Aesthetic Experiments of Russian Constructivism, 1920-33

May 6 - July 29, 2011

Press Release


Aesthetic Experiments of Russian Constructivism, 1920-33
May 6 - July 29, 2011

Tony Shafrazi Gallery is pleased to announce the exhibition, “Revolutionary Film Posters: Aesthetic Experiments of Russian Constructivism, 1920-33,” a comprehensive collection of rare and exquisite Russian film posters, on view through July 30, 2011.

Culled from the world’s largest collection of Russian Film Posters from the great era of Constructivism, the 95 examples of the medium on view represent a unique opportunity to survey how one of the most significant movements in the early 20th Century avant-garde informed a radical graphic style that has had a dramatic influence on the development of fine art and design over many subsequent generations. Most of the work shown, though originally produced in the hundreds, constitutes the only surviving examples, and few have ever been publicly exhibited before.

Reacting to the chaos of the Russian Revolution, the Constructivists sought order and felt it their civic duty to engineer a more stable and harmonious society. While their utopian ideals and rigorously experimental aesthetics were applied across the entire social spectrum of contemporary experience to every mode of creative endeavor including architecture, art, dance, fashion, film, literature, poetry, publishing and theater, this golden age of poster art has not yet received the scholarship afforded most of the cultural production from that era.

Nearly a century after they were created, there is something so fresh and revelatory about these posters, at once extraordinarily modern and utterly unlike the formulaic, mundane and uninspired fare so typical of commercial movie posters and advertising today. Outrageous color schemes, a frenetic depiction of line, vertiginous compositions, abstracted iconography, stark silhouetting and dynamic geometric designs combined with highly innovative use of collage and photomontage give these images an undeniable gravity and outré wonder that will appeal to aficionados of film and the Russian avant-garde, captivate those who are less familiar with this history, and inform contemporary designers and artists alike.

Highlights of the exhibition include seminal works by such recognized masters as Alexander Rodchenko, “The Stenberg Brothers” (Georgii & Vladimir), and Alexander Naumov. Graphic interpretations of Vertov’s experimental opus “The Man With a Movie Camera” (1929), and Eisenstein’s landmark films “Battleship Potemkin” (1925) and “October” (1928) are shown alongside beautifully restored footage from the original classic films. American movie stars from the period including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are seen in the posters for imports of such films as “Seventh Heaven” and “The General.” But for the delight offered by these moments of uncanny familiarity, the real treat is in the extent of heretofore utterly unknown gems unearthed here for films we may never see and by artists who remain as yet widely unrecognized.

Tatlin’s Tower
Because the art of “Revolutionary Film Posters” was in fact part of a much broader cultural movement to redefine society through new social philosophies and aesthetics, Tony Shafrazi Gallery is thrilled to pair this work with the definitive paradigm of Constructivism, Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, exhibited here for the first time in the United States.

Tatlin, the father of the Russian Constructivist movement, began work on the Monument in 1915 and completed his famous scale model of the colossal structure in 1920. Commonly known as "Tatlin’s Tower," the Monument, envisioned to function as the headquarters of the Communist International, was to stand in the birthplace of the Russian Revolution—the city of Petrograd. It was to be made from industrial materials—iron, glass, and steel—and stand 1500 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, or approximately twice the height of The Empire State Building. The ambitious engineering and architectural demands of the project, combined with political turmoil and steel shortages made it unrealistic for the massive structure to be realized.

Tatlin’s Tower was exhibited in Petrograd in November 1920 and then in Moscow later that December on the occasion of the Soviet Congress. The model was erected a third time, in Tatlin’s absence, at the World Exhibition of Industrial and Decorative Art in Paris, 1925. The only other time that the model was installed during the artist’s lifetime was at the 1930 exhibition in Leningrad. By 1932, all traces of these models had disappeared.

The model of Monument of the Third International in our exhibition is the first model to have been built after Tatlin’s death. In 1967, Pontus Hulten, Director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, having obtained permission from Aleksandra Korsakova, Tatlin’s widow, and consulting with T. M. Shapiro, Tatlin’s original collaborator, as well as two structural engineers, oversaw the fabrication of this model which made its debut in the exhibition “Vladimir Tatlin” at the Moderna Museet in 1968. Later the exhibition traveled to Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and Technische Hochschule Delft, Holland in 1969, and many other important museums.

In 1979, this model was lent to the exhibition Moscow-Paris at the Centre Georges Pompidou. After the exhibition, the Pompidou had an exact replica made from this model for their collection, as our original model had been acquired by a private collector from Switzerland. In 1980, the Moderna Museet also made a replica from this model for their collection. Of these three versions of Monument to the Third International, the present sculpture is the only one created under the supervision of Shapiro, Tatlin’s original collaborator, and is the most accurate rendition of his original 1920 design.

Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International is widely regarded as the defining symbol of Constructivist sculpture and architecture and remains one of the most celebrated icons of revolutionary art of the 20th century. It will be on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery through July 30, 2011.