A Yiddish Avant Garde

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Recently, I was given a Kedem Auctions catalog of avant garde art and artifacts from the Collection of Uzi Agassi (founder of Even Hoshen Press, which he started with his son in 1994, after many years working as an art curator and bibliophile). “With his knowledge in typography and book design, Agassi has a special talent for bringing together the work of artists from the world of visual art with poets and authors to create uniquely aesthetic volumes which bespeak of the highest quality in both form and content,” notes the Kedem catalog. The auction was held on Dec. 3 in Jerusalem.

I was aware of the Yiddish “renaissance” movement during the teens, ’20s and early ’30s, in avant garde literature (in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale); this included the Yung-Yidish (1918–1921), an avant-garde group in Łódź, Poland.

(The founding of Yung-Yidish, the first Yiddish artistic avant garde group, grew out of a meeting in 1918 between poet Moyshe Broderzon and visual artists centered around Yitskhok Broyner, Yankl Adler, and Marek Szwarc. Eventually, the group included some 20-odd members including Yitsḥak Katzenelson, Yekhezkl-Moyshe Nayman, and Hershele, as well as younger people discovered by the collective, such as the artist Henekh Bartshinski and the writers Elimelekh Shmulevitsh, Khayim Leyb Fuks, and Yisroel Shtern. In 1919, the group published a journal, also called Yung-Yidish.)

At bottom are typographic designs in the Agassi collection byHenryk Berlewi; at top, the El Lissitzky-influenced type illustration by Uriel Kahana (which might actually be a Lissitzky piece); and the three line up together are two Yiddish journals and a sheet music cover from 1926–29.

PRINT is back! And soon, we’ll be relaunching with an all-new look, all-new content and a fresh outlook for the future. Stay tuned.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →