The book, used to disseminate written knowledge, broadens its use as a format and develops variations as it becomes an object of art. Therefore, there are differences between the livre d’artiste and artist's book - the first contains etchings, lithographs, screen prints and xylographs engraved by hand, and is published in limited, numbered editions that are intended for collectors. One of the earliest examples is Pierre Bonnard's Parallèlement (1900), containing poems by Paul Verlaine. However, the artist's book is developed later; the artist that devises it is interested in the book as a format and its access to a wider public with large print runs at a low cost. Twenty-six Gasoline Stations (1962) by Ed Ruscha is is one of the first examples of this genre.
This exhibition represents the greatest display of the history of Russian avant-garde books to date. It brings together three hundred and fifty livre d’artiste dated between 1910 and 1934, a time when avant-garde movements flourish in Russia as they encompasse waves of modern art that predominate Western Europe; for instance, French Cubism, Italian Futurism, German Expressionism and Dutch Neo-plasticism. Equally, they combine with Russia's own movements, such as Cubo-Futurism, Constructivism and Suprematism. Around this time, artists, poets, architects, novelists, photographers, set designers and playwrights unite to produce work that is key to 20th century art.
The exhibition is divided into three large sections entitled, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste 1910 - 1924”, “Transform the World! 1916 -1933” and “Building Socialism 1924 - 1934”. These sections look at the early avant-garde manifesto, the Social Realism propaganda under Stalin and the 1917 Revolution and its repercussions.
Russian artists are no strangers to the literary revivals taking place in France with Stéphane Mallarmé and Guillaume Apollinaire, in Italy through Filippo Tommaso Marinetti or Dada in Switzerland and Germany. This is in addition to the traditions of icon painting, calligraphy painting and the popular luboks and xylographs. Furthermore, the experimentation with the graphic identity of words leads to what is known as Zaum, a poetic form of abstraction that has been translated as “beyond” or “behind”. Consequently, Russian books break away from norms of production. Their handmade appearance and innovative nature, for instance printed manuscripts, stamps with rubber or potato seals, illustrations with margins that hold discourse with the text, the blending of images, the use of collage, additive technique and pictorial traces all represent a full-scale revolution in the concept of a book.
Aleksander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Varvara Stepanova apply Constructivism in the visual experimentation with book covers. The associations between the painter Mikhail Larionov and the poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, the latter with his wife, the painter Olga Rozanova, and the collaboration between Rodchenko and Vladimir Mayakovsky give rise to some of the volumes present in the exhibition, along with a comprehensive catalogue, a key bibliographical reference on the subject in Spanish.
Together with the books by masters such as Kazimir Malevich, Rozanova, El Lissitzky and Rodchenko, further publications from other areas of interest are exhibited, such as material from provinces, children's literature, architecture and Jewish texts, all of which belong to the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Museum of Modern Art, New York (March 28 - May 21, 2002)
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (October 25, 2002 - January 19, 2003)
Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (September 24, 2003 - January 25, 2004)