The form and content of the early Soviet book: a study through the country's publishing industry institutions of the 1920s and 1930s

Lead Research Organisation: Courtauld Institute Of Art
Department Name: History of Art

Abstract

My PhD research is an inquiry into how Soviet artists, including those from outside the Constructivist camp, generally seen in Western scholarship as its exclusive innovators, have approached the topic of early Soviet book design.

I will explore how the artists of varied theoretical and stylistic affiliations contributed to the issue of interrelation between form and content within the early Soviet book, in view of its multiple function as a tool of enlightenment, an instrument of agitation and a promoter of the Soviet regime's reputation abroad. The investigation will be carried out through a study of major institutions related to the country's burgeoning publishing industry. These will include the editorial processes within major publishing houses of Moscow and Petrograd/Leningrad, including The State Publishing House (Gosizdat), World Literature (Vsemirnaia literatura) and Academia; the international activity of the publishing branch of the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS); and the teaching of graphic art and book design at The Higher Art and Technical Studios (VKhuTEMAS) and its successor, VKhuTEIN, both in Moscow and Leningrad.

One of the artists, whose work will be reassessed in light of this research, is Vladimir Favorskii, a Soviet wood engraver, book artist and professor of the VKhUTEMAS's polygraphic faculty, who has been almost entirely overlooked in Western scholarship, and whose book-related activity throughout the 1920s was in many ways a lot closer to that of the Constructivists, than has generally been considered.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Gurevich S. (2017) Construction in Space Force Construction Art Review supplement for V-A-C Foundation

 
Description My PhD research focuses on a specific group of graphic artists from the World of Art (Mir iskusstva) group, which was prominent before the October Revolution, but instead, tracing their post-revolutionary activity as a wider circle whose former members continued working. The research includes three main areas of focus: the engagement of the group's former members by Bolshevik authorities in international book art exhibitions, as part of broader Soviet cultural-diplomatic activity; their engagement in Soviet graphic art education during the 1920s as staff members (in particular, at Leningrad Higher Technical Art Institute (VKhUTEIN, 1921-30); their existence as part of a wider network, alongside art critics, graphic art collectors, publishing house editors etc., members of which stood in opposition to leftist avant-garde experiments both generally and in the field of book design more specifically. The research grant, most importantly, has allowed me to make multiple visits to archives and museum collections in Moscow and Leningrad that were necessary to gather material for all three of the above-mentioned areas of my research focus.
Exploitation Route I am hoping to contribute to both existing Russian and Anglo-American scholarship on the subject of early Soviet book design. In particular, I am hoping to restore a balance in existing Western scholarship on the subject that has, since the 1970s onwards, focused mostly on Soviet avant-garde books (Futurist and Constructivist), with academic scholarship, in turn, affecting institutional collecting in the West and museum/gallery exhibitions on the subject. Through my research, I am keen to demonstrate the degree to which the more traditionalist graphic artists' activity in the field of early Soviet book design occupied an equally important position, including on an institutional level, to that of leftist artists during the formative decade of Soviet power. I also hope to contribute to the vast body of existing Soviet/post-Soviet Russian scholarship on the subject, which has previously explored contributions to early Soviet book design by World of Art members and their disciples, but not paid sufficient attention to certain areas, in which their legacy has been prominent and long-lasting, and which deserve more scholarly attention (in particular, with regards to World of Art's participation in international book exhibitions of the 1920s).
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description In my time as a collaborative PhD candidate, I have contributed to the research of 'Red Star over Russia: Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-1955' exhibition that took place at Tate Modern in November 2017-February 2018: it was an exhibition at a public museum; attended by large numbers of general public; offered a renewed understanding of how objects of visual culture contribute to the formation of identity, in this particular case, Soviet one; it showcased objects from a recent Tate acquisition (David King collection). Similarly, the upcoming Tate publication focused around David King material, which I am working on alongside Tate curators, will be targeting general audience and allowing them to further engage with material from the collection; will showcase examples from the collection which were not included in the above-mentioned exhibition; are previously unpublished; will inform the audience further of this historical period and its complexities through objects of visual culture. Both projects showcase Tate's role as a research centre for material of Soviet visual culture, available for any interested members of the public, be it researchers or general audience, to view.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Courtauld Institute of Art - College Art Asssociation Conference Travel Grant
Amount £500 (GBP)
Organisation Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2018
 
Description Curatorial Research Assistance 
Organisation Tate
Department Tate Modern, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution As part of my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, I assisted the curatorial team at Tate Modern with archival research for the 'Red Star over Russia: Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-1955' (8 November 2017-18 February 2018) exhibition. I collaborated with the two exhibition curators on the selection and research of material for the various sections within the exhibition; and directly contributed to the curation of one of the sections within the exhibition (Section 5. Ordinary Citizens), dedicated to the theme of repressions and the manipulation of photographic material in Stalinist Russia of the 1930s. This involved selecting the material, producing extended captions and the accompanying wall text.
Collaborator Contribution The curatorial team supported me throughout this period and I was made part of the exhibition planning/preparation process all along.
Impact Gurevich, S., 'The David King Collection at Tate: Expanding the Museum Narrative with Ephemera', in 'Collecting Prints, Posters and Ephemera. Perspectives in a Global World', eds. Ruth E. Iskin and Britany Salsbury, London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming. The main outcome of this project was the 'Red Star over Russia: Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-1955' exhibition, held at Tate Modern (8 November 2017-18 February 2018). It was part of Tate's reflection on the centenary of the October Revolution, offering an alternative view of the period and its events through the prism of a specific private collection, focused around printed media and objects of ephemeral nature. The exhibition received a lot of critical acclaim in press and its visitor numbers proved it to be very successful with the general public. It was also a great example of a recent museum acquisition showcased on a large scale. It has to be added that all material from the collection is now available for viewing at Tate Library and Archive by anyone interested in it. Overall, the acquisition, of which the exhibition in question acts as a major spin-off, has, undoubtedly, contributed greatly to Tate becoming one of the largest research centres in the world for material related to Soviet visual culture.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Publication Research Assistance 
Organisation Tate
Department Tate Modern, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I have been carrying out research for an upcoming Tate publication, 'Print and Revolution', based on material from the David King collection, acquired by Tate in 2017. The aim behind the publication is to honour the collector and showcase wider aspects of the oclleciton, beyond the mateiral included in the recent exhibition (pls refer to another partnership entry in this section for more information). It picks up from a book project the collector embarked on himself, before passing away in 2017. My contribution involves assisting Natalia Sidlina, Tate's Adjunct Research Curator, Russian Art Supported by the V-A-C Foundation and curator of 'Red Star over Russia. Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-1955', to carry out research on the visual material the book consists of. This includes the identification of additional material to accompany objects already chosen by the collector; the production of captions and texts to accompany the visual material and explain it to the prospective reader. Prior to that, in 2017, my involvement included locating/identifying the objects within the archival collection, as they were dispersed between Tate Library and Research.
Collaborator Contribution We are working in a team of three, similar to how our exhibition preparation/research was carried out. Tate's Adjunct Research Curator, Russian Art Supported by the V-A-C Foundation is in charge of the project. Our workload in terms of carrying out research on the visual material and producing captions and short texts for it, is divided into three parts. We communicate regularly and I have been receiving the necessary support from the team.
Impact The book will represent the main outcome for this project. Similar to the previous David King publications, it is intended for both researchers and the general public. It has an immense potential to inform its readers of the scale and scope of the collection, with more people potentially finding out about the collection and its availability for research at Tate.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Second Year Modern and Contemporary PhD Symposium, Courtauld Institute of Art, 18 May 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Together with three other PhD candidates whose projects fall into the modern and contemporary period, I presented a paper titled 'The 1922 Fiera Internazionale del Libro in Florence: book art at the forefront of early Soviet cultural diplomacy'. In this paper, I presented an excerpt from one of my dissertation chapters, dedicated to Soviet participation in international book art exhibitions of the 1920s. The chapter supports the main argument of my overall PhD project, which considers the contribution to Soviet book design of the 1920s and 1930s of those book artists who rejected the radicalism of the leftist avant-garde and continued working in a traditionalist, predominantly figurative aesthetic. I am looking, in particular, at contributions made by former members of the pre-revolutionary 'World of Art' group. Western scholarship has continuously disregarded the post-revolutionary activity of such artists in the field of book design, with my PhD project, thus, aiming to bring to light a more balanced view of this period, as far as the medium of book design is concerned. The symposium paper in question looked at one of the first exhibitions Soviet Russia took part in, even prior to its official recognition by many Western states. It considered, in particular, how book design, including that created by former World of Art members, contributed to Soviet cultural-diplomatic efforts during the first post-revolutionary years, assisting its reputation of a cultured nation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://courtauld.ac.uk/event/courtauld-second-year-modern-contemporary-phd-symposium
 
Description 'History from Objects' Collaborative Doctoral Partnership training event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was one of the presenters at this training event. I spoke about one of the objects from the David King collection at Tate, an exhibition catalogue for the 1925 Expositions des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, designed by a Russian artist Alexander Rodchenko. The main idea of my presentation was to demonstrate its continuous uniformed reading, despite its evolving status as, firstly, object within a private collection, and, further on, as an object within a public museum collection and a display object for an exhibition ('Red Star over Russia' exhibition at Tate Modern). I have then demonstrated how my research offers a renewed reading of this object and supports an argument in one of my dissertation chapters dedicated to early Soviet book exhibition displays.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ahrc-cdp.org/history-from-objects-cdp-training-27th-june-2017/
 
Description Advisory Board Member, Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact As a current PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art, I have become, from 2015 onwards, member of the advisory board at the Courtauld Cambridge Russian Art Centre. CCRAC provides a forum for the investigation of Russian and Soviet art. Its work aims to stimulate debate, support collaborative work, and generate and disseminate research on all aspects of the visual arts, architecture, design, and exhibitions in Russia and the Soviet Union.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018
URL http://ccrac.hoart.cam.ac.uk/index.php/current-projects/ccrac-advisory-board/
 
Description Annual Third Year Postgraduate Symposium, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 7 June 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact During the Annual Third Year Postgraduate Symposium, I delivered a paper titled 'The teaching of early Soviet book design at the graphic art faculty of VKhUTEIN, 1921-1930'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://courtauld.ac.uk/event/third-year-postgraduate-symposium-2018
 
Description Overview of PhD project at the CCRAC (Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre) Salon, 10 October 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I gave a general overview of my PhD project (chronology, methodology, contribution to the field, structure etc.) to fellow members of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Overview of my PhD project at a PhD work-in-progress seminar at the Courtauld Institute of Art, 5 March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Alongside another PhD candidate, I gave an overview of my PhD project (methodology, structure, argument, research questions etc.) and read an extract from one of my chapters to a group of MA students currently reading for a Russian Art Masters at the Courtauld. A number of academics working on Russian/Soviet art were present too. The presentation was followed by a discussion on the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Panel participation, College Art Association Annual Conference, Los Angeles, 24-28 February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Alongside two other panel participants, I presented a conference paper as part of a panel titled 'Socialist Realism Reconsidered: New Readings of Russian Cultural Policy 1920-1930s'. The paper was directly linked to the subject of my dissertation, early Soviet book design. I looked at book design contributions made by artists from a pre-revolutionary artistic group, 'World of Art', during the first two post-revolutionary decades. More specifically, I considered their inclusion into government-run publishing initiatives and their consistent citation in debates surrounding the topic of book illustration, which unfolded in art-critical press throughout the period in question. The numerous instances discussed in my paper have shed new light onto how pre-revolutionary art was discussed by art critics, in particular, during the 1930s, the period which current Western scholarship continues to see, largely, as very rigid and monolithic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://conference.collegeart.org/programs/socialist-realism-reconsidered-new-readings-of-russian-cul...