Lissitzky, Lazar Markovich [El]: RUSSLAND [Die Rekonstruktion der Architektur in der Sowjetunion]. Vienna: Anton Schroll & Co., 1930. [Neues Bauen in der Welt no. 1]

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Die Rekonstruktion der Architektur in der Sowjetunion

Lazar Markovich (El) Lissitzky

Lazar Markovich (El) Lissitzky: RUSSLAND [Die Rekonstruktion der Architektur in der Sowjetunion]. Vienna: Anton Schroll & Co., 1930. First edition [Neues Bauen in der Welt no. 1]. Text in German. Quarto. Plain card boards with French folded photo illustrated dust jacket attached at spine [as issued]. 103 pp. 104 black and white relief halftones on coated off-white wove paper. Photomontage wrappers and period correct page design by El Lissitzky. Spine joints lightly rubbed and trivial wear to spine ends. Architectural historians’ bookplate to front endpaper. A nearly fine, fresh copy of a title sought by multiple constituencies. Rare thus.

9.125 x 11.437 (23.1 x 29 cm) softcover book subtitled The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union—volume one of the three-volume ‘New Building in the World’ series. Amerika by Richard J. Neutra and Frankreich by Roger Ginburger completed the series.

“The birth of the machine marked the beginning of the technical revolution, which destroyed craftwork and became determinant for large modern industry. Within the course of a century, all essential processes were reorganized on the basis of the new production systems. Today, technology has revolutionized not only social and economic, but also aesthetic, development. In Western Europe and America, this revolution has produced the basic elements of new architecture.” —El Lissitzky

Kurt Schwitters published El Lissitzky’s The Topography Of Typography in Merz no. 4, 1923:

  1.  The words on the printed surface are taken in by seeing, not by hearing.
  2. One communicates meanings through the convention of words; meaning attains form through letters.
  3. Economy of expression: optics not phonetics.
  4. The design of the book-space, set according to the constraints of printing mechanics, must correspond to the tensions and pressures of content.
  5. The design of the book-space using process blocks which issue from the new optics. The supernatural reality of the perfected eye.
  6. The continuous sequence of pages: the bioscopic book.
  7. The new book demands the new writer. Inkpot and quill-pen are dead.
  8. The printed surface transcends space and time. The printed surface, the infinity of books, must be transcended.

“The idea for this collection comes from a project undertaken by Schroll publishers, whose intention was to carry on a long-standing family tradition by drawing on its own publications about modern architecture . . .

“We set to work only after having identified the best way to integrate the existing literature. The editor invited several figures who were active in the modern architecture movement to participate; he asked them to bring to light the constructive, formal and economic elements that had ushered in, promoted and led to the full establishment of modern construction.

“In any case, the collection is based on sincere representation of the new style’s artistic forms and social assumptions. — From Joseph Gantner’s foreword to Russland, Frankfurt am Main, October 1929

Lazar Markovich (El) Lissitzky (1890 –1941) was an artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant-garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.

Lissitzky was born in 1890 to an educated middle-class Jewish family in Pochinok, Smolensk Province, Russia. He grew up in Vitebsk, a small Jewish town in Belorussia, where he took art lessons in 1903 from Russian painter Iurii (Yehuda) Moiseevich Pen, who also taught Marc Chagall. In 1909, after being turned down by the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, Lissitzky left Russia for the first time to enroll at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, Germany, where he studied architectural engineering. During his studies, in 1912 he traveled in Germany and also to France and Italy, but was forced to return to Russia during the summer of 1914, after the outbreak of World War I. He enrolled as a student of engineering and architecture at the Riga Polytechnical Institute [Rizhskii politekhnicheskii institut], temporarily quartered in Moscow, and received his diploma on 3 June 1918 with the degree of engineer-architect. In 1915-16 he worked in various architectural offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In 1916 Lissitzky became deeply involved in a Russian national movement to create a revival of Yiddish culture for modern Russian Jews. With the artist Issachar Ryback, he set off on an expedition organized by the Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society [Evreiskoe istorichesko-etnograficheskoe obshchestvo] to study and record the ornamentation and inscriptions in synagogues located along the Dnieper River. Following the February Revolution of 1917, Lissitzky moved from Moscow to Kiev where he devoted himself to the illustration of Yiddish books, especially for children, and organised and submitted work for exhibitions of Jewish art in Moscow. In early 1919, he helped found the publishing house Kultur-Lige, which became a leading force in the dissemination of Yiddish culture in Ukraine. Toward the end of his stay in Kiev, Lissitzky worked for the art section of the local branch of IZO Narkompros.

Lissitzky's move in July 1919 from the relative isolation of the Bolshevik-controlled city of Kiev back to Vitebsk brought with it a shift in focus from Yiddish culture to architecture and book design. At the invitation of Marc Chagall, Lissitzky began a new position teaching architecture, graphic arts, and printing at the Vitebsk Popular Art Institute. In September, he was joined by Kazimir Malevich, whose system of nonobjective art, suprematism, inspired Lissitzky to take up painting and to invent his own form of abstract art, which he named Proun [Proekt utverzhdenia novogo; Project for the Affirmation of the New] in 1920. Propaganda also became a more overt part of Lissitzky's artistic mission at this time; during the civil war, he worked in the suprematist collective UNOVIS [Affirmers of the New Art] as a designer of agitational posters meant to incite workers back to the factory benches and to rally Jews around Bolshevism.

After disagreements between Chagall and Malevich led to the disbandment of the Institute in 1921, Lissitzky returned to Moscow to teach architecture at the newly established VKhUTEMAS. This was a period of great artistic ferment and debate in Moscow. Lissitzky's arrival coincided with the emergence of the radical First Working Group of Constructivists, which advocated a utilitarian and socialist platform of art for industry. In September 1921, at INKhUK, Lissitzky put forth his own program in an important lecture, outlining the connections between suprematist painting and the principles of space and construction in his Proun works.

In December 1921, Lissitzky left Russia for Berlin, by way of Warsaw, dispatched by the Soviet government to establish cultural contacts between Soviet and German artists. In 1922 he collaborated with the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg on producing two issues of the short-lived periodical Veshch/Objet/Gegenstand; met the typographer Jan Tschichold who became his life-long friend. In May 1922 Lissitzky participated in the Congress of International Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf; followed by the Congress of the Constructivists and Dadaists in Weimar in September, where he met the Dada artist Kurt Schwitters. He had a minor role in setting up the First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin in October, when he also met Sophie Küppers, who had been the artistic director of the Kestner Society in Hanover, founded by her recently deceased husband Paul Erich Küppers to support and promote the German avant-garde. In December 1922 he delivered an important lecture in Berlin on Soviet art, the next year followed by the lectures in Rotterdam, Utrecht, The Hague and at the Kestner Society. In 1923, Lissitzky also shortly joined the editorial board of Hans Richter’s journal G; became a member of the De Stijl group; and joined ASNOVA (Association of the New Architects), an organization founded in Moscow by Nikolai Ladovsky, Nikolai Dokuchaev and Vladimir Krinsky, assuming responsibility for developing connections with foreign architects.

In October 1923 he was taken ill with acute pneumonia, a few weeks later diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, and in February 1924 relocated to a sanatorium near Locarno, Switzerland, where, with the help of his future wife Sophie, he produced publications and photographs at a remarkable pace: edited the architectural review ABC: Beiträge zum Bauen with the Dutch architect Mart Stam and the Swiss architect Emil Roth; produced advertising designs for Gunther Wagner's Pelikan office supply company; and with the technical help of Roth, began work on the Wolkenbügel [Cloud Iron], a horizontally expanding skyscraper intended for the Nikitsky Square in Moscow. In November 1924 the Swiss authorities turned down his request to renew his visa, but grant him a six-month extension "on humanitarian grounds."

In June 1925 Lissitzky returned to Moscow via St Petersburg. In January 1926 he was appointed head of the Department of Furniture and Interior Design for the wood and metal workshop at VKhUTEMAS. Later in June he received assignment from Narkompros to travel to Dresden, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Hamburg, and Lübeck to study modern architecture. In Germany, he was commissioned by the directorate of the International Art Exhibition in Dresden to design the Raum für konstruktive Kunst [Room for Constructivist Art] (1926), and by Alexander Dorner to design the Kabinett der Abstrakten [Abstract Cabinet] for the Provinzialmuseum (Sprengel Museum) in Hanover (1927–28). In collaboration with Ladovsky, Lissitzky published the single issue of the architectural review ASNOVA in Moscow, 1926.

By 1927, with the success of his design for the All-Union Printing Trades Exhibition in Moscow, Lissitzky had became a much sought-after propagandist for the Stalinist regime, realising the Soviet Pavilion at the International Press Exhibition in Cologne (1928), the Soviet Room at the Film and Photo Exhibition in Stuttgart (1929), the Soviet Pavilion at the International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden (1930), the Soviet section at the International Fur Trade Exhibition in Leipzig (1930), and the Gorky Park of Culture and Rest in Moscow (1931).

On 27 January 1927 Lissitzky married Sophie Küppers; his son, Jen, was born on 12 October 1930; and the next year Sophie’s older sons come to Russia to live with her and Lissitzky in the village of Khodnya, thirty miles from Moscow. During a 1928 vacation in Austria and Paris Lissitzky met Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger and Le Corbusier.

In 1932 Lissitzky signed his first contract with the editors of USSR im Bau [USSR in Construction], a Soviet propaganda publication intended for Western audiences and published in Russian, English, German, and French; became one of the principal artists for the journal, along with Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, and Solomon Telingater; designed seventeen issues, ten of them in collaboration with Sophie Küppers. In 1934 he was appointed chief artist for the Agricultural Exhibition of the Soviet Union in Moscow. During 1935-36 Lissitzky was frequently hospitalized; convalesced in a sanatorium in the Caucasus. In 1940 he was appointed chief artist for the Soviet Pavilion at the Belgrade International Exhibition, a project left unfinished due to the outbreak of World War II. In 1941 he worked on anti-Nazi posters and other war-related projects until his death in Moscow on 30 December. [1211217]