Gustav Klucis: postcard for Moscow Spartakiada 1928

Gustav Klucis: postcard for Moscow Spartakiada 1928

Gustav Klucis is among the four artists (also Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausman, El Lissitzky) who claim to have invented the political photo-montage around 1918. His graphically sophisticated montages have more in common with modern graphic design than with art-agitprop, and there is no doubt that Klucis brought a considerable professional talent to his work for the Revolution. He became a professor of colour theory at the art school where he studied (VKhUTEMAS in Moscow), and developed multimedia designs for the Agitprop programme. Despite his loyalty to the Communist cause he was executed as a Latvian by Stalin in 1938. His wife and partner Valentina Kulagina only found out his fate in 1989.
Klucis is a one of the great early 20th century multimedia artists, with his wife Valentina Kulagina designing some of the most technically sophisticated photo-graphics of the period (ranking with Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s photoplastics), and sketching and designing all kinds of rostrums and PA system stands for the AGITPROP education and propaganda programme.

In an era used to digital photo-montage and object-oriented graphic design software, its hard to understand just how difficult it was to produce this kind of integration of photography and graphics for the dominant letterpress printing technology of the time. The creation of halftone zinc plates from the original photographs, the cutting-out and trimming of these metal plates, and the mounting of halftone with line-block graphics on a type-high chunk of plywood, had none of the ease and fluidity of 21st century processes. The fact that they broke new ground integrating contemporary zeitgeist-design with photo-montage (although there are precedents by the Reutlinger Studio in the first decade of the 20th century) helps us ignore the technical crudity of the printed image, and recognise the brilliant innovations of Klucis, Rodchenko, the Stenberg brothers and others during this period of radical innovation.

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