“The artist is no longer a reproducer but has become the constructor of a new universe of objects.”
In his Proun works, Lissitzky succeeded better than any other artist in harmoniously combining the flat Suprematist surface with the laws of Constructivist architecture. Prouns (“projects for the affirmation of the new”), which Lissitzky created and developed between 1919 in Vitebsk and 1923 in Berlin, are dynamic compositions of abstract geometrical shapes—blending painting, design and architecture—with which the artist reflected on the formal properties of transparency, opaqueness, colour, form and line. The use of these compositions in the social space, the outcome of his constant bid to fuse art and life, is also to be seen in Lissitzky’s subsequent employment of this new system in his architectural projects and in his book design and set machinery, as well as in other initiatives. Lissitzky’s Prouns are among his most important contributions to the world of art and the principles behind them had a considerable influence on the members of the Dutch De Stijl group and on the Bauhaus in Weimar Germany.
Regarded as the founder of contemporary typography, Lissitzky worked on book and magazine conception throughout his professional career and in 1919 became one of the pioneers of modern book design. Lissitzky incorporated into his designs many of the visual parameters he employed in his Prouns and manipulated the types and characters as he saw fit depending on the content of the book concerned, as he believed in the expressive potential of the printed word from the visual point of view.
Lissitzky became interested in photography in the early 1920s, when he moved to Germany as a young man and met a diverse range of European Avant-garde artists, in particular the Dadaists Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp. His experiments, initially with photograms and later with multiple exposures, produced at the time he took the image and during the printing process, marked a change in his career, as he abandoned painting and began to concentrate on projects in exhibition design and, towards the end of his career, on publication and magazine design that combined photographic and architectural elements.
USSR in Construction magazine
In the late 1920s, Lissitzky became the leading designer of pavilions for trade fairs and industrial exhibitions in the Soviet Union. International exhibition design encompassed Lissitzky’s various interests, such as architecture, typographic composition, narrative and movement. Later, in the 1930s and until his death in 1941, Lissitzky concentrated on producing propaganda for the Soviet state, in particular through the USSR in Construction magazine, founded on the initiative of the writer Maxim Gorky and intended to promote a positive image of the Soviet Union abroad.
El Lissitzky at Casa Milà
The exhibition El Lissitzky. The Experience of Totality features an outstanding selection of more than a hundred works in a number of disciplines—including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and graphic and typographic design, as well as architecture and exhibition design—that provide an extensive overview of all this artist’s creative facets, from his early illustrations for children’s books in Yiddish to his works for the propaganda magazine USSR in Construction and including his abstract pieces that straddle Suprematism and Constructivism, his Prouns and his research in the fields of exhibition design and publishing and typographic design, which set the standard for contemporary creation.