Magazine article Artforum International

"The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934". (Reviews)

Magazine article Artforum International

"The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910-1934". (Reviews)

Article excerpt

MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

It is tremendously difficult to present a successful exhibition of artists' books. Reading is a famously intimate activity, and the artist's book is usually a visual object writ small, meant to be held and perused over time. Add to the task the elucidation of a historical context and a grand ideological design scheme, and the chances of making an uneven or illegible show increase dauntingly. How satisfying, then, to find this richly informative and superbly installed exhibition, which showcased a recently donated collection without sycophancy, explicated a detailed chronology without didacticism, and, crucially, presented books in vitrines without deadening their multi-foliate presence.

Organized by Deborah Wye, chief curator of prints and illustrated books, and Margit Rowell, former chief curator of drawings, the show comprised more than three hundred books, magazines, broadsides, and posters culled from the thousand-plus items in the Judith Rothschild Foundation collection, which was given to the museum this year. Works were grouped under three chronological and conceptual rubrics. The first, "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste 1910-24," focused on the raucous, quasi-Dadaist productions of the Russian Futurists. The slap still stings, exhilaratingly. A Trap for Judges, 1910, and Tango with Cows: Ferro-Concrete Poems, 1914, two letter-press-on-wallpaper collaborations by the Gileia group, violently announce the arrival of something new; titles like Pomade, Half-Alive, and Transrational Boog suggest the graphic shock of the nonsense poetry and jagged, urgent drawings found within. Already the next decades' heroes are emerging: Lissitzky, Goncharova, Malevich, Mayakovsky, Popova, Rodchenko, S tepanova, Tatlin. There are less familiar names too--Gileia leader David Burliuk; Aleksei Kruchenykh, who like Mayakovsky attended art school before becoming a poet. Also on view in an interesting subsection on Judaica were Lissitzky's Tale of a Goat, 1919, which tells a "House that Jack Built" story in Hebrew, and several letterpress books by and about Marc Chagall.

"Transform the World! 1916-33" investigated Suprematist and Constructivist typography and abstraction, artists' contributions to revolutionary publications, and a selection of experimental children's books. …

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