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Ivan Puni and the Flight of Forms

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From St. Petersburg to Berlin

image of Experiment

In February 1921, Ivan Puni organized an exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin. Orchestrating small-scale individual works with letters and numbers (cut from paper as if they were separate visual components in a painting), he used the wall as an enormous canvas in order to create a large pictorial composition, transforming the entire space into an avant-garde Gesamtkunstwerk. This paper examines this installation in terms of pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary artistic theory and practice, including zaum, alogism, suprematism, Kazimir Malevich’s display at the Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 (Zero-Ten), suprematist decorations for the revolutionary festivals, and Puni’s work in running the agit-prop department at the Vitebsk Art School in 1919. Above all, this essay will argue that the synthesis of the arts that Puni created in Berlin in 1921 was particularly indebted to his experience of the way in which the revolutionary decorations had created totally new, potentially socialist environments. Yet while assimilating and to some extent replicating this experience, Puni’s 1921 display could also be seen as a protest against communism—acting as a powerful declaration of individualism against the collective, as well as an emphatic statement concerning the importance of art, the enduring value of aesthetic values, and the crucial necessity of maintaining the freedom of art, and its independence from all external pressures.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Art History at the University of KentUKPresident, Malevich


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