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Armenian Avant-Garde

Kapkaz tamasha.

Tbilisi: [Zh. T.G. Kh. Poligr. Bazh. 4rd tparan], 1923. Octavo (27 × 21.5 cm). Original decorative staple-stitched wrappers; 46 pp. Light wear to wrappers and spine; a few stains to front wrapper; still about very good.

First edition. A satirical play in verse by the most celebrated Armenian poet of the twentieth century, Yeghishe Charents (1897-1937), with striking constructivist-inspired wrapper design by the Armenian architect Karo Halabyan. A co-founder of Armenian futurism, Halabyan (Russian: Karo Semenovich Alabian, 1897-1959) went on to become a famous Soviet artist and architect. He also contributed the inventive typography throughout, and a full-page silhouette of Charents. Altogether the only truly outstanding work of Armenian avant-garde book design we have handled, which vaguely resembles the (admittedly far more daring) H2SO4 journal, published in Tbilisi one year later.

Charents' play lampoons “bourgeois nationalism” of Armenian politics, in favor of “proletarian internationalism”, a position that Charents first articulated in “The Manifesto of the Three” (with Gevorg Abov and Azat Vshtuni), printed in the journal Soviet Armenia in 1922. The manifesto was inspired by the Russian futurists Viktor Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky, whom Charents knew closely and whose work he translated. It advocated a literature full of “action, the class struggle, machines, the sexual instinct, and the color red” (See Agop Jack Hacilkyan in The Heritage of Armenian Literature, p. 960). Charents seems to have written this play in response to ongoing accusations of nationalism directed against him as he was becoming more vocal in advocating Armenian causes. Writing in 1934, Charents still considered the play one of his strongest works.

A lifelong communist and revolutionary, like many Soviet poets of his generation he fell victim to the Stalinist purges in 1937. The Armenian artist and architect Karo Halabyan (1897-1959) designed the dynamic wrappers for this 1923 edition. In the same year Halabyan moved to Moscow to enter VKhUTEMAS, a hotbed of artistic experimentation where he trained as an architect. He went on to head numerous high profile building projects in Yerevan and Moscow, with this collaboration with Charents being unique in his body of work.

One of 600 copies.

As of February 2021 KVK, OCLC show only one copy, at Harvard.

Book ID: 51228

Price: $7,500.00