Overview


Cover of Mirskontsa / Goncharova
 
Since the 1970s, scholarship on the historical avant-gardes has extended well beyond painting to include the illustrated book and other forms of print media. Yet modernist studies still fail to recognize the pivotal role of the Russian Futurist book in the history of modernism. Created in the years before the Bolshevik Revolution, Futurist book art was distinctive in being truly collaborative. A small group of artists and poets whose influence is now widely acknowledged—Malevich, Larionov, Goncharova, Khlebnikov, and Mayakovsky—probed and reinvented the artist's book in all its dimensions. Their transrational language of zaum (za: beyond; um: the mind) expressed itself through new forms of writing and drawing, disruptions of syntax, and, most significantly, through its startling phonic dimension. Live readings of zaum poetry yielded chains of neologisms and pure vowels and consonants that the poets Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov selected for their sonic value. Their Futurist books were meant to be heard, not merely read. Inside them we find the first examples of what is known today as sound poetry.

The interplay of sound-word-image in Futurist book art brings with it a parodic humor and a sinister darkness that reflect the artists' and poets' ambivalence about Russia's past, present, and future. This interdisciplinary study will demonstrate the necessity for scholars to situate veiled social and political references found in these books against the historical backdrop of war and revolution.

Collections


Apocalyptic Sun / Rozanova
 
This project draws primarily on the Getty Research Institute's superb collection of Russian Futurist books, comparing these books with variant copies in libraries and museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Russian Symbolist books and journals, and books by Malevich and Lissitzky in the Research Institute's collections will also be an important archival source. In addition, 20th-century artist's books found in our collections on the historical avant-gardes—Italian Futurist, German Expressionist, and Dadaist—offer a unique opportunity to compare Russian Futurism with parallel European movements.

Outcomes


This project will result in a publication which builds upon the exhibition, Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde, 1910–1920, held at the Getty Research Institute in 2008–9. The Getty Research Institute has digitized all of the Russian Futurist books presented in the exhibition, which travels to the Block Museum at Northwestern University, September 23–December 11, 2011.