Other Currencies

Futurism for Children

Group of nine works published by the Artel "Segodnia" futurist publishing collective.

Petrograd: “Segodnia,” [1918–1919]. Octavos (ca. 20.3 × 15 cm). Original staple-stitched linocut-printed wrappers; [4] pp. (not including wrappers). Linocut-printed publisher’s device to rear wrappers. All with numerous vignettes and larger, sometimes full-page, illustrations throughout the text. Overall very good; a few volumes with light spotting or light wear to spine.

The futurist publishing collective Artel “Segodnia” (Artist Collective “Today”; 1918–1919) printed children’s books, poetry, and lubki by left-leaning artists. The avant-garde artist Vera Ermolaeva founded and operated the collective out of her apartment at 4 Baskov Lane in Petrograd in the early days of the Russian Civil War. A contemporary reviewer wrote: “…the destruction of print culture gave birth to a new form of “kustarny” (hand-crafted) art publication. A collective of writers and artists has formed in St. Petersburg. They write, and make linocuts, typeset and print everything themselves. One can find solace in the fact that the current crisis forces us to return to the currently cheaper method of old-fashioned handmade craftsmanship” (“Tvorchestvo,” no. 4, Kharkov, 1919). Inspired in equal parts by futurist experiments in bookmaking and wartime paper and ink shortages, this artist collective was less an aesthetic grouping and more an “art production unit” with “work aimed at the consumer.” Its goal was to reinvigorate children’s book publishing and to make new books affordable. Printed on rough paper, their hand-crafted linoleum print books with images that communicated an “unaccustomed sense of displacement” were typically made of four folded leaves, in 1000 copies, with 125 copies hand-colored by the artists. “Segodnia” published fifteen books in all. With their “emphatic simplicity” and a “dominance of unstable diagonal lines” the books “accentuated the formalist-primitivist element in the greater avant-garde project” (Evgeny Steiner, Stories for Little Comrades, pp. 13–22). The artists’ use of linoleum blocks to print the image and sometimes the text were forerunners to other hand-crafted print projects of the period such as the famous Petrograd ROSTA windows. Although short-lived, the activities of “Segodnia” became a path-breaking event in the history of the Soviet children’s book. Many of the artists from the collective, including Ermolaeva herself, went on to work for Leningrad Detgiz, a pioneer in children’s book publishing. Other artists in the group included Iurii Annenkov, Natan Al’tman, Nikolai Lapshin, Elena Turova, Nadezhda Liubavina, with texts by Aleksei Remizov, Mikhail Kuzmin, Sofiia Dubnova, Sergei Esenin, Evgenii Zamiatin, Natan Vengerov, Ivan Sokolov-Mikitov.

A graphic artist, painter and illustrator, Vera Ermolaeva (1893–1938) was one of the most energetic members of the Russian avant-garde art community. She studied art in St. Petersburg with Mikhail Bernshtein (alongside Tatlin, Shklovsky, and Altman), later traveling to Paris to study cubism. In 1915 she became one of the founding members of the futurist group “Bloodless murder” which published an eponymous journal “similar to the futurist publications of Kruchenykh.” Ermolaeva held a deep interest in folk art and “primitive forms,” graduating with a degree in Archeology from St. Petersburg University in 1917. In 1918, she founded Artel “Segodnia” with the objective of creating affordable illustrated editions of works by “left poets” for children. The group also organized cultural evenings for children, decorating these with “enormous drawings of animals and papier mache sculptures,” as well as “live newspaper” evenings, the first of which included readings by Eikhenbaum, Akhmatova, Kuzmin, and Zamiatin (Marzio Marzaduri, Russkii literaturnyi avangard: materialy i issledovaniia, pp. 37–50). In 1919 Ermolaeva was summoned to Vitebsk to teach at the Vitebsk Art Institute alongside Chagall and Lissitzky, eventually taking over the directing position after Chagall’s departure. Malevich came to the Vitebsk on Ermolaeva’s invitation, where with her support he founded UNOVIS (The Champions of New Art), a Suprematist group active 1919–1922. Starting in 1923, Ermolaeva was the head of the color laboratory at GINKhUK (State Institute of Artistic Culture), an innovative center for the scientific study of art. In later years, Ermolaeva worked closely with the futurist OBERIU (Union of Real Art) poets at Detgiz (Children’s National Publishing House), illustrating books by A. Vvedensky, N. Zabolotsky, N. Oleinikov, D. Kharms. Ermolaeva’s contribution to the Russian avant-garde remains understudied, despite the nearly two dozen of her works, including the UNOVIS manifesto, held at MoMA.

Books of the Artel “Segodnia” were featured in the Russian Avant-Garde Book exhibit at MoMA in 2002 (see the catalog, pp. 130–132). They also appeared in exhibits at the Mayakovsky Museum, Moscow and the Pompidou Center, Paris. In 2018, the 100th anniversary of “Segodnia” was celebrated with an exhibit at the Anna Akhmatova house, St. Petersburg. See also Lemmens & Stommels, Russian book Art, 1904–2005, no. 28.

Book ID: 50567

Price: $12,500.00