Overview Highlights Henry M. Buhl Events Order The Catalogue Advance Tickets
Janine Antoni
Sarah Charlesworth
Joseph Grigely
El Lissitzky
László Moholy-Nagy
Vik Muniz
James Nasmyth
Gabriel Orozco
Man Ray
Ringl + Pit
Alexander Rodchenko
Previous Next
El Lissitzky (Lazar Lissitzky)
b. 1890, near Smolensk, Russia; d. 1941, Moscow

El Lissitzky left Russia to study architecture and drawing in Germany in 1909; he subsequently divided his life and career between those two countries. In the early 1920s, Lissitzky designed graphics for everyone from the nascent Soviet government and poets of the Russian avant-garde to a Swiss advertising firm. He also vigorously promoted advanced art and Soviet revolutionary values in books and a series of influential exhibition installations. These designs, particularly for the Soviet section of the Pressa propaganda exhibition in Cologne (1928) and for the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart (1929), made innovative use of photography and photomontage. In the 1930s, Lissitzky worked in design cooperatives on projects such as USSR Building Socialism (1933) and Industry of Socialism (1935), as well as Soviet pavilions at World's Fairs in Paris (1937) and New York (1939).

The Constructor, 1924
Gelatin-silver print photomontage, 3 x 3 1/2 inches (7.6 x 8.9 cm)

One of a series of self-portraits made in this year, The Constructor became an emblematic image for Lissitzky and remains a compelling symbol of his era. With unwavering confidence, head, hand, and instruments are conjoined in a condensed proclamation of the world's constructive future. Insight, passing through the eye, is transmitted instantaneously to the hand and through it into the marks of a new language. Lissitzky repeated the image of a hand holding a compass several times in the 1920s, in advertisements for modern manufacture and modern revolution alike. Here, the compass has traced an arc that inadvertently recalls the halo on a Russian icon, strengthening the impression of this unshakable visionary as a saint or prophet of the new world order. —Matthew S. Witkovsky