, photography, and film, by such figures as Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, and Dziga Vertov, among others. The exhibition features a rich cross-section of works across several mediums – opening with displays of pioneering non-objective paintings, prints, and drawings from the years leading up to and immediately following the Revolution, followed by a suite of galleries featuring photography, film, graphic design, and utilitarian objects, a transition that reflects the shift of avant-garde production in the 1920s. Made in response to changing social and political conditions, these works probe and suggest the myriad ways that a revolution can manifest itself in an object. A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; with Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

A series of works by artists including Natalia Goncharova and her husband and artistic collaborator Mikhail Larionov open the exhibition. Goncharova and Larionov sought to combine Western European developments such as Cubism and Futurism with a distinctly Russian character, drawing on history, folklore, and religious motifs for inspiration. One outgrowth of their efforts was Rayonism, an abstract style that derived its name from the use of dynamic rays of contrasting colour, exemplified in Goncharova’s Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest (1913). A hallmark of this period was a fertile collaboration between painters and poets that resulted in illustrated books, also on view in the exhibition. These collaborations rejected fine-art book traditions in favour of small, distinctly handmade volumes, such as the rare book Worldbackwards (1912), shown in an astonishing four variations, each with a unique, collaged cover.

Radical new efforts in painting and poetry are also featured, such as an unpublished, uncut sheet from poets Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov’s Te li le (1914), with images by Olga Rozanova. The sheet features a poetic language conceived in 1913 by the pair called Zaum (“transrational,” “beyonsense,” or “transreason”), which frees letters and words from specific meanings, instead emphasising their aural and visual qualities. Painters likewise sought to push their medium to its limits, dismissing the strictures of realism and rationality in favour of advancing new abstract forms. The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10 (zeroten), held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in December 1915, highlighted two new models of abstraction. One, developed by Vladimir Tatlin, focused on a group of nonrepresentational Counter-Reliefs (“reliefs with a particular pronounced tension”). An example can be found in the exhibition in the exceedingly rare Brochure for Tatlin’s counter-reliefs exhibited at 0.10 (1915). The other, proposed by Kazimir Malevich, unveiled a radically new mode of abstract painting that abandoned reference to the outside world in favour of coloured geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds. Because this new style claimed supremacy over the forms of nature, Malevich called it Suprematism. The exhibition includes Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying (1915), which was featured in 0.10, and Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), which ranks among the most iconoclastic paintings of its day.

While Suprematism’s focus on pure form had a spiritual bent, the adherents of Constructivism privileged the creation of utilitarian objects with orderly, geometric designs. In 1918, Rodchenko made Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black), one of a series of eight black paintings he conceived in direct response to the group of white paintings by Malevich. By eliminating colour almost completely, Rodchenko underscored the material quality of the painting’s surface. Around this time, he also produced a series of “spatial constructions” focused on kineticism, marking a significant leap from his exploration of the painted surface to three-dimensional objects. 5 x 5 = 25: An Exhibition of Painting (1921), a brochure for an exhibition of the same title, typed by Varvara Stepanova, features contributions from Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, and Aleksandr Vesnin. Held in Moscow at the All-Russian Union of Poets in September 1921, the exhibition featured five works by each of the five participants, and was the Constructivist group’s last presentation of painting.

Between 1919 and 1927 El Lissitzky produced a large body of paintings, prints, and drawings that he referred to as Proun, an acronym for “Project for the Affirmation of the New” in Russian. A particular highlight is the portfolio Proun (1920), made during Lissitzky’s short but prolific period working at the art school in Vitebsk, alongside Malevich. Lissitzky asserted Proun is “the station on the way to the construction of a new form,” and in these lithographs, he arranges geometric forms in dynamic, overlapping relationships to create imagined spaces. It will be the first time this rare portfolio, acquired in 2013, will be on view. New developments in theater are surveyed through the example of Alexandra Exter, an artist deeply engaged with theatrical design and production, including several examples of her innovative set designs and costumes for the science-fiction film Aelita (1924). These are shown alongside prints from Lissitzky’s portfolio Victory Over the Sun, which he made after seeing a 1920 restaging of the seminal Cubo-Futurist opera of the same name, and features characters from the production transformed into “electromechanical” figurines.

As the 1920s progressed, photography and film surpassed painting and sculpture as the chosen medium for the avant-garde, moving works from the studio to the public sphere. The exhibition includes an in-depth look at Soviet avant-garde cinema, in a gallery that features clips from seminal films by Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Dziga Vertov, highlighting a variety of strategies in montage, including disjunctive cutting, extreme close-ups, unusual angles, and image superimposition. At this time, Lissitzky began to describe his work as fotopis (painting with photographs), a neologism that first appeared in the title of a maquette for a mural version of Record (1926), a photomontage included in the show. After turning away from painting, Rodchenko also found new means to build networks of communication – in photographs and book design. He collaborated with the progressive writers Nikolai Aseev, Osip Brik, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Sergei Tret’iakov on covers and layouts for the journal Novyi LEF (1927-28), a complete run of which is on view. Eschewing the conventional belly-button view in his photographs, Rodchenko’s pictures of this era – such as Mother (1924), Assembling for a Demonstration (1928-30), and Pioneer Girl (1930) – favour dynamic camera angles. Advocating for a cinematic, fractured representation of his subjects, Rodchenko also tried his hand at film, designing inter-titles for Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda newsreel series.

The ideology of the Revolution touched all aspects of daily life, from economy to education. The most significant artists of the day, in accordance with state orders, were soon applying avant-garde tactics to create propagandistic work that would be easily comprehensible to the Soviet public at large. The final gallery of the exhibition contains this kind of material, including children’s books created by Vladimir Lebedev and Samuil Marshak, whose book designs balanced sophistication and accessibility, drawing on Cubism and Suprematism, with stories that nourished the intellectual and visual imagination. Also on view are film posters, by the brothers Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, which feature radical uses of typography and colour, underscoring the relationship between graphic arts and the burgeoning Soviet cinema. The Constructivist architect Iakov Chernikov applied his ideas to imagine a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union. His Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions in Color, 101 Architectural Miniatures (1933) featured here, however, never had a chance to materialise. Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime effectively put an end to Constructivism and other avant-garde activities in the cultural sphere by the mid-1930s.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Announcer (Ansager)' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Announcer (Ansager) from Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 13 3/4 x 11 7/8″ (35 x 30.2 cm); sheet: 21 x 18″ (53.3 x 45.7 cm)
Purchase

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'The Globetrotter' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
The Globetrotter from Figurines: Plastic Representations of the Electro-Mechanical Production Entitled “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 14 3/16 x 10 1/4″ (36 x 26 cm); sheet: 21 x 17 7/8″ (53.3 x 45.4cm)
Purchase

 

Alexandra Exter. 'Construction' 1922-23

 

Alexandra Exter
Construction
1922-23
Oil on canvas
35 1/8 x 35 3/8″ (89.2 x 89.9 cm)
The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pro eto. Ei i mne' (About This. To Her and to Me) "Pro eto" by Vladimir Mayakovsky 1923

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pro eto. Ei i mne (About This. To Her and to Me)
“Pro eto” by Vladimir Mayakovsky
1923
Book with letterpress cover and illustrations
Overall (closed): 9 1/16 x 6 1/8 x 1/8″ (23 x 15.5 x 0.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Yakov Protozanov
Aelita Queen of Mars
NTSC
1924

 

Alexandra Exter "Guardian of Energy" 1924

 

Alexandra Exter
“Guardian of Energy” (costume design for the film “Aelita” by Yakov Protozanov)
1924
Ink, gouache, and pencil on paper
21 1/4 x 14 1/4″ (54 x 36.2 cm)
The J. M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Mother' 1924

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Mother
1924
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/2″ (22.5 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family
© 2017 Aleksandr Rodchenko/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Record
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 8 13/16″ (26.7 x 22.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 x 3 1/2″ (13.9 x 8.9 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013

 

 

The (painted) picture fell apart together with the old world which it had created for itself. The new world will not need little pictures. If it needs a mirror, it has the photograph and the cinema.

.
El Lissitzky

 

 

By the mid-1920s, leading figures of the Soviet vanguard extolled photography, theater, and film as quintessential mediums of the future. Eager to answer Lenin’s call to build a new Soviet mass culture in the wake of the Revolution, artists embraced performative and lens-based mediums for their democratising potential. They also seized the opportunity presented by stage and costume design to realise Constructivist principles in real space.

Film, one of the most experimental mediums of these years, wielded a profound influence on Soviet visual culture, particularly graphic design and photography, as well as on international cinema. Dziga Vertov redefined still and motion-picture photography with the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), according to which the camera lens creates a novel perception of the world. Aleksandr Rodchenko was likewise inspired by photography’s ability to energise audiences with its thrilling images of a transformed reality, which he shaped with distinctive strategies: unconventional camera angles, radical foreshortening, and close-ups. Rodchenko’s commitment to mass communication is also manifest in his engagement with the illustrated press, exemplified by his cover and layout designs for the avant-garde journal Novyi Lef.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) Cover design for 'Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts', no. 1 1928

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Cover design for Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts, no. 1
1928
Letterpress
Page: 9 1/16 x 6″ (23 x 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv' (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7
1927
Journal with letterpress cover and illustrations
Page: 8 15/16 x 5 15/16″ (22.7 x 15.1 cm)
Publisher: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow
Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Sergei Eisenstein (Russian, 1898-1948)
Potemkin
1925
35mm film (black and white and hand-colored, silent)
75 min.
Acquired from Reichsfilmarchiv

 

 

Vsevolod Pudovkin (Russian, 1893-1953)
Mat (Mother)
1926
35mm film (black and white, silent)
90 min.
Acquired from N.I.S., Soyuzintorkino, Moscow 1985

 

 

Mother (1926) [film based on Maxim Gorky’s famous novel]

In this film, the mother of Pavel Vlasov is drawn into the revolutionary conflict when her husband and son find themselves on opposite sides during a worker’s strike. After her husband dies during the failed strike, she betrays her son’s ideology in order to try, in vain, to save his life. He is arrested, tried in what amounts to a judicial farce, and sentenced to heavy labor in a prison camp. During his incarceration, his mother aligns herself with him and his ideology and joins the revolutionaries. In the climax of the movie, the mother and hundreds of others march to the prison in order to free the prisoners, who are aware of the plan and have planned their escape. Ultimately, the troops of the Tsar suppress the uprising, killing both mother and son in the final scenes.

 

 

Esther Shub (Ukrainian, 1894-1959)
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty
1927
35mm film (black and white, silent)

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia) 'Memorial to Fallen Leaders' 1927

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia)
Memorial to Fallen Leaders
1927
Cover with lithographed photomontage illustrations on front and back
13 1/2 x 10 1/4″ (34.3 x 26 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation
© 2016 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933) 'Symphony of a Big City' 1928

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933)
Symphony of a Big City
1928
Lithograph
41 x 27 1/4″ (104 x 69 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marshall Cogan Purchase Fund

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Untitled' 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Untitled
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 5 13/16″ (22.1 x 14.8 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family

 

Semyon Fridlyand. 'In the Gallery' 1927

 

Semyon Fridlyand
In the Gallery
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 x 6 5/8″ (21.7 x 16.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Harold Edgerton, by exchange

 

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Man with a Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors by Soviet-Russian director Dziga Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov’s feature film, produced by the film studio VUFKU, presents urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have “characters,” they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and self-reflexive visuals (at one point it features a split-screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).

In the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound poll, film critics voted Man with a Movie Camera the 8th best film ever made. In 2014 Sight & Sound also named it the best documentary of all time.

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954) 'The Man with the Movie Camera' 1929

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Alexander Dovzhenko (Russian, born Russia (Chernigov province) 1894-1956)
Zemlya (Earth)
1930
35mm film (black and white, silent)
62 min.
Acquired from Gosfilmofond

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pioneer with a Bugle' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer with a Bugle
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 1/16″ (23.5 x 18 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Rodchenko Family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Pioneer Girl' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer Girl
1930
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 14 9/16″ (49.6 x 37 cm)
Gift of Alex Lachmann and friends of the Rodchenko family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Assembling for a Demonstration' 1928-30

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Assembling for a Demonstration
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 13 7/8″ (49.5 x 35.3 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John Spencer Fund

 

Iakov Chernikhov. 'Arkhitekturnye Fantazii' before 1933 Letterpress

 

Iakov Chernikhov
Arkhitekturnye Fantazii
before 1933
Letterpress
12 x 8 7/8″ (30.5 x 22.5 cm)
Arthur A. Cohen Purchase Fund

 

 

In his introduction to Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions, Iakov Chernikov’s sixth and final volume on design theory, he defended the significance of visionary paper architecture: “Not without reason, however, have great thinkers of all times accorded vast importance to fantasy, as being the forerunner of any kind of progress. To look one-sidedly at the idea of fantasy and not to consider its positive role in all fields of culture and art-this is to make a great mistake.” For Chernikov the fantasy drawing offered the architect an effective means of liberating himself from convention and imagining a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union.

As a Constructivist, and like contemporaries such as Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky, Chernikov was possessed by the powers of abstraction and geometry. This is reflected in the phrase Combination of curvilinear and rectilinear forms along principles of design, the rather perfunctory subtitle for Complex Architectural Invention (composition no. 49 from Architectural Fantasies): this is a formal composition based on line (curved or straight), plane, surface, body, and volume. The excitement and brilliance of Chernikov’s fantasy lie in his dynamic handling of diagonal lines, ellipses, and bright colors, presented in a dizzying axonometric view. The imagery, unabashedly industrial in character yet devoid of any context or program, is remarkably fresh and pregnant with possibility.

In producing his Architectural Fantasies Chernikov was interested not only in self-discovery but in inspiring his viewers. The seeds of his fantasies, however, never had a chance to germinate in the Soviet Union: Stalin’s repressive regime, which effectively put an end to Constructivism in the 1930s, favored a banal architecture based on monumental classicism and Social Realism. The potential of Architectural Fantasies lay dormant until Chernikov and other Constructivist architects were “rediscovered” in the 1980s, inspiring a new generation of architects worldwide in a movement that was labeled “deconstructivist.”

Publication excerpt from Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, pp. 78-79

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 x 9 5/16″ (29.9 x 23.6 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

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21
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Hans Richter: Encounters – “From Dada till today”‘ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 30th June 2014

 

Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The oeuvre of Hans Richter (1888-1976) spanned nearly seven decades. Born in Berlin, he was one of the most significant champions of modernism. Berlin, Paris, Munich, Zurich, Moscow and New York were the major stations of his life. He was a painter and draughtsman, a Dadaist and a Constructivist, a film maker and a theoretician, as well as a great teacher. His great scroll collages remain icons of art history to this day. His work is characterised by a virtually unparalleled interpenetration of different artistic disciplines. The link between film and art was his major theme. Many of the most famous artists of the first half of the twentieth century were among his friends.

 

“One can also pursue politics with art.
Everything that intervenes in the processes of life, and transforms them, is politics.”

.
Hans Richter

 

 

Hans Richter. 'Ghosts Before Breakfast' 1928

 

Hans Richter
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk)
1928
B/W, 35mm
Approx. 7 minutes
© Estate Hans Richter

 

 

 

Hans Richter created the film Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk) in 1928. This was a silent experimental avant-garde film and it was the fifth film that he had made. The film is considered to be one of the first surrealist films ever made. Richter’s interest in Dadaism is shown directly in this work as he challenges the art standards of the time by presenting a theme of obscurity and fantasy. Clocks, legs, ladders, hats, and people undergo total irrational happenings in unusual settings. Men have beards magically appear and disappear before the viewer’s eyes. All strange manner of things are brought together by associative logic. The flying hats perform this function by continually reappearing in the sequence of shots to tie the film together. Richter tries to increase the viewer’s knowledge of reality of showing them surrealist fantasy. He accomplished this through his use of rhythm, and his use of the camera.

Rhythm is a very important element in all of Richter’s works. In this film rhythm is shown in the use of movement in the characters. All of the characters seem to move at the same space distance from one another and at the same speed. This clarifies a sense of rhythm and intensifies a sense of stability within the frame. The same number of characters or items also seems to preserve rhythm…. if there are three hats then in the next shot there are three men. The numbers do fluctuate, but a number would remain constant throughout a couple of shots. Shapes in the film also preserve rhythm. This can be seen in Richter’s bulls-eye scene, where the circles of the bulls-eye fill the screen and are spaced equally apart from one another. The target then breaks up and the circles the spread out in the frame to relocate in different areas continuing the rhythm.

The original score, attributed to Paul Hindemith, was destroyed in the Nazi purge of ‘degenerate art’.

 

Unknown artist. 'Hans Richter, Sergei Eisenstein and Man Ray, Paris' 1929

 

Unknown artist
Hans Richter, Sergei Eisenstein and Man Ray, Paris
1929
© Estate Hans Richter
© 2013 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

 

Joe/Narcissus (Jack Bittner) is an ordinary man who has recently signed a complicated lease on a room. As he wonders how to pay the rent, he discovers that he can see the contents of his mind unfolding whilst looking into his eyes in the mirror. He realises that he can apply his gift to others (“If you can look inside yourself, you can look inside anyone!”), and sets up a business in his room, selling tailor-made dreams to a variety of frustrated and neurotic clients. Each of the seven surreal dream sequences in the diegesis is in fact the creation of a contemporary avant-garde and/or surrealist artist (such as Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst et al). Joe’s waiting room is full within minutes of his first day of operation, “the first instalment of the 2 billion clients” according to the male narrator in voiceover, whose voice is the only one we hear in the non-dream sequences.

 

Hans Richter. 'Dreams That Money Can Buy' 1944-47

 

Hans Richter
Dreams That Money Can Buy
1944-47
Color, 16mm
Approx. 83 minutes
© Estate Hans Richter

 

HR Productions. Production still of 'Dreams That Money Can Buy' 1944-1947

 

HR Productions
Production still of Dreams That Money Can Buy
1944-1947
Left: Jack Bittner, Middle: Hans Richter
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto: HR Productions

 

 

Hans Richter (1888-1976) life’s work spans nearly 70 years. Born in Berlin, he is one of the most important protagonists of modernity. Berlin, Paris, Munich, Zurich, Moscow and New York are stages of his life. He was a painter and draftsman, Dadaist and Constructivist, filmmakers and theorists, and also a great teacher. His great scroll collages remain icons of art history to this day. His work is characterised by a virtually unparalleled interpenetration of different artistic disciplines. The link between film and art was his major theme. Many of the most famous artists of the first half of the 20th Century were his friends.

Hans Richter: Encounters from Dada to the Present is the title of one of his books, published in the 1970s. By that time in the West in postwar Germany there had been a rediscovery of this important artist, outlawed by the Nazis, whose work was shown in 1937 in the infamous exhibition “Degenerate Art”. For the first time since the 1980s, this big Berlin artist has a dedicated exhibition in his home town, with over 140 works, including his important films and about 50 works of those artists who were influenced by Hans Richter. Hans Richter worked with multimedia in an era when this term hadn’t even been invented. The movie he saw as part of Modern Art: “Film absolutely opens your eyes to what the camera is and what it can and wants to do.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has developed the exhibition with the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Centre Pompidou Metz. Timothy Benson has curated it. The program explains how Richter understood his cross-disciplinary work and what effect his work had on the art of the 20th century. In ten chapters, the exhibition describes the extensive work of the artist: Early Portraits / War and Revolution / Dada / Richter and Eggeling / Magazine “G” / Malevich and Richter / Film and Photo (FIFO) / Painting / Series / Confronting the Object. Important works of the avant-garde as well as films, photographs, and extensive documentary material make this exhibition an important artistic event.

Hans Richter was active in the broad field of the European avant-garde beginning in the 1910s. Not only art, but also the new medium of film interested him from the very start of his artistic career. In 1908 Hans Richter began his studies at the School of Fine Arts in Berlin. He switched to Weimar the following year. In 1910 he studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. Starting in 1913 he was associated with Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm and became acquainted with the artists of the “Brücke” and the “Blauer Reiter”. He distributed Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto” to hackney drivers in Berlin. In 1914 he also drew for Franz Pfemfert’s magazine Die Aktion and was called up to military service in the summer of that year. In 1916, having suffered severe wounds, he travelled to Zurich (“an island in a sea of fire, steel and blood”) where, together with Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and others, he founded the Dada movement, about which he would one day write: ” … it was a storm that broke over the art of that time just as the war broke over the peoples.”

In 1918 he met Viking Eggeling, with whom he conducted his first film experiments as precursors of “abstract film”. Both dreamt of discovering a universal language within film which could promote peace among human beings. In 1919 Richter served as chairman of the “Action Committee for Revolutionary Artists” in the Munich Soviet Republic. He was arrested shortly after the entry of Reichswehr troops. His mother Ida secured his release.

Richter’s first film, Rythmus 21 in 1921 [see below], was a scandal – the audience attempted to beat up the pianist. Moholy-Nagy regarded it as “an approach to the visual realisation of a light-space-continuum in the movement thesis”. The film, which is now recognised as a classic, also attracted the attention of Theo van Doesburg, who invited Richter to work on his magazine De Stijl. In 1922 Richter attended two famous congresses where many of the most significant avant-gardists of the era assembled: The Congress of International Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf and the International Congress of Constructivists and Dadaists – the Dada movement was dismissed on this occasion. In 1923 Richter and other artists founded the short-lived but celebrated Magazine G: Material zur Elementaren Gestaltung (G: Materials for Elemental Form-Creation) (G for “Gestaltung”, i.e. design), which sought to build a bridge between Dadaism and Constructivism. Prominent contributors included Arp, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Mies van der Rohe, Schwitters and van Doesburg.

In 1927 Richter worked with Malevich, who was then visiting Berlin for his first large exhibition, on a – naturally, “suprematist” – film, which, however, was never completed due to the political situation.

 

 

 

Hans Richter’s first truly surrealist film was Rhythmus 21. Richter broke from conventions of the time when rather than attempting to visually orchestrate formal patterns, he focused instead on the temporality of the cinematic viewing experience. He emphasized movement and the shifting relationship of form elements in time. His major creative breakthrough, in other words, was the discovery of cinematic rhythm…

For Richter, rhythm, “as the essence of emotional expression”, was connected to a Bergsonian life force:

Rhythm expresses something different from thought. The meaning of both is incommensurable. Rhythm cannot be explained completely by thought nor can thought be put in terms of rhythm, or converted or reproduced. They both find their connection and identity in common and universal human life, the life principle, from which they spring and upon which they can build further. (Richter, Hans. “Rhythm,” in Little Review, Winter 1926, p. 21)

Completed by using stop motion and forward and backward printing in addition to an animation table, the film consists of a continuous flow of rectangular and square shapes that “move” forward, backward, vertically, and horizontally across the screen (Gideon Bachmann and Jonas Mekas. “From Interviews With Hans Richter during the Last Ten Years,” in Film Culture, No. 31, Winter 1963-4, p. 29). Syncopated by an uneven rhythm, forms grow, break apart and are fused together in a variety of configurations for just over three minutes (at silent speed). The constantly shifting forms render the spatial situation of the film ambivalent, an idea that is reinforced when Richter reverses the figure-background relationship by switching, on two occasions, from positive to negative film. In so doing, Richter draws attention to the flat rectangular surface of the screen, destroying the perspectival spatial illusion assumed to be integral to film’s photographic base, and emphasizing instead the kinetic play of contrasts of position, proportion and light distribution. By restricting himself to the use of square shapes and thus simplifying his compositions, Richter was able to concentrate on the arrangement of the essential elements of cinema: movement, time and light. Disavowing the beauty of “form” for its own sake, Rhythmus ’21 instead expresses emotional content through the mutual interaction of forms moving in contrast and relation to one another. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final “crescendo” of the film, in which all of the disparate shapes of the film briefly coalesce into a Mondrian-like spatial grid before decomposing into a field of pure light.

Suchenski, Richard. “Hans Richter” on the Senses of Cinema website [Online] Cited 19/06/2014.

 

Hans Richter. 'Neither Hand nor Foot' 1955/56

 

Hans Richter
Neither Hand nor Foot
1955/56
Paint and collages on board (with doorbell)
16 ½ x 18 ¼ in. (41.9 x 46.4 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter

 

Hans Richter. 'Justitia Minor' 1917/1960s

 

Hans Richter
Justitia Minor
1917/1960s
Assemblage (wood, copper, plastic, iron file and string, Christmas decoration)
24 x 18 x 10 in (61 x 45.7 x 25.4 cm)
Private Collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Houses' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Houses
1917
Ink wash on paper
8 ¼ x 6 ½ in. (20.9 x 16.5 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter Foto
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

“Influenced by cubism and its search for structure, but not satisfied with what it offered, I found myself between 1913-1918 increasingly faced with the conflict of suppressing spontaneous expression in order to gain an objective understanding of a fundamental principle with which I could control the ‘heap of fragments’ inherited from the cubists. Thus I gradually lost interest in the subject – in any subject – and focused instead on the positive-negative (white-black) opposition, which at least gave me a working hypothesis whereby I could organize the relationship of one part of a painting to the other.”

Richter, Hans. “Easel-Scroll-Film,” in Magazine of Art, No. 45 (February 1952), p. 82.

 

Unknown artist. 'Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter, Zurich' 1918

 

Unknown artist
Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter, Zurich
1918
© Estate Hans Richter

 

 

In 1929 Richter curated the film section of the famous FiFo exhibition (Film und Foto), a milestone in the history of the cinematic and photographic arts. More than 1,000 photos were presented – curated by, among others, Edward Weston and Edward Steichen for the USA and El Lissitzky for the USSR. More than sixty silent films were shown, including works by Duchamp, Egeling, Léger, Man Ray and Chaplin. This important exhibition, initiated by the German Werkbund (which was founded in 1907), was also shown in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, which in those days was called “the former Museum of Applied Arts” – a fact that is rarely mentioned in current photographic histories. On this occasion, Richter published his first film book: Film Enemies of Today, Film Friends of Tomorrow.

That same year, the first Congress of Independent Film was held in the remote Swiss castle of “La Sarraz”: Hans Richter was invited along with Sergei Eisenstein, Bela Balazs, Walter Ruttmann and others. He made a film with Eisenstein, which has since been lost. The Congress is still regarded as the first festival dedicated solely to film. Back then, the still young art of film-making had to struggle for recognition. Also in 1929 the SA (“Sturmabteilung” or Nazi “Brown Shirts”) declares him the first time a “Kulturbolschewisten” – a “cultural Bolshevik”.

In 1930 he travelled to Moscow to make the film Metal. But objections by the Soviet government prevented its completion. In 1933, when the Nazis seized power and Richter was living in Moscow, storm troopers sacked his Berlin flat and made off with his art collection. Fearing for his life, he was soon forced to flee Moscow without a penny to his name. In the Netherlands he made advertising films for Philips. He also worked for a number of chemical companies that were eager to invest in film as an advertising medium. He sought permanent residency in France and Switzerland. In Switzerland, he and Anna Seghers cooperated on a script, and in 1939 Jean Renoir arranged for him to create a major film project in Paris. But the outbreak of war prevented this film as well.

When the Swiss Foreign Police ask him to leave the country he succeeds in 1941, with emigration to the United States. Hilla Rebay, artist and once a member of Ricther’s famous Berlin “November Group” is at this time advisor to the New York art patron Solomon Guggenheim. With his help they can implement their idea of ​​a “Temple of Non-Objectivity” – the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (1939), later the Guggenheim. The museum provided Richter with the necessary invitation and a Jewish support fund for refugees sponsored his long journey. In 1942 Richter became a teacher for film – and later director – at the Institute of Film Techniques at the College of the City of New York. Until 1956 he trained students who were later counted among the great figures of American independent film, including Stan Brackhage, Shirley Clarke, Maya Deren and Jonas Mekas.

In 1940s America, after a fifteen-year pause, Richter began painting again. In 1943/44 he created his great scroll paintings and collages about the war: Stalingrad, Invasion and Liberation of Paris. After the war he made the episodic film Dreams That Money Can Buy, working alongside five of the most famous artists of the twentieth century: Léger, Ernst, Calder, Ray and Duchamp. In 1946 he presented his first great American art exhibition in Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery.

In the 1950s, Richter returned to Europe for the first time following his emigration to deliver lectures. Portions of his art collection, which he had left behind in Germany following his move to Moscow, were returned to him. Numerous exhibitions led to the rediscovery of Hans Richter’s works in Western Europe as well. He worked in Connecticut during the summers and spent his winters in Ascona near his artist friends. Richter experienced an extraordinarily prolific creative phase during which – after he set aside his painting utensils in the late 1960s – many works appeared using special collage techniques. In 1971 he became a member of the Berlin Academy of the Arts. By the time of his death in Switzerland in 1976, his work was shown and appreciated in many exhibitions in Western Europe. Now, for the first time in over thirty years, Hans Richter can be rediscovered in an exhibition from Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Hans Richter. 'Blue Man' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Blue Man
1917
Oil on canvas
61 x 48.5 cm
© Kunsthaus Zürich, Geschenk Frida Richter, 1977
© Estate Hans Richter

 

Hans Richter. 'Visionary Portrait' 1917

 

Hans Richter
Visionary Portrait
1917
Oil on canvas
53 x 38 cm
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto: Galerie Berinson

 

Hans Richter. 'Triptych in Gray, Red, and Green' (detail) 1959

 

Hans Richter
Triptych in Gray, Red, and Green (detail)
1959
Oil on canvas on boards
Three parts, each: 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. (39.4 x 49.5 cm); all: 20 ½ x 49 ½ in. (52 x 125.7 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black,Gray, and White)' 1943

 

Hans Richter
Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black,Gray, and White)
1943
Oil on canvas
29 ½ x 15 ½ in. (74.9 x 39.4 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Hans Richter. 'Orchestration of Colors' 1923/1970

 

Hans Richter
Orchestration of Colors
1923/1970
Serigraph on linen
54 x 16 in. (137.2 x 40.6 cm)
Private collection
© Estate Hans Richter Foto
Foto © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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