Speaking In Tongues
Guided by Voices



Elizar Morduchivitch Lissitzky was born on November 23 1890 in a village Pochinok several miles southeast of Smolensk into a well-to-do Jewish family. He spent his childhood in Vitebsk, and in his secondary school days he lived with his grandparents in Smolensk. His father was a westernized Jew with the ideals typical of the turn-of-the-century assimilated Jews (1): He acquired his place in the society by accepting a secular job, and as soon as he had enough money, he emigrated to the United States and asked his wife to join him. Lissitzky's mother was much more orthodox than his father, and first she went to ask the rabbi for advice, and he told her to stay. So the father came back, and El grew up in Russia. (2) His wife Sophie Küppers wrote that he inherited traits of both his parents; actually, Lissitzky's identity consisted of many different parts, and the Eastern Jewish tradition contributed to a certain extent to this conglomerate.
As a child, Lissitzky already demonstrated his undoubted talent in free drawing: at the age of thirteen he received instruction from a Jewish painter Jehuda Pen, and as early as fifteen he began to teach drawing himself (1, p. 14). In 1909 he went to Germany to study architecture after he had been refused the entry to the arts academy in Petersburg: Only a limited number of places was offered to Jews in the universities at that time. (ibid.) It is not surprising that Lissitzky chose to study architecture, not only because he was "ein guter Mathematiker" (2, p.12), but also because of his consequent interest in the applied arts. In a letter to Sophie Küppers (August 1923), he wrote: " [...] ich habe Notizen von 1911 gefunden (also vor 12 Jahren) über meine Kunstanschauungen, - deren Sinn und Ausdruck ich heute noch unterzeichnen kann." (2, p. 26) He came back to Russia in 1914, after the war began. In 1915 he received the diploma in architecture in Moscow. During his study in Darmstadt he visited France and Italy and "cover[ed] more than 1200 km in Italy on foot - making sketches and studying." (1, p. 8) Strangely enough, Lissitzky lived for long periods in Germany that was turning fascist (especially in the 1920s), in that cradle of anti-Semitism, seemingly without experiencing any problems with his ethnicity. From a psychological point of view, Lissitzky's personality is an interesting case: He was equally at home in Soviet Russia, in Weimar Germany, and in neutral capitalistic Switzerland; he was equally brilliant as a Jewish book illustrator, a painter, an architect, a typographer, a photographer; he spoke three languages fluently (although his written German has several characteristics of Yiddish influence), quite opposite to, for instance, his Hungarian Bauhaus colleague László Moholy-Nagy. He succeeded in integrating Jewish elements to his drawings in the Figurinnenmappe (e.g. Puteshestvennik po vsem vekam, in English, Traveler All Over the Time, is obviously an allusion to Ahasver, the everlasting Jew), and, as Nancy Perloff and Eva Forgacs point out, in a number of Prouns, where Hebrew letters built a part of composition (3, p. 4) Also in his illustration to Ilja Ehrenburg's short story "Shifs-Karta" (1922) Lissitzky uses the same motif, placing two Hebrew letters on a raised palm. 'Pei nun' means 'here lies': in them Perloff and Forgacs see the declaration of "the end of the old Eastern European Jewish life, and of the pre-revolutionary, pre-Soviet world." But I would suggest a more obvious interpretation: Ehrenburg's collection of stories was titled "Shest' povestey o ljogkikh koncakh" ("Six Stories about Light Endings"), hence, 'here lies' can be read literally, in the sense of an ending; here, again, he uses the Hebrew letters in a syncretic way, combining them with a diagram, a line of English text, a silhouette of a motor ship, and an American flag. (an illustration in 3, p. 5)
This illustration is also remarkable in regard to the superimposed palm: this image would wander from one Lissitzky's work to another, including his famous photographic self-portrait, a commercial for Pelikan, the cover page for the VKhUTEMAS yearbook. The raised palm, together with the compass, appeared on his photographs and paintings in association with the new artist, the "Constructor", whose paintbrush was replaced with a technical device.
An illustration for Ehrenburg's "Six Stories" is titled "Tatlin working on a monument" and shows Tatlin with a huge compass in the place of the right eye. This drawing, made in 1922, corresponds to Raoul Hausmann's collage "Tatlin at Home" (1920), and, along with similarities, shows differences in the interpretation of Tatlin's personality. K. Michael Hays in an essay on relations between Lissitzky and the Berlin Dada points out:
The artist, represented [in Lissitky's drawing] by Tatlin, becomes Zhiznestoitel', or "constructor" of a new way of life, working actively to bring about a new order. That order is itself given form by the Proun compositions, diagonally layered, geometric abstractions embodying the sense of dynamic change unleashed by the Revolution. In Hausmann's Tatlin, too, the artist is surrounded by images of dynamism and, perhaps, science (the map? the anatomical manikin?), including two of Lissitzky's favorite symbols, the wheel and the propeller. (4, p. 174)
The difference between these two images is that Lissitzky's Tatlin is a "constructor of the new life", while from the point of Hausmann's view he is a Monteur of the new Maschinenkunst. Both Hausmann and Lissitzky extend Tatlin's vision with a technical utility, although Hausmann's Tatlin is an anonym with an extraordinary vision (he can see the innards of a mannequin), while Lissitky's Tatlin is a declaration of the engineer-artist (he has a conceptual mathematical sketch by hand, a technical drawing on the blackboard, and he uses the compass to build the 'monument' on the basis of these materials). In case of Hausmann it's impossible to characterize the 'device' for the extension of vision, in case of Lissitzky it's a usual compass, the rational architect's device, which he himself was most used to. In 1926 Lissitzky wrote:
«Meine Augen
Die Objektive und Okulare, die Präzesionsinstrumente und Spiegelreflexkameras, das Kino mit der Zeitlupe und Zeitraffer, die Röntegen- und X, Y, Z Strahlen haben in meine Stirn noch 20, 2000, 2 000 000 haarscharfe, geschlifene, abtastende Augen gesetzt.» (5, p. 329)
He did not mythicize the machine, like the Dadaists did, with a mix of admiration and fear, nor did he praise the pure technology; he wanted to use the technological innovation for the sake of art, and the art for customer (in his Pelikan commercials), society (the propagandistic photographs), life; he promoted the applied art in its most transcendental sense: "Ist denn die Radiowelle 'abstrakt' oder 'naturalistisch'?" (ibid.) He intended his works to be essences, that would penetrate every aspect of life to create a new world. For him, the whole history of art led to Malevitch's black square; from then on it was the time to begin with constructions upon this flat black surface (3), using the knowledge of the past and the modern technical potential.

Lissitzky's Visit to Germany in 1921-23

When Lissitzky came to Germany in the very end of 1921, he already was an experienced artist with the articulated revolutionary tendencies. Since the beginning of the Revolution, he had been a member of the art commission, he had created the first Soviet flag (at least he claimed that) and designed (together with his students of the Vitebsk Art Labour Cooperative) the Lenin Tribune (1, p. 12). Also his Prouns and illustrations for Jewish books were completed in this period.
There were numerous speculations (based on a suggestion made by Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers) that Lissitzky had been officially sent for his first trip to Germany, but Kai-Uwe Hemken performed some archive research and found evidence that Lissitky's visit was not planned by officials (4). (6, p. 12) Yet in spite of this, Lissitzky can (to a certain extent) be considered a Russian cultural representative in Germany; Hemken thinks that for him the role was an opportunity to get himself known by Berlin artistic circles, and points out that the Novembergruppe took advantage of having Lissitzky's works included in their exhibitions, because by the mere fact of his participation the group was able to repel the accusation in becoming apolitical (ibid.) Moreover, Lissitzky was one of the first revolutionary Russian artists, who could provide information about new movements in Russian politics and art.
The Russian community in Berlin in 1922 amounted to approximately 100,000 residents. Due to the blockade of Russia, these emigrants scarcely had a chance of obtaining enough authentic information about what was going on in their home country; Lissitzky took part in the heated debates about the future of the USSR in the cafés and ateliers of the Russian district (e.g. in the cabaret Das blaue Vogel and the café Nollendorfplatz, that Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers mentioned in her memoir (2, p. 21)), and by doing that struck many new acquaintances, among them of Ilja Ehrenburg. As soon as the spring of 1922, Ehrenburg and Lissitzky organized the trilingual (Russian, German, French) magazine Vetsch'. Gegenstand. Object. That periodical was meant to be the means of the cultural exchange between the "russischen und westeuropäischen Meistern" (4, p. 345), aimed at informing Russians about the West and vice versa. Thus, Lissitzky accepted the role of a "messenger of the new Russia", while remaining oriented more towards Russia: The majority of texts in Vetsch' were written in Russian. Sophie Lissitzky described the goal of the journal in the following way:
«1. Die in Rußland Schaffenden mit der neuesten westeuropäischen Kunst bekannt zu machen und 2. Westeuropa über die russische Kunst und Literatur zu informieren.» (2, p. 21)
It is significant that the first mission of Vetsch' would be the information of Russian artists about the West European ones and not other way round: This indicates Lissitzky's own desire to learn more about his colleagues rather than to propagandize the Revolution in Germany. Hemken claims, that the content of the journal was concentrated on propaganda: "Ihre propagandistische Intention steht außer Zweifel." (6, p. 24) This is true to a great extent, but doesn't cover the whole agenda: along Lissitzky's declaration of the new art, emerging only within the political context, the issue included essays on international cultural events (e.g., exhibitions in Venice, Berlin), Russian and Italian literature, theatre reviews, Raoul Hausmann's article "Optophonetics" etc. Hemken might be right, when he suggests that Lissitzky addressed mainly the Russian emigrants in Berlin, but what he was seeking was the audience interested in the developing new art and in the ways, how this new art could be applied and how it could contribute to a certain political milieu. In the introductory part to the first issue of Vetsch' , he wrote:
The appearance of Veshch is an indication of the fact that the exchange of 'objects' between young Russian and West European Masters has begun. [...]
We consider the negative tactics of the 'dadaists' [...] to be anachronistic. The time has come to build on open ground. Whatever is exhausted will die anyway, without assistance from us. [...]
We consider the triumph of the constructive method to be essential for our present. We find it not only in the new economy and in the development of the industry, but also in the psychology of our contemporaries of art.
Veshch will champion constructive art, whose mission is not, after all, to embellish life, but to organize it. (5)
In May 1922 Lissitzky took part in the artists' congress in Düsseldorf, where the "Union der Konstuktivisten" was supposed to be formed; that never happened, but a new group of international constructivists appeared as a by-product of the congress, including Lissitzky, Hans Richter and Werner Graeff. They launched a new magazine, "G - Material zur elementaren Gestaltung". (6, p. 30)
The introduction to Vesch' and the fact of participation in an international project of G itself, show that Lissitzky's interests clearly outstepped the propaganda. In the first issue of G Lissitzky published his design of the Prounen-Raum, made during the Große Berliner Ausstellung in 1923. Hemken points out that the Prounen-Raum was the clear demonstration against the Weimar culture politics - not only in form, but also due to the participation of a revolutionary Russian artist in the largest Weimar art exhibition.
In the same year Lissitzky took part in the 1. Russischen Kunstausstellung. During the exhibition he presented a lecture, from which Victor Margolin in his book The Struggle for Utopia quotes:
Only now do we realize that in Europe the same problems were arising at the same time as in our country. I refer to De Stijl in Holland, the new Hungarian movement, Germany, and so on. [...] After the period of great impetus the world is now moving into a stagnant rut. Yet we are sure that our vitality and our instinct for self-preservation will again set all our forces in motion. Then not only our achievements but also our unsuccessful experiments will bear fruit for those masters in every country who are consciously creating. (6)
This made Lissitzky's position somewhat ambivalent:
Although he represented himself as a man who had participated actively in creating new art forms in Russia, he was also attempting to champion an art that transcended political differences, thus taking a stance in opposition to the Russian Constructivists.(7, p.70)
In 1923 Lissitzky visited Hannover together with his Dadaists friends and made acquaintance of Sophie Küppers, his wife-to-be, who run (7) at that time the Kestner-Gesellschaft. Sophie Küppers was fascinated with Lissitzky's works, which for her presented an opposition to the techniques and ideas of both the Dadaists and the Expressionists. (2, p. 25) From the Kestner-Gesellschaft Lissitzky received an offer to compile a collection of the lithographs and in the spring of 1923 the first Kestner-Mappe with Prouns was ready. All items from the 1. Kestner-Mappe were almost immediately sold, and Lissitzky was asked to put together a new collection of lithographs; he already had materials for it from his time in Vitebsk, sketches of the costumes for the opera "Pobeda nad solncem" ("Sieg über die Sonne"), which was a team-work by Kruchyonykh, Malevitch, Matyushin and Khlebnikov. Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers recalls that "Lissitzky war mit dem Druck zufrieden, der seiner Grafik neue Vollkommenheit gab." (2, p. 25) Lissitzky would not have found these technological possibilities in post-Revolutionary Russia at that time, as he would not have met any understanding for his abstract Prouns. In 1922 Anatoly Lunacharsky, head of the People's Commissariat for Enlightenment (Narkompros) said to a group of foreign delegates to the Comintern:
In bourgeois society, the futurists [avant-garde artists] were to some extent persecuted and considered themselves revolutionaries in artistic technique. It was natural that they soon felt some sympathy for the revolution, and were attracted to it when it extended a hand to them. [...] It must be confessed that, above all, it was my hand. I extended it not because I admired their experiments [...] but because in the general policy of Narkompros we needed to depend on a serious collective of creative artistic forces. I found it almost exclusively there, among the so-called 'left' artists. Indeed this was repeated in Hungary; it also took place in Germany. [...] Yes, I extended a hand to the 'leftists', but the proletariat and peasantry did not extend a hand to them. (8, p. 172)
Lunacharsky means that this 'leftist' art meant nothing for the proletariat and peasantry, and as K. Michael Hays puts it:
By proposing forms of uncompromising mechanization, agitation, or negation, by consciously eliminating any reference to the past, and by criticizing the present, oppositional art often appeared destructive or hostile, not only to the older order but to the life itself. (4, p. 187)
The Figurinenmappe for "Sieg über die Sonne" can serve as a good example for this: these figures don't represent human beings, but 'constructs', hybrids between humans and robots (especially in the examples of the Globetrotter and the Ansager). The point is that the Figurinnen were not meant to be costumes for the actors - they were supposed to be actors themselves, a part of the Bühnen-Maschine (the stage machine). Although the stage machinery should represent the idea of industrialization, for a proletarian or a peasant (as was Lunacharsky's concern) most probably it was difficult to understand.
In the early 1920s, Lissitzky was much more concerned with the revolution in art, then with the Revolution; he came to Germany in search for the new contacts with artists and their art and for the audience for his own works, because they fitted to the Weimar Germany context much better, and he found the desired recognition; with certain reservations he can be considered an envoy of revolutionary Russia, because he undoubtedly accepted the Revolution and because the role of such a representative helped him to find a place in the German artistic circles.


Approximately at the time of his first encounter with Sophie Küppers, Lissitzky contracted tuberculosis; the illness required treatment in Switzerland, and in 1925 Lissitzky went to Zürich, where Hans Arp with his wife and Mark Stam picked him up. From there he went to Locarno. During his stay in the sanatorium, he worked on commercials for Pelikan: The medical treatment had to be paid for. In a letter to Sophie Küppers he complains about this work: "Diese ganze Affaire tut mir überhaupt leid. Aber sie kriegen doch eine Reihe guter Entwürfe." (2, p. 37) In creating those commercials, Lissitzky put to use the experience he had gained designing book-covers for Skythen-Verlag in Berlin (a Russian publishing house). Hemken points out that those books required the "applied graphic" ("angewandte Grafik" (6, p. 54)), because in time of the inflation it was too expensive to publish books with high-quality plates; the books of Skythen-Verlag were mass-produced ("Massenware"), therefore those orders meant a reliable source of income for Lissitzky. On one hand, that work (along with the "Skaz pro dva kvadrata" ("Story of two squares")) was revolutionary in regard to the entire book concept, summarized by Lissitzky in an article published in Merz in July 1923. The new concept was based on optical effects applied to the text: "Optik statt Phonetik", "die Wörter des gedruckten Bogens werden abgesehen, nicht abgehört" (9, p. 360); both in the "Skaz" and in Mayakovsky's book "Dlja golosa", Lissitzky uses pictograms - in the first case as part of the text, in the second -- instead of page numbering. But the innovative approach didn't preclude Lissitzky from using his ideas for making some money. Probably his attitude went side by side with political processes in his native country: In 1922, Lenin implemented the New Economic Policy that was supposed to help the newly established country in its economic development. The NEP can be summarized as a version of "applied capitalism" - the young Soviets needed initial capital. Jean Leering also emphasizes this aspect in the essay Lissitzky's Dilemma:
When he [Lissitzky] returned to Moscow, in the middle of 1925, he found that the latter work [typography, photography and Wolkenbügel] was a good preparation for the changed situation in the visual arts since he had left the country (in late 1921 or early 1922). This change was, although not directly, in part a result of the New Economic Policy which Lenin introduced in 1921 in response to the growing unrest throughout Russia caused by the shortages of food and other necessities. Lenin and his advisors wanted to stimulate production, and that meant that less money was available for the arts. The newly established cultural institutions had to be self-supporting as far as possible, and artists were forced to obtain their income through the old market principle. (10, p. 58)
With the Pelikan commercials, Lissitzky makes a step towards the image advertising, that is, to the usage of a certain image or a constellation of images connected on a psychological basis, with the idea of how to make people believe that the advertised product is "up-to-date". For the advertisements of Pelikan ink, Lissitzky borrowed the photogram technique from Moholy-Nagy, which was something new, thus he could express the essence of being "modern." In the third issue of ABC in 1924 Lissitzky (in collaboration with Mark Stam) wrote:
«Die Reklame ist in der heutigen Gemeinschaftsordnung eine Notwendigkeit geworden, eine Folge des Konkurenztriebes. Die Reklame wirkt auf das Publikum durch Mitteilung, - noch stärker durch Propaganda, - stärker noch selbst durch Suggestion. Für eine zielbewußte Reklame ist außer einem klaren Einblick in das gegebene Material, vor allem pszchologisches Erkennen notwendig.» (11, p. 7)
One word in this statement (which could serve as a perfect subject for Theodor Adorno's Kulturkritik), "zielbewußt", «task oriented», seems to be the key word to Lissitzky's method.
In 1925 Lissitzky's Swiss visa was not prolonged and he came back to Moscow in June of the same year. As soon as July, he began working on the magazine ASNOVA and soon after that became a professor in VKhUTEMAS. Ever since that time, Lissitzky had been receiving more and more official orders, mostly architectural. Initially, he was quite overwhelmed with the nature of work and complained to Sophie Küppers: "[...] ich habe wirklich gearbeitet: der Entwurf für den Jachtklub ist nicht ein Plakat für Pelikan. [...] Aber nicht die technische Lösung, nicht das Problem macht mir Kopfzerbrechen - das Künstlerische!" (2, p. 63) But these initial difficulties disappeared with time; Lissitzky got involved in all kinds of Soviet art, he designed pavilions for the Gorky Park, worked on plans and organization of a typographical exhibition in Moscow (1927), took part in the competition for designing the new building of Pravda, taught at VKhUTEMAS. He still maintained contacts with Germany (8), but his principal interests shifted back to Russia. In his person, the USSR "hatte [...] einen eminenten Propagandisten gefunden" (2, p. 73)

On the Front Line of the First Five-Year Plan

The revolutionary Russia became more or less a settled state with clearly articulated goals of frantic economic development. The period of NEP passed by; the new program of industrialization, collectivization and electrification began. The impetus for the five-year plans' completion could be only the enthusiasm of the people; it was achieved by 1) propaganda, and 2) the spirit of the competition with the rest of the world. The mainstream art had to provide the propaganda, and to represent the achievements of the young Soviets to the world at large.
The year 1927 was the preparatory one for the coming first five-year plan. The main task of Lissitzky's works at that time and later (architectural designs, the model of theatre for Meyerhold, books for children, and especially - the exhibitions abroad) contributed to the fulfillment of the propagandist goals of the first pjatiletka.
The typographical exhibition in Moscow was a great success, although the exposition was limited. This work may have made Anatoly Lunacharsky to pay attention to Lissitzky. Jeremy Anysley points out in an article on "Pressa" Exhibition:
«In December of 1927, Lissitzky was commissioned to design the Soviet contribution to Pressa by Anatolii Lunacharskii, the Head of Narkompros, the People's Commissariat of the Enlightment, for its opening in May of 1928. [...]
Lissitzky headed a 38-member 'collective of creators', who produced most of the display material in the workshop for stage design in Lenin Hills in Moscow. The center piece was a 'photofresco' [...], entitled 'The Task of the Press is the Education of the Masses.'» (12, p. 71)
The technique primarily used by Lissitzky in his Pressa design was the photomontage. While the Dadaists in Germany found materials for their photomontages in the everyday life and put them into a new context to criticize the society, "[b]y 1926-28 Lissitzky and Klucis were applying the principles of the filmic 'montage of attraction'." (12, p. 71)
Those attractions consisted of a mix of Soviet symbols and a declaration of industrial development with the clear propagandistic task: "Die Presse der Roten Armee" is represented with the series of pillars pasted over with newspapers used as a background for the figures of absolutely identical soldiers. The rhythm of their arrangement reminds of ancient Egyptian drawings, and the idea of mass-production is obviously present; "Die Presse und die Sowjetfrau" is an anthropomorphic construct, a Gestalt with the hammer and sickle, bearing a quote from Lenin: "Each cook must learn how to rule the country," instead of the face. (2, plates 209-210) The "Lenin's Corner" contained Lenin's oeuvre in fifty languages. There also was a proletarian caryatid: A huge statue of a worker who carried a beam segment that seemed to support the exhibition hall's ceiling. The entrance was decorated with the three-dimensional red star and moving belt conveyors. The propagandist effect of these installations can be attributed to the mix of Soviet symbolism with dynamic presentation of facts. Anysley writes:
«By 1926-28, Lissitzky and Klucis were applying the principles of the filmic 'montage of attractions', as formulated and practised by directors Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein, to two-dimensional graphic display, as well as exhibitions environments. As 'factography', it attempted to assemble facts: an intended scientism was inherent in the term.» (12, p. 71)
Despite of the huge success of the exhibition, Lissitzky expressed several reservations in regard of the displays: "The extreme hurry and the shortage of time violated my intentions and the necessary completion of the form - so it ended up being basically a theatre decoration." (9) But actually it were these "pseudo-scientific" representations that made the exhibits attractive: Lissitzky's genius was in his ability to create dynamic aesthetic arrangements resulting in a synthesis with several layers of meaning. The already mentioned "Tatlin working on a monument", and the monumental photofrieze from the Pressa can serve as examples. In this 23,5 m long and 3,8 m wide rhytmical photomontage (in the sense of Vertov's "optical rhythm of the montage"), Lissitzky pasted side to side the Lenin's portrait and the photograph of a reporter in the middle of some gathering: "Neben der charismatischen Führerfigur Lenin ist ein Pressefotograf bei der Arbeit zu sehen, der [...] mit seiner Umgebung, der gesellschaftliche Realität, untrennbar verbunden ist." (13, p. 54) In the described piece of the photomontage frieze, Lissitzky attached Lenin to the everyday work of a press photographer - and in this way manifested the political meaning of a real life scene. The Lenin figure served as a symbol of the Soviet mythology (in the same vein with the hammer and sickle) not only for Lissitzky; for example, Mayakovsky made this symbolical implication clear in the line: "When we say Lenin, we mean the Party". Lissitzky definitely contributed a lot to the formation of the Lenin's cult of personality.
Myroslava Mudrak and Virginia Marquardt wrote:
«Lissitzky's pavilion at Cologne contrasted markedly with his earlier exhibition environments in its political impact. Unlike the stealthy manner of the Proun Room and the exhibition spaces of 1926, spaces designed as utopian 'instructions for action', the Cologne pavilion hindered the spectator's free passage through the display and bombardered the viewer with a synopsis of mundane socialism at work.» (14, p. 86)
Mudrak and Marquardt see in the Pressa-Köln, with its innovative display, starkly realistic images of Soviet life, and bold political slogans a turning point for all further Soviet exhibitions in the West: "The artist was no longer the organisator or the creative force behind the design of exhibition pavilions of superpowers; instead, he or she was implemented dogmatic, totalitarian dicta." (18, p. 88)
But one idea of Lissitzky's Pressa pavilion corresponds to the Prounen-Raum: the idea of competition between the Russian art with the West European one. Another similarity is the usage of imported materials - his young assistants were as much fascinated with them as he was with the quality of his lithographs from both Kestner-Mappen. Elena Semenova was a younger artist, who worked with others on the Pressa assembling. In 1976, she recalled:
«It was thanks to Lissitzky that we had the chance of seeing and working with the real, imported materials. This was the first time that we laid hands on plexiglass or that we used good-quality, colored paper, good-quality paints which didn't alter their colors and grey, factory-dyed pasteboard which could take oil, tempera, or whatever.» (15, p. 23)
The Film- und Foto-Ausstellung in Stuttgard (FiFo) followed the Pressa in 1929. This time Lissitzky was organizing an exhibition side by side with George Grosz, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch and others; as Pohlmann points out, the latter were concerned with the photomontage not only for advertising, but also for the political agitation. The difference between their and Lissitzky's political impact can be described with his own words written in 1925: once back in Moscow, he wrote to Sophie Küppers that the Soviet art was still in birth, while the German one only in abortion. Hemken (along with other critics) implies that Lissitzky's artistic skills decreased in the years of the Soviet mass-culture production. But it was very likely due to his illness, and his propaganda 'child' was dear to him; otherwise he wouldn't have created a birth announcement presenting his son Jen superimposed with a factory chimney of Russia going industialized.


Until the very end, Lissitzky kept producing architectural plans, drawings, sketches; in the 1930s, he directed the permanent architectural exhibition in the Gorky Park, created designs for several exhibitions (the fur exhibition in Leipzig and the International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden in 1930, the International Aviation Exhibition in Paris in 1932), co-edited the magazine "USSR im Bau", took part in the exibition of international Constructivists in Basel in 1937. The last work he completed was a propaganda poster "Vsjo dlja fronta, vsjo dlja pobedy!" ("Give more tanks!")
Ever since his early years, Lissitzky had been looking for the opportunities to influence life with art. For that purpose he went to study architecture in Germany; the architectural studies with the compass in the hand and the Suprematism, which he adopted a lot, brought him to the Prouns, utopian, abstract models for the new and better world. Along the way, he used any opportunity and all new techniques of art application; be it the Jewish books typography or the advertisements for Pelikan, his main concern was "das zielbewußte Schaffen" ("the task oriented creation").
His return to Moscow in 1925 was the turning point of his artistic life. In the Soviet Russia, he found the area where he could apply his creative forces recognizing himself as an artist in the service of society - and, on the other hand, for him Russia was the source of material, that he could promote in Germany. In this sense, he used Russia as a motif for his artistic works - and Germany as the venue for them. In his autobiography written in June, 1941, Lissitzky wrote: "1926. My most important work as an artist begins: the creation of exhibitions."

The works cited

  1. Henk Puts. "El Lissitzky (1890-1941): His Life and Work." El Lissitzky: Architect, Painter, Photographer, Typographer, ed. Jan Debbaut.
  2. Eindhoven: Municipal Van Abbemuseum, Madrid: Fundacion Caja de Pensiones, Paris: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, 1990. (14-26)
  3. Lissitzky-Küppers, Sophie. "Errinerungen und Briefe." El Lissitzky: Errinerungen, Briefe, Schriften, Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1976. (11-99)
  4. Perloff, Nancy and Eva Forgacs. Monuments of the Future: Designs by El Lissitzky, Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1998.
  5. Hays, K. Michael. "Photomontage and Its Audience: El Lissitky Meets Berlin Dada." The Avant-Garde Frontier: Russia Meets the West, 1910-1930, ed. Gail Harrison Roman and Virginia Hagelstein Marquardt. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. (169-196)
  6. Lissitzky, El. "Der Lebensfilm von El bis 1926." Lissitzky-Küppers, Sophie. El Lissitzky: Errinerungen, Briefe, Schriften, Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1976. (329)
  7. Hemken, Kai-Uwe. El Lissitzky: Revolution und Avantgarde, Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1990.
  8. Margolin, Victor. The Struggle for Utopia, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  9. Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Comissariat of Enlightment: Social Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, October 1917-1921. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.
  10. Lissitzky, El. "Topografie der Typographie." Lissitzky-Küppers, Sophie. El Lissitzky: Errinerungen, Briefe, Schriften, Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1976. (360-361)
  11. Leering, Jean. "Lissitzky's Dilemma." El Lissitzky: Architect, Painter, Photographer, Typographer, ed. Jan Debbaut. Eindhoven: Municipal Van Abbemuseum, Madrid: Fundacion Caja dePensiones, Paris: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, 1990. (56-66)
  12. Lissitzky, El and Mark Stam. "Reklame." 1924. ABC - Beiträge zum Bauen, ed. Mark Stam and Hans Scmidt. Reprint der Technischen Hochschule Eindhoven. Eindhoven, 1969, 1. 1924, 3-4.
  13. Anysley, Jeremy. "Pressa Cologne, 1928: Exhibitions and Publication Fesign in the Weimar Period." Design Issues 3 (1994): 52-77.
  14. Pohlmann, Ulrich. "El Lissitzkys Ausstellungsgestaltungen in Deutschland und ihr Einfluß auf die faschistischen Propagandaschauen 1932-1937." El Lissitzky: Jenseits der Abstraktion, ed. Margarita Tupitsyn, Munich: 1999. (52-65)
  15. Mudrak, Myroslava and Virginia Marquardt. "Environments of Propaganda: Russian and Soviet Expositions and Pavilions in the West." The Avant-Garde Frontier: Russia Meets the West, 1910-1930, ed. Gail Harrison Roman and Virginia Hagelstein Marquardt. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. (65-102)
  16. Interview with Elena Semenova, ed. Szymon Bojko. "From My Reminiscences of Lissitzky." El Lissitzky: Exhibition from 9th April until end of June 1976, Cologne: galerie gmurzynska, 1976. (23-24)

1. Yiddish films "Jiddl mitn Fiddl" (1936), "East and West" (1923), both starring the cabaret actress Molly Picon, or Elias Canetti's novel Juden auf Wanderschaft clearly show the geography of Ashkenazi emigration: Out of the Stedl (small East European town populated by Jews), via West Europe, with the final destination in the USA.
2. All information from Lissitzky-Küppers, Sophie, El Lissitzky: Errinerungen, Briefe, Schriften, Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1976.
3. Compare with the Suprematist Story of Two Squares
4. On this occasion Hemken cites a letter from David Sterenberg to Edwin Redslob, April 10 1923, Bundesarchiv Koblenz.
5. From the translation of Lissitzky, El. "Die Blockade Rußlands geht ihrem Ende entgegen." El Lissitzky: Errinerungen, Briefe, Schriften, Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1976. (344-345)
6. Lissitzky, El. "New Russian Art: A Lecture", in Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, El Lissitzky: Life, Letters, Texts, 334- 344
7. After the sudden death of Paul Erich Küppers, she actually took over the Kestner-Gesellschaft, that she had used to manage together with her first husband; yet the official director became Eckard von Sydow. (2, p. 23)
8. He participated in several events: created the "Abstraktes Kabinette" in Hannover (1926/27), participated in the Großer Berliner Ausstellung and in the exhibition in the Goltz gallery in Munich (1926). (6, p. 200)
9. Jeremy Anysley quotes this passage in his article from Lissitzky's letter to J.J.P. Oud, published in Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers and Jen Lissitzky, eds., El Lissitzky: Proun und Wolkenbügel. Schriften, Briefe und Dokumente. Dresden: VEB Verlag, 1977. (135)