El Lissitzky

Russian painter and designer, born Lazar Markovich Lissitzky, trained as architect in Darmstadt and Moscow in 1909-14.

His first art work was illustrating Jewish Passover stories in an idiom close To Chagall’s.

In 1918, he was appointed to the art panel of the new Commissariat of Enlightenment.

In 1919, Chagall invited him to teach graphics and architecture at the Vitebsk art school hut soon Lissitzky came under Malevich’s influence there and developed his own form of Suprematism.

He called his paintings and prints Proun, probably an acronym for ‘project in affirmation of the new’, describing this work as ‘the interchange station between art and architecture’.

He worked on festival decorations and produced the best-known abstract revolutionary poster, Beat the White’s with the Red Wedge (1919).

In 1921, he taught architecture, but later that year went to Berlin to make contact with new artists and designers in the West and to help organize the First Russian Exhibition there.

In 1922-23, with the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg, he published a multilingual journal Veshch/Gegenslatid/Objet promoting suprematist and constructivist attitudes and work; he also made alliances with dadaists and Van Doesburg, published his Supremacist picture book The Story of Two Squares (1922; designed 1920).

In Hanover, he issued two sets of lithographs, Prauns and Victory over the Sun (1923) and designed the form, lay-out and typography for Mayakovsky’s book of poems, Far the Voice (1923).

In 1923, he had a solo exhibition at the Kestner Society in Hanover.

His Proun Room, (1923) is a chamber articulated with Proun motifs in two and three dimensions, abstract but possibly symbolical; the original was made for a major exhibition in Berlin, a reconstruction is in the Stedelijk-Van-Abbemuseum, in Eindhoven (Netherlands).

He wrote extensively, and a selection of his texts is included in the hook written and edited by his widow, S. Lissitzky-Kueppers, in 1967-68.

All this work, together with his friendly personality and presence at conferences such as the International Congress of Progressive Artists (Diisseldorf 1922), propagated his design and theories and, joining forces with De Stijl in the person of Van Doesburg, led to a Central European art and design idiom, best referred to as elementarism, which was ol cardinal influence on the Bauhaus and on international architecture and design. His unhesitating embrace of modern technology contrasts with the more traditional and spiritual thinking of Malevich.

Tuberculosis took him to Switzerland in 1924 but he remained busy, editing the modern art survey Kunstismen (artisms) with Arp, designing advertisements, contributing to the new design journal ABC, etc.

In 1925, he had to leave Switzerland. He returned to Moscow where he taught, collaborated on an architectural journal and designed communal housing. He was outstanding among exhibition designers, working in the West on a room for abstract art for a Dresden exhibition in 1926, another for a museum in Hanover in 1927-28, and the admired Soviet sections of the Pressa exhibition in Cologne (1928), of the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart (1929), of the International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden (1930), and others.

In Russia too he worked on exhibitions as well as architectural and stage design, notably his reconstruction of a theatre and stage for Meyerhold’s intended production of I Want a Child (1920). He wrote Russia: The Reconstruction of’Architecture in the Soviet Union (Vienna, 1930).

In the 1930s, he worked principally as photographer and on typography and layout, but occasionally also on exhibition design.

A fine and inventive artist, Lisskzky’s greatest achievement was his propagation of new Russian ideas and methods in western Europe where his influence on Elementarism and on specific individuals, in particular Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, was marked. Through lectures and publications he developed and disseminated his thought.

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