El Lissitzky was one of the most highly regarded artists in Europe in his day. Trained in architecture in Germany, and book illustration and painting in Russia (the latter under Suprematist leader Kazimir Malevich), Lissitzky had expertise across several disciplines. He was a participant in the International Constructivist Congress in 1922, a foundational gathering of artists in Düsseldorf, and assembled influential overviews of the latest Russian and European avant-garde movements for books and exhibitions during the early 1920s. Lissitzky was among the first avant-gardists to revive the photogram or cameraless photographic image, combining this technique with experiments in montage to generate fantastic portraits and design proposals. Largely using photography, Lissitzky also rethought the illustrated book as an architectural form, to be tabbed through, unfolded in all directions, and made into a fully three-dimensional object. These many ideas were deployed in the service of artists and arts organizations, as well as, above all, institutions of the Soviet state, on whose behalf Lissitzky was committed to “influencing the human psyche” collectively and in the public realm. He survived the reversals of fortune suffered by so many politically committed artists in the 1930s but had chronically poor health and died of tuberculosis.
El Lissitzky. Cover for Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold, Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye), 1929. On extended loan from Robert and June Leibowits.