Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976)

Youth, 1937

Vintage gelatin silver print mounted on board

Title and date in pencil in Russian on verso

Photographer's stamp on verso

16 1/2 x 21 15/16 in. (41.9 x 55.7 cm)

 

Boris Ignatovich was a major force of Constructivist photography in the 1920s, alongside Aleksandr Rodchenko. Ignatovich however, demonstrated a more humanist aesthetic approach to photography, as reflected in Youth. Ignatovich gracefully positioned his two subjects in a triangle composition that also successfully corresponds to the rounded shape of his camera lens. He gave the image a warm vitality by masterfully balancing depth and tone, light and shadow — a technical control of light that he developed in the 1920s. This photograph has become an icon of Soviet photography. The large size print was made for an exhibition and is very rare.

Abram Shterenberg (1894-1978)

Portrait of Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1924

Vintage gelatin silver print mounted on paper

Signed and dated on mount recto

Image: 9 1/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.2 x 16.8 cm)
Mount: 14 x 9 3/8 in. (35.6 x 23.8 cm)

 

“Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc. etc. overboard the Ship of Modernity” — this was the famous pronouncement of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in 1913, a year between the two major Russian Revolutions. Mayakovsky, among the 20th century’s most-celebrated poets, was a playwright, graphic artist, and editor of the art journal Left Front of Arts (LEF).

 

Primarily working in the field of portraiture, Abram Shterenberg figured prominently in Moscow’s 1920s Constructivist circles. As a member of LEF and later, the avant-garde collective October, Shterenberg would photograph the likes of Mayakovsky, Ilya Ehrenburg and the French novelist Henri Barbusse. He took the first-known formal portrait of Mayakovsky in 1923 that Aleksander Rodchenko would use for the iconic series About This (1923). In this 1924 portrait, Shterenberg re-photographed Mayakovsky with a fresh aesthetic approach — using a soft light to emphasize the sculptural contours of the poet’s face.

Georgy Petrussov (1903-1971)

Caricature Portrait of Photographer Dmitry Debabov, 1934

Vintage gelatin silver print

Title and signature in Cyrillic in pencil on verso

8 5/8 x 6 7/8 in. (21.9 x 17.5 cm)

 

Within the milieu of dynamic experimental artists working in the Soviet 20s and 30s was the avant-garde photographer Georgy Petrussov. While Petrussov is distinguished for his scenes of industry and technology, he demonstrates a bright sense of humor and a lively spirit of innovation through his caricatures of the prominent Soviet photographers like Aleksandr Rodchenko, Boris Kudoyarov and Dmitry Debabov. Petrussov submitted these photographs for the seminal 1935 exhibition, Masters of Soviet Photography in Moscow.

 

Petrussov constructed the Debabov caricature — in which the gigantesque artist is humorously juxtaposed against the landscape’s low shrubbery — by cutting and pasting various negatives. His method for creating the Kudoyarov caricature was more experimental. Petrussov produced the distorted bulge in Kudoyarov’s jaw by carefully bending the photographic paper while exposing the photograph. The bend in the paper is also visible along the lighter points on the bottom of the photograph.

Georgy Petrussov (1903-1971)

Caricature Portrait of Photographer Boris Kudoyarov, 1934

Vintage gelatin silver print

Title and signature in Cyrillic in pencil on verso

9 x 6 in. (22.9 x 15.2 cm)

 

Within the milieu of dynamic experimental artists working in the Soviet 20s and 30s was the avant-garde photographer Georgy Petrussov. While Petrussov is distinguished for his scenes of industry and technology, he demonstrates a bright sense of humor and a lively spirit of innovation through his caricatures of the prominent Soviet photographers like Aleksandr Rodchenko, Boris Kudoyarov and Dmitry Debabov. Petrussov submitted these photographs for the seminal 1935 exhibition, Masters of Soviet Photography in Moscow.

 

Petrussov constructed the Debabov caricature — in which the gigantesque artist is humorously juxtaposed against the landscape’s low shrubbery — by cutting and pasting various negatives. His method for creating the Kudoyarov caricature was more experimental. Petrussov produced the distorted bulge in Kudoyarov’s jaw by carefully bending the photographic paper while exposing the photograph. The bend in the paper is also visible along the lighter points on the bottom of the photograph.

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959)

Express, 1939

Vintage gelatin silver print

Signed, titled, dated and stamped on verso

4 15/16 x 6 3/4 in. (12.5 x 17.1 cm)

 

Express has become an iconic symbol for the dynamism and innovation of the Soviet 1930s. Steam and cloudy skies envelop the train’s dark skeleton. Speeding down the tracks, the train resembles a zeppelin preparing to launch. The train was named the “Red Arrow” and ran between Moscow and St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). A triumph of Soviet industrial technology, only two Red Arrow trains were ever built. Along with the Soviet metro and developments in aviation, the engine captured in Express is emblematic of 1930s Soviet industrial design.   

Unidentified artist

Cubist Head, c. 1919-1920
Sculpted by David Yakerson (1896-1947)

Vintage gelatin silver print

9 1/2 x 7 1/8 in. (24.1 x 18.1 cm)

 

Photographed are the now-destroyed cubist sculptures by Russian Suprematist artist David Yakerson. Yakerson created his sculptures at the Vitebsk People’s Art School that he joined in 1919 at the personal invitation of Marc Chagall. While overlooked in the history of the Soviet avant-garde, Yakerson has recently regained prominence, and his artworks have been exhibited at the State Russian Museum (2018); Centre Pompidou (2018); Jewish Museum (2018); as well as a solo exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Art (2000).   

 

Yakerson’s cubist sculptures reflect the rapid and exciting artistic developments of the late-1910s Soviet Russian avant-garde — a period situated between Picasso’s analytical cubist artworks, and Russian Constructivism’s ascent in the early 1920s. Yakerson’s sculptures draw from an international cubist inquiry about the nature of forms in space — and Suprematism, an avant-garde movement indigenous to Russia. Founded by Kazimir Malevich whose radical Black Square (1915) shocked the art world, Suprematism pushed abstraction to its furthest limits in its effort to express the complete dematerialization of objects in space. The artist maintains a degree of figuration in Cubist Head assembling his subject from a combination of simplified cones, pyramids and prisms. In his disdain for Classical beauty and form, Yakerson rejected academic materials such as marble to create his sculpture. Instead, he used a hard clay that he carved into directly.

 

(See: Shatskikh, A; K Mikhnevich. 2000. David Iakerson: Skul’ptura. Rabota na bumage. Moscow: Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.)

Unidentified artist

Cubist Bust, c. 1919-1920
Sculpted by David Yakerson (1896-1947)

Vintage gelatin silver print

9 1/2 x 7 1/8 in. (24.1 x 18.1 cm)

 

Photographed are the now-destroyed cubist sculptures by Russian Suprematist artist David Yakerson. Yakerson created his sculptures at the Vitebsk People’s Art School that he joined in 1919 at the personal invitation of Marc Chagall. While overlooked in the history of the Soviet avant-garde, Yakerson has recently regained prominence, and his artworks have been exhibited at the State Russian Museum (2018); Centre Pompidou (2018); Jewish Museum (2018); as well as a solo exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Art (2000).   

 

Yakerson’s cubist sculptures reflect the rapid and exciting artistic developments of the late-1910s Soviet Russian avant-garde — a period situated between Picasso’s analytical cubist artworks, and Russian Constructivism’s ascent in the early 1920s. Yakerson’s sculptures draw from an international cubist inquiry about the nature of forms in space — and Suprematism, an avant-garde movement indigenous to Russia. Founded by Kazimir Malevich whose radical Black Square (1915) shocked the art world, Suprematism pushed abstraction to its furthest limits in its effort to express the complete dematerialization of objects in space. The artist maintains a degree of figuration in Cubist Head assembling his subject from a combination of simplified cones, pyramids and prisms. In his disdain for Classical beauty and form, Yakerson rejected academic materials such as marble to create his sculpture. Instead, he used a hard clay that he carved into directly.

 

(See: Shatskikh, A; K Mikhnevich. 2000. David Iakerson: Skul’ptura. Rabota na bumage. Moscow: Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.)

Arkady Shaikhet (1898-1959)

Construction of the Globe at the Moscow Telegraph, 1928

Vintage gelatin silver print

Signed, titled, dated and stamped on verso

9 7/16 x 7 in. (24.0 x 17.8 cm)

 

Shaikhet heroically portrays two workers constructing the revolving glass globe that decorated the facade of the Central Telegraph Building in Moscow. Shaikhet’s photograph both documents the changing realities of 1920s Moscow, and conveys a forceful message about the Soviet Union’s new global position. The workers literally construct the telegraph building; symbolically, they enable new forms of rapid international communication. In literally constructing the glass dome’s steel framework, they assert a socialist framework in global politics. As a defining member of the Soviet 20s avant-garde, Shaikhet employed a Constructivist visual language to capture the photograph — as evident in the tight framing and sharp contrasts of light and dark to celebrate industrial and architectural form.

 

As a symbol of Soviet modernity, Construction of the Globe became a tool for contemporaneous Constructivist artists. Most notably, El Lissitzky incorporated the photograph into his 1930 photocollage for the International Hygiene Exhibition, Dresden; in which the globe is superimposed onto the body of a factory worker.

Petr Stepanovic Galadzhev (1900-1971)

Collage with Girls, Athletes, and Clowns, c. 1924

Vintage collage with Indian ink on brown paper

12 3/4 x 8 3/4 in. (32.4 x 22.2 cm)

Petr Stepanovic Galadzhev (1900-1971)

Maquette for the Front Cover of Dreams (Operator Francisson), c. 1920s

Photocollage on cardstock with hand-drawn lettering

5 3/8 x 6 1/2 in. (13.7 x 16.5 cm)

 

This photomontage celebrates the first aerial shots of Moscow by prominent Soviet cinematographer, Boris Frantsisson (1899-1960). Frantsisson was part of the generation of Soviet Constructivist filmmakers and photographers, and collaborated on such films as Dziga Vertov’s Girl with a Hatbox (1927) and Lev Kuleshov’s The Happy Canary (1929).

Galadzhev inscribed the words “Frantsi-" and "sson” on the collage, a pun on the Russian word “son,” meaning to dream. Galadzhev’s wordplay reflects the ideals of flight and technology that captivated members of Moscow’s bourgeoning film scene in the 1920s. For art historian John Bowlt, “Galadzhev’s art reflected the motifs of the Roaring Twenties — commercial advertising, mass communication, and the nightlife of the big cities.”

Moisei Nappelbaum (1869-1958)

Portrait of Nina Podgoretskaya, Ballet Dancer at the Bolshoi, 1934

Vintage gelatin silver print

14 1/2 x 10 5/8 in. (36.8 x 27.0 cm)

 

In the 1920s, Nina Podgoretskaya was the Bolshoi Ballet’s most beloved starlet, along with Anastasia Abramova, Liubov Bank and Valentina Kudriavtseva. Here, Podgoretskaya delicately holds the gauze of her dress that floats from her hand like mist. Nappelbaum illuminated the background by dabbing watercolor on the glass of the negative, thus emphasizing the ethereal impression of her hands and dress. A portraitist with a painterly approach to his art, Nappelbaum wrote in his book From Craft To Art (1958):

 

It is more difficult to photograph a face with regular features than one with irregular features. I have always used the subject’s hands both to suggest a psychological atmosphere and to serve as a secondary element in the composition of the image. At the same time, they give a finishing touch to the design . . . I firmly ruled out the use of entirely white or entirely grey backgrounds being too monotonous and unexpressive.

 

(See: Shudakov, G. 1983. Pioneers of Soviet Photography. London: Thames & Hudson, p. 15)

Alexander Grinberg (1885-1979)

Nude, 1920s

Vintage gelatin silver print

On verso in pencil in Cyrillic: Inna

4 1/8 x 6 1/2 in. (10.5 x 16.5 cm)

 

Nude, recalling Francisco Goya’s La Maja Desnuda, translates a painterly sensitivity to light and form into the medium of photography. Grinberg softens form and illuminates his subjects with a delicate play of light and dark. Grinberg’s nude, however, is more reticent than Goya’s and the model turns her face from the camera as if unconcerned with the photographer’s presence.

 

Grinberg was a leading figure in Russian pictorial photography who risked his life to exhibit his pictorial artworks. In the mid 1930s, Stalinist cultural policy dictated any eroticism in artistic forms as a remnant bourgeois idleness. Nevertheless, Grinberg organized one more exhibition of his artwork in 1935. He was sentenced to the gulag labor camps for his controversial artworks soon after, and was pardoned in 1939. 

Alexander Grinberg (1885-1979)

Nude, 1920s

Vintage gelatin silver print mounted on paper

Photographer's name in pencil under image on recto mount

9 7/8 x 8 5/8 in. (25.0 x 21.9 cm)

Alexander Sigaev (1893-1973)

Sergei Eisenstein enthroned during the production of October (1928), 1927

Vintage gelatin silver print

20 x 15 3/4 in. (50.8 x 40.0 cm)

 

Bedecked in worker’s overalls, film director Sergei Eisenstein sits on Nicholas II’s real throne in the Winter Palace during the production of his seminal film, October (1928). Based on John Reed’s journalistic account Ten Days that Shook the World (1919), the film chronicles the events leading up to the October Revolution. This photograph was taken just before shooting the scene of storming the winter palace by photographer and cinematographer Alexander Sigaev, who also took photographs on set of Eisenstein's The General Line (1929). The late actress and Eisenstein scholar Marie Seton humorously commented on the production of the photograph:

 

With a mock gesture of His Majesty waving his hand, [Eisenstein] ordered photographs to be taken of himself in his role of iconoclastic emperor of a new art form. But as he sat on the throne, his short legs did not touch the floor. Defiantly, he flung his legs over the arms of the throne and was photographed again.

 

(See Seton, Marie. 1952. Sergei M. Eisenstein. London: The Bodley Head, p. 96.)

Georgy Petrussov (1903-1971)

Armenian Delegation at Sport Parade, Red Square, Moscow, 1935

Vintage gelatin silver print

Title, date, photographer's name in pencil on verso

18 1/2 x 12 3/8 in. (47.0 x 31.4 cm)

 

A trio of Armenian athletes stand before a 1935 sports parade in Moscow’s Red Square. Petrussov meticulously planned his composition, as evident in Armenian Delegation’s impeccable geometry. The interlinked pattern created by the figures’ backs for example, conveys the fraternity and unbreakable bond between the athletes. Petrussov also structured his photograph as a cinematic shot, creating a deep perspective: focusing on the trio in the foreground and illuminating performance space with vague light silhouettes of dancers in the distance. An extremely rare vintage print, Armenian Delegation evokes the warmth and texture of distinctly early 20th century paper — from the soft canvas of the athlete’s shoes to the rough cobblestone they stand on.

Elizaveta Ignatovich (1903-1983)

Family of Kolkhoz Farmer, mid 1930s

Vintage gelatin silver print

Signed and titled by artist on verso

16 x 11 in. (40.6 x 27.9 cm)

 

Elizaveta Ignatovich (1903-1983) was a prominent Russian artist, whose work has been overlooked due to rarity of her photographs. Between 1929 - 1932, Elizaveta participated alongside her husband, Boris Ignatovich, and photographers like Aleksander Rodchenko, Elizar Langman, Abram Shterenberg, in the avant-garde art collective known as October.

 

The present photograph is created in a pictorial style and is a wonderful example of Socialist Realist art. It promotes a cheerful vision of the daily lives of Soviet farmers, showing a tight-knit family: while the mother and daughter work at the sewing machine, the father appears engrossed in his reading. Ignatovich accentuates the staged — and almost theatrical — impression of the scene, by framing it with parted curtains.

Evgeny Khaldey (1917-1997)

Memory of Spartakiada, 1933

Photocollage

6 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (16.5 x 19.1 cm)

 

Inscribed in black lettering before a lively young volleyball player are the words “Memory of Spartakiada.” The Spartakiada was an international sporting event organized in the Soviet Union as a response to the Olympics. The last Spartakiada was held in 1937, and in 1952, the Soviet Union joined the Olympics.

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Untitled (Meat, Fish), 1988
Series "Nomenclature of Signs" (1986-1991)

Unique mounted photomontage with gelatin silver print

8 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (20.6 x 23.2 cm)

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

The series “Nomenclature of Signs” is a biting critique of the Soviet class of powerful bureaucrats known as the nomenklatura. Titarenko especially criticizes Soviet visual propaganda such as posters, signs, slogans. In his view, the nomenklatura imposed propaganda upon the Soviet psyche, and deprived the Soviet person of their individuality and authenticity. Titarenko mocks this dehumanizing propaganda in his collages and photomontages by depicting the Soviet subject as an assemblage of prosaic signs and symbols. Inspired by the traditions of dada and futurism, Titarenko poetically destroys and recreates meaning from these signs in his collages by combining torn-up portraits, fragments from Leonid Brezhnev’s speeches, and scraps of red linen. With irreverence and biting humor, he expresses the need for deeper portrayals of human experience and its assortment of misfortunes, struggles and joys. 

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Untitled (KBG 425), 1988
Series "Nomenclature of Signs" (1986-1991)

Mounted collage with tissue, newspapers and gelatin silver print

8 1/8 x 9 1/8 in. (20.6 x 23.2 cm)

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

The series “Nomenclature of Signs” is a biting critique of the Soviet class of powerful bureaucrats known as the nomenklatura. Titarenko especially criticizes Soviet visual propaganda such as posters, signs, slogans. In his view, the nomenklatura imposed propaganda upon the Soviet psyche, and deprived the Soviet person of their individuality and authenticity. Titarenko mocks this dehumanizing propaganda in his collages and photomontages by depicting the Soviet subject as an assemblage of prosaic signs and symbols. Inspired by the traditions of dada and futurism, Titarenko poetically destroys and recreates meaning from these signs in his collages by combining torn-up portraits, fragments from Leonid Brezhnev’s speeches, and scraps of red linen. With irreverence and biting humor, he expresses the need for deeper portrayals of human experience and its assortment of misfortunes, struggles and joys. 

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Untitled (Kino), 1990
Series "Nomenclature of Signs" (1986-1991)

Vintage toned gelatin silver print with iridescence

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

From Larousse Dictionnaire de la photographie, 1999:

 

“Titarenko expose (personnellement) à partir de 1983 à Leningrad (aujourd’hui Saint Petersbourg), à Paris en 1988 (galerie Drouart) et participe à des expositions de groupe à Saint-Pétersbourg encore, avec la série d’images Nomenklatura des signes. It dit, à propos de ce travail: “Pendant 73 ans de son existence, le pouvoir de la nomenklatura en U.R.S.S. s’est transformé en une autre nomenklatura des signes qui ont été inventés par la bureaucratie pour placer la vie humaine entre parenthèses de l’idéologie. L’absurde délirant a fait disparaître la véritable signification des choses: le magasin de viande se réduit au signe du magasin”.

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Untitled (workerwoman), 1987
Series "Nomenclature of Signs" (1986-1991)

Vintage gelatin silver print

Unique photomontage from two negatives with bleaching and toning

7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm)

Signed, titled and dated in pencil on verso

 

From Larousse Dictionnaire de la photographie, 1999:

 

“Titarenko expose (personnellement) à partir de 1983 à Leningrad (aujourd’hui Saint Petersbourg), à Paris en 1988 (galerie Drouart) et participe à des expositions de groupe à Saint-Pétersbourg encore, avec la série d’images Nomenklatura des signes. It dit, à propos de ce travail: “Pendant 73 ans de son existence, le pouvoir de la nomenklatura en U.R.S.S. s’est transformé en une autre nomenklatura des signes qui ont été inventés par la bureaucratie pour placer la vie humaine entre parenthèses de l’idéologie. L’absurde délirant a fait disparaître la véritable signification des choses: le magasin de viande se réduit au signe du magasin”.

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2), St. Petersburg, 1992

Series "City of Shadows"

Edition 9 of 10

Toned gelatin silver print

Image: 16 x 16 1/4 in. (40.6 x 41.2 cm)

Paper: 18 1/2 x 21 1/4 in. (47 x 54 cm)

 

Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station (Variant Crowd 2) was Titarenko’s instinctive response to an atmosphere of deterioration and despair unfolding in 1990s Saint Petersburg, the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union. Through the method of long exposure, Titarenko transformed the swarm of Russian people pushing their way through a metro station, into a ghost-like haze. Reflecting a decade later, Titarenko wrote that “all these people conditioned by propagandistic models of representation, a palpable ensemble of smiling faces, were becoming wandering shadows.”

 

Variant Crowd 2 is a variation of Titarenko’s magnum opus, Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station. In his crowd photographs, Titarenko unleashed the expressive potentials of long-exposure, demonstrating his mastery of the artistic method. Through darkroom toning and bleaching, he highlights specific elements in the scene. Particularly stirring are the pair of shoes — a frozen calm amid a procession of shadows. Titarenko invented these technique to truthfully reveals feelings of anxiety in Saint Petersburg at the time. Evocative as both an artistic achievement and a historical document, artworks from the Vasileostrovskaya Metro Station series can be found in such collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; MAST, Bologna; and the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk.

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Crowd on Sredniy Prospect (Crowd 3), St. Petersburg, 1992

Series "City of Shadows"

Edition 8 of 10

Toned gelatin silver print

Image: 17 3/8 x 15 3/4 in. (44.3 x 40 cm)

Paper: 22 1/4 x 19 5/8  (56.5 x 50 cm)

Alexey Titarenko (b. 1962)

Untitled (Woman on the Corner, St. Petersburg), 1995

Series "Black and White Magic of St. Petersburg"

Edition 8 of 15

Toned gelatin silver print

Signed, dated and editioned in pencil on verso

12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

 

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1848 novel White Nights, the protagonist’s dream-like observations about Saint Petersburg’s architecture and atmosphere animate the city. Titarenko, witnessing the trying psychological and social conditions of 1990s Saint Petersburg, found comfort in White Nights. In Black and White Magic of Saint Petersburg, Titarenko translated the novelist’s vision into the realm of photography — through long exposure and meticulous darkroom toning, the artist captures a gentle golden light that is distinctly Petersburg-esque. Of the Petersburg light, Dostoyevsky writes in White Nights:

 

There are, Nastenka, though you may not know it, strange nooks in Petersburg. It seems as though the same sun as shines for all Petersburg people does not peep into those spots, but some other different new one, bespoken expressly for those nooks, and it throws a different light on everything. In these corners, dear Nastenka, quite a different life is lived, quite unlike the life that is surging round us, but such as perhaps exists in some unknown realm, not among us in our serious, over-serious, time. Well, that life is a mixture of something purely fantastic, fervently ideal, with something (alas! Nastenka) dingily prosaic and ordinary, not to say incredibly vulgar.

 

F. Dostoyevsky, White Nights, translation by Constance Garnett.