edited by Jodi Hauptman and Adrian Sudhalter. The Museum of Modern Art, June 2020. 312 p. ill. ISBN 9781633451087 (h/c), $75.00.

Reviewed September 2020
Barbara Ann Opar, Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries, baopar@syr.edu

hauptmanStunning rarely seen images and a well-constructed text about known and lesser known artists and works of the early twentieth-century avant-garde help shape this exhibition catalog of the Merrill C. Berman Collection at New York’s MOMA. Each chapter has a separate author, yet the overall book manages to convey a cohesive picture of the collection, movements, and artists represented.

The exhibition catalog’s title derives from a quote by the critic Viktor Pertsov about the close alignment of art and technology. Art of the avant-garde was heavily reliant on mechanical reproduction and representations of industry. Most of the artists were also social activists, pushing the boundaries of art and society.

The foreword discusses the artists’ sensitivity to this era of wars and revolutions, new borders and governments, increased industry, and urban growth. They made art for a changing world through activism, agitation, propaganda, use of technological innovations, advertising, and marketing. These artists broke down the barriers between art and design. The Berman collection as unveiled in this catalog brings together the significant art movements of the time including Dada, the Bauhaus, de Stijl, Constructivism, and Futurism.

In the bulk of the catalog’s text, individual artists from the Berman collection are highlighted and their significance discussed, detailing how they contributed to a specific artistic movement through carefully chosen visual examples. The text associated with each artist is well constructed and highly readable. Concepts like electrification and its importance to the photomonteur Gustav Klutsis are explained in such a way that a clear picture of his work, his era, and societal influences come to life.

Journal making was important for many of these artists and they served as publishers and editors with their output often crossing national boundaries. Lef was a short run Soviet journal in which Alexander Rodchenko played a key role. He is described in Adrian Sudhalter’s essay as a constructor. This is but one example where broader societal concerns and other media are artfully integrated into the text, presenting the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the era, the art, its influences, and impact.

Architecture is not forgotten in the catalog. The Berman Collection includes vibrant posters by Elena Semenova, a designer of workers’ clubs, theater stages, and costumes. The inclusion of artists working in such mediums enables the reader to better understand the scope of these movements as well as the Berman collection.

There is no bibliography but extensive notes, photo credits and a catalog of the Berman collection are included. This MOMA catalog is much more than just an introduction to a major collection of avant-garde art. It sets the standard for accessible yet scholarly text which will engage an audience new to the topic as well as enlighten those with more academic preparation.

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