Magazine article Artforum International

Sergei Eisenstein: Alexander Gray Associates

Magazine article Artforum International

Sergei Eisenstein: Alexander Gray Associates

Article excerpt

Sergei Eisenstein

ALEXANDER GRAY ASSOCIATES

Throughout his thirty-year career, the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein made drawings in many different modes for many different purposes. Estimates suggest that more than five thousand images varying in size and finish--some drawn on mere scraps of ordinary paper or on stationery filched from Mexican hotels--remain in his archive or in other private and public collections. Along with filmmaking and film theory, they constitute a crucial, though largely underrated, third pillar of his artistic achievement.

Eisenstein sketched from his earliest years and was essentially self-taught. He showed his talents early on: While he was still a teenager during World War I, Russian newspapers published sharp-eyed political caricatures that issued from his pen. As a stage designer for the left-wing Proletkult Theater in post-revolutionary Moscow, he adopted the Cubo-Futurist styles of contemporaries such as Alexandra Exter, Alexander Vesnin, and the Stenberg brothers for his costume and set sketches. After he migrated into Soviet film production by the mid-19205, he began to scribble reams of sketches to plan the look of shots before directing his cameramen to attempt them on-site. Such preparatory drawings became an increasingly crucial part of his filmmaking practice until his death in 1948.

The recent exhibition of eighty-four of Eisenstein's drawings at Alexander Gray Associates offered viewers a rare opportunity to assess an even less-well-known dimension of the Russian master's works in this medium. These images served no apparent function in preparing a film or stage production. For want of a better term, they are pure drawings, personal meditations that explore uncharted depths of Eisenstein's erotically charged memories and fantasies. London-based curator Matthew Stephenson laid out groups of images selected from a larger cache of privately held materials that were related by date or theme. Some are touched by an antic sense of humor tinged with irony or incongruity reminiscent of Walt Disney's "plasmatic" cartoons and "Silly Symphonies" that Eisenstein so admired. Others convey raunchy political commentaries far beyond the realm of polite discourse. …

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