Productive Arts! run by Howard Garfinkel and Larry Zeman is an essential resource for Russian and Soviet design materials (publications, posters, ephemera) produced by the leaders of the Constructivist, Productivist and Socialist Realist movements. The duo’s ability to find rare known and unseen artifacts makes them among the most important dealers in the United States.
Most recently, they published catalogs on Soviet newspapers – many splendidly designed by an array of designers – and specifically pages designed by montagist Gustav Klutsis. I asked Zeman to discuss the acquisition and significance of this collection.
How did you acquire this material?
We had the opportunity to acquire a collection in the US of about 200 volumes of Soviet newspapers from 1910-40 consisting of thousands of newspapers from a variety of titles and from many Russian cities. We knew from Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold that this kind of material was destroyed after being microfiched. We took the group, largely, to save the material and then figure out what to do with it. We also had access to good illustrated newspapers directly from Russia and selectively acquired all that we could. Eventually, we culled illustrated material from our original group from the U.S. and donated the remaining newspapers to a public institution.
What was the significance of such grand public statements at the time of publication?
Technology as well as politics seems to have dictated the extent and nature of the newspaper illustrations. Through much of the 1920s, photographic illustrations may have been unavailable so that hand drawn graphics predominate where there are any graphics at all. From the late 1920s on, photography and photomontage are increasingly used.
Certain recurring dates are more likely to have lavish illustrations, e.g., January 21 (Lenin’s death), February 23 (Red Army Day), May 1, August 18 (Aviation Day) and November 7, but interesting designs can appear randomly. While most newspapers we’ve seen from this period aren’t substantially illustrated, if at all, those that are have designs by a range of well known to anonymous artists. The best of this work compares favorably with Gustav Klutsis’ parallel photomontage newspaper designs that are increasingly shown in surveys of this period.
These papers seem to have been ignored in histories. How come?
We don’t know why illustrated 1920s-1930s Soviet newspapers have been ignored, given that the characteristics of good design work (in other media of the time) are present in these newspapers.
Was everyday or every week as graphically demonstrative?
While most Soviet newspapers aren’t profusely illustrated, we were lucky enough to gather hundreds that were in this collection and hope other people become interested as well.
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