Soviet Photomontage: From Photo-Poetry to Propaganda

General Programming

  • Harriman Institute
  • Free and open to the public
  • First come, first seated
  • No registration necessary

Jindrich Toman (University of Michigan)

Serguei Oushakine (Princeton University)

Maria Ratanova (Harriman Institute Columbia University)

Aleksandar Bošković (Columbia University)

Discussant: Katherine Reischl (Princeton University)

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 triggered a radical shift in the modernist paradigm, which prompted Russian avant-garde artists to abandon abstract experimentation and turn to photography and photomontage. They created an archive of revolutionary imagery, and after 1924 – a new corpus of memorial photomontages on Lenin. The sheer number and variety of the Constructivists’ photomontages on Lenin and the revolution demonstrates their desire to escape a single, party-imposed, narrative of revolutionary events. The photomontage project was a project of continuous revolution, of changing ideological meanings, and transgressing the boundaries of modern art. The panel will focus in particular on the junction between photomontage and poetry, and explore the concept of avant-garde photo-poetry, as well as El Lissitzky’s concept of the “architecture of a book.”

The panelists with further elaborate on the creation of a visual language of Soviet photomontage in the 1920s and 1930s, in its close interrelationships with Western avant-garde developments. They will discuss a broader problem of artistic intervention in politics. Can and should art influence political and social development? Does political message destroy the aesthetic component of art? What does it mean when the aesthetic becomes political?