Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented
A hundred years ago, alongside shifts in industry and technology, a devastating war, and the rise of fascism, artists across Europe decided that the center could not hold. The world needed a new visual language in order to construct a world that didn’t yet exist. And so they took on the parlance of industry: they were “engineers,” “constructors,” “workers.” Marking the acquisition of a trove of works from the collection of Merill C. Berman, this exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, aptly titled "Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented," traces the ways in which those artists harnessed technological and societal changes to create new kinds of art.
Abstraction, retooled for radical ends, was one possibility for that new language. The red square, a favored motif of Soviet art, threads through the exhibition, landing prominently in Liubov Popova’s costume design in Production Clothing for Actor No. 7 (Prozodezhda aktera No. 7) (1922). Photomontage was another—Hannah Höch’s Untitled (Dada) (1922) is a shining example. In line with the ethos of marrying art and life, a plethora of magazine covers, voting posters, and advertisements appear in this exhibition: highlights include an imaginative poster for a housing project by Piet Zwart, in which letters metamorphose across the page; a poster for a car show by Kurt Schwitters; and a graphic ad for chocolate by Alexsandr Rodchenko.
Liubov Popova, Production Clothing for Actor No. 7 (Prozodezhda aktera No. 7), 1922 (inscribed 1921). Gouache, cut-and-pasted colored paper, ink, and pencil on paper, 12 15/16 × 9 1/8 inches. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Merrill C. Berman Collection.