Tag Archives: Russian Modernism

Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years: An Exhibit at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Through July 12, 2019

From guest blogger, and exhibition Curator, Thomas J. Kitson, PhD*

Professor Valentina Izmirlieva (Slavic Department) and I approached Rob Davis (Librarian for Russian, Eurasian & East European Studies) and Tanya Chebotarev (Bakhmeteff Archive, RBML) early last year about the possibility of mounting an exhibition on Ilia Zdanevich (1894-1975).  The Russian-Georgian Futurist poet ended up in Paris and became, under the name Iliazd, one of the most prominent figures in the book arts, designing and printing numerous projects with Picasso, Giacometti, Ernst, and Miró.  At the time, Columbia University Libraries held only a few items related to Zdanevich, but Rob and Tanya immediately agreed to investigate what could be acquired in fairly short order and managed to put together a collection that allows us to see Zdanevich from an unusual angle.

“Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years” focuses on a crucial period in Zdanevich’s career by placing him within the vibrant community of poets, visual artists, and composers working in relatively peaceful Tbilisi (Tiflis before 1936), capital of temporarily independent Georgia, during the Russian Civil War, from late 1917 until early 1921.  Zdanevich’s most intense engagement with avant-garde zaum poetry (written in “transrational” or “transmental” language – “beyonsense”) took place in a city where multiple languages – Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Russian, German, French, English, and Persian – could be heard.  Zdanevich composed a cycle of dramas in which sound released from sense produces equivocal meanings. Any given combination of sounds might be taken to indicate a number of possible, often contradictory, meanings – and in some cases, sounds might be heard in multiple languages at once.  In order to print the “scores” to his dramas, Zdanevich learned to set type and soon became adept at producing highly original pages.  Zdanevich, with missionary zeal, took the principles of “mature” zaum and his new typographic skills to Paris, where his hopes for zaum foundered, even as typography eventually made his reputation.

Zdanevich’s older brother Kirill (1892-1969) is represented by several items in the exhibition, including holograph letters, a carved wood-block, and a splendid gouache composition (below) of a man waving a red flag.

Kirill had ushered Ilia into avant-garde circles in Petersburg and Moscow before World War I and now became one of his closest associates in Tbilisi.  They were key members of 41°, perhaps the most

radical poetic and artistic circle active in Tbilisi, where Symbolists, Acmeists, and Futurists performed together and published one another in their journals. (The sole issue of their manifesto, Sorok-odin gradus–one of only two copies in North America–is depicted above).  One of the finest of Columbia’s new acquisitions in the exhibition is a 1919 anthology (below) designed and printed by Zdanevich under the 41° imprint, For Sophia Georgievna Melnikova: The Fantastic Tavern,

Tiflis 1917 1918 1919.  The anthology features poems, lectures, plays, and artwork in Russian, Georgian, Armenian, and zaum by the regular performers at a cabaret that anchored artistic life in Tbilisi during these years.  The dynamism of Zdanevich’s typographic illustrations can be compared with Kirill’s gouache.

As I worked with the materials Rob and Tanya assembled, I came to appreciate very much a small collection that belonged to Dmitrii Gordeev, a young art historian whose lecture on Persian influences in 16th-century Georgian frescoes appears in Zdanevich’s Melnikova anthology.  This cache of photographs, music scores, postcards, and

poetry chapbooks (depicted above), many inscribed to Gordeev, helps to embody the Fantastic Tavern community and place it squarely in an even broader network.  For those of us used to seeing Zdanevich among either the pre-war Russian Futurists of Petersburg and Moscow or the mid-century artists of Paris, this exhibition offers a refreshing view of creative life in the short-lived haven of Tbilisi, away from the world’s great capitals.

I am grateful to both Rob and Tanya for their willingness to take on the challenge of organizing an exhibition not on the basis of what Columbia University Libraries already held in its collections, but on the serendipity of what the Libraries might be able to acquire in a relatively short time frame.  For me, the unexpected opportunity to curate when the collecting was done turned out to be a gift.  I leave it to Rob and Tanya to evaluate how well this method worked from the collectors’ standpoint.

*Thomas J. Kitson is a freelance translator, including Iliazd’s Voskhishchenie, Rapture: A Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).  Thomas holds a PhD in Russian language and literature from Columbia.

Supplemental Purchase Expands Russian Imperial & Early Soviet Sheet Music Collection

img_0773One of the most visually exciting additions to Columbia’s holdings was the purchase of ninety-five additional examples of late Imperial and early Soviet sheet music.  Columbia’s holdings, catalogued collectively at https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/10290450  are quite likely the largest in any North American collection from this era, now including some 268 titles.

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Slavic & East European Collections Add Rare Titles

A number of significant, rare, and in some cases unique antiquarian works from Eastern Europe were purchased for Columbia’s libraries over the past twelve months.  Through the efforts of colleagues in Global Studies, Rare Books & Manuscripts, and the Avery Classics Library, and with additional financial support from the Libraries’ Primary Resources Fund, distinctive collections in a number of languages were further enhanced.

–Columbia’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library added to its growing holdings of Baltic and East Central European modernist publications. Thirteen Latvian, Lithuanian, or Estonian titles (including six serials), and sixteen Hungarian titles were purchased. The vast majority are unique additions to WorldCat, or are held by only one or two other libraries in North America. Among the Baltic titles are Elegiski moment [Elegiac Moment] (Riga, 1925); and Karavane [Caravan](Riga [1920]), both illustrated by Niklāvs Strunke (1894-1966), one of the major artists of the Latvian avant-garde; and the satirical journals Hallo! (Riga, 1927-1928), and Ho-Ho (Riga, 1922-1924) containing graphics and articles by prominent Latvian modernist artists and writers. Other titles include works illustrated with linocuts by the Hungarian architect, writer, graphic artist, ethnologist, publisher and politician Károly Kós (1883-1977); an exhibition catalogue (Budapest, 1919) of art seized by the Hungarian Soviets from private collectors during the abortive revolution of 1919; the Hungarian Dadaist Ödön Palasovszky’s (1899-1980) Reorganizacio [Reorganization] (Budapest, 1924) a collection of poems and declarations; and Világanyám: Versek [My World-Mother: Poems] by the avant-garde poet, novelist and artist Lajos Kassák (1887-1967) published in 1921 in Vienna during his exile from Hungary. This latter title is characterized by the use of képarchitektura (pictorial architecture), in which words and images hold equal compositional value in the page design.

–Interesting Czech antiquarian acquisitions included collection of poems by Bretislav Mencák (1903-1981), Romance počestného clowna [Romance of an Honorable Clown] ([Prague], 1929).

–Columbia’s Polish acquisitions included two one-act plays by the noted Futurist artist, poet, and playwright Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945) Osioł I słońce w metamorfozie [Donkey & the Sun in Metamorphosis] (Kraków, 1922), and Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927) Matka: Dramat w IV aktach [Mother: A drama in 4 acts](Lwów & Warszawa, 1903).

–Another unusual acquisition was a five-volume limited edition of the collected works of the polymath Jan Potocki’s (1761-1815) (Louvain-Paris, 2004-2006). This set comes from an edition of only fifteen printed on special paper for Count Marek Potocki, a descendant.

–Sketches from the Warsaw literary cabarets of the interwar years: Pierwsza szopka warszawska. [The First Warsaw Revue] (Krakow, 1922) with illustrated wrappers and illustations by Zbigniew Pronaszko; Polityczna szopka cyrulika Warszawskiegopiora Marjana Hemara, Jana Lechonia, Antoniego Slonimskiego, Juliana Tuwima. [Political Revue by the Warsaw Barber, by Mariana Hemar, Antoni Słonimski, and Julian Tuwim](Warszawa, 1927); Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1930); and Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1931), with decorated wrappers. Such compilations of cabaret sketches are extremely scarce, and there are no examples in any public collections in the United States with the exception of Widener Library (and not these particular examples!).

–Bohumil Stibor. Soubor dřevorytů z koncentračního tábora. [Portfolio of Woodcuts from a Concentration Camp] (V Pelhřimově, 1946), consisting of ten original woodcuts by a former prisoner, printed shortly after his liberation. The images depict the steps from arrest, imprisonment, torture and finally mass murder. This portfolio may contain one of the very first graphic images of the crematoria. The only other copies in WorldCat are at Stanford and the Národní knihovna České republiky (Czech National Library).

Holocaust Album 2

Columbia’s holdings of 20th century Russian-language materials are among the largest and finest in North America. The collection of early 20th century imprints produced in both the homeland and emigration are particularly distinguished, and are regularly supplemented via gift and purchase on the antiquarian market. Among the acquisitions made over the past semester:

–Il’ia Erenburg, Trinadtsat trubok. [Thirteen Pipes] (Moskva, 1923), with wrappers in black and red designed by Liubov Kozintsova (1898-1970);

–Nikolai Gorlov, Futurizm i revoliutsiia; poezii futuristov. [Futurism and Revolution: poems of the Futurists] (Moskva, 1924).

Futurizm–Zakhida Iffat (pseud. of Burnasheva, Zaida Khusainovna, b. 1896-?). Zora Iulduz (Zvezda Venera). [Dream Star (Star of Venus)](Kazan, 1922), a scarce provincial imprint of a work by a female Tatar poet, translated from the Tatar original, with lovely wrappers and illustration by Aleksandra Platunova (1896-1966), painter, graphic artist and a member of the short-lived Kazan group “Vsadnik” which was active from 1920 to 1924.

Sorochinskaia Iarmarka. [The Market/Fair at Sorochyntsi] ([Moscow, [1932]). This unique example of a theatre program consists of one small oblong sheet ingeniously folded into five pages, with a Constructivist wrapper printed in black and red. The wrappers may be the work of Nisson Shifrin (1892-1961) who is credited as the designer of the overall production. V.I. Nemirovich- Danchenko (1858-1943) had returned to Soviet Russia from Hollywood in 1926 and opened the Musical Theater.

Byt’ bditel’nym: Al’bom nagliadnykh posobii [Be Vigilant! An Album of Visual Aides] (Moskva, 1963). This rare title consists of sixty unbound pages of illustrations on individual 35 x 51 cm. sheets. Designed by Varvara Rodchenko (b. 1925), the daughter of Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), the photos and photomontages depict ways in which foreign agents might surreptitiously gather intelligence. The individual sheets were intended to be mounted on a wall, making this complete copy, in its original illustrated slipcase, all the more rare.

–Henri de Règnier (1864-1936). Tri Rasskaza. [Three Tales] (Peterburg, 1922). One of 75 numbered examples in an edition of 500, consists of illustrations by Dmitri Buchène (1893-1993)to the mildly erotic tales of de Règnier, and is reminiscent of the roughly contemporaneous works of Konstantin Somov (1869-1939). Somov’s exceptionally rare and particularly “revealing” (and incredibly rare) uncensored version of the 1918 Le Livre de la Marquise (held by New York Public) was printed in 1918 in St. Petersburg under a false imprint, indicating Venice. (See: Edward Kasinec & Robert Davis, “A Note on Konstantin Somov’s Erotic Book Illustration,” Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture = Eros i pornografiia v russkoi kul’ture (Moscow: Ladomir, 1999), pp. 338-[395].)

–Mikhail Vladimirovich Matorin (1901-1976). Shest Nature-Morte. [Six Still Lifes] Moskva, printed by the artist, 1921), is a portfolio of six wood engravings and linoleum cuts (some in color), each signed and dated by the artist, produced in an edition of only 30 copies, none of which are found in WorldCat. Matorin was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist who in 1920, despite his youth, began his long and distinguished career as a teacher, first at Moscow’s State Printing Workshop and later as Professor at Moscow’s V.I. Surikov Institute.

Antiquarian Purchases Enhance Rare Books, Avery Classics Collections

Columbia has supplemented holdings of rare Russian film programs of the 1920s (cataloged as [Soviet film programs from 1926-1930] in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library). Five additional programs were added, bringing total holdings to twenty. Below are programs for Kto ty takoi?[Who Are You?] (1927, directed by Iurii Zheliabuzhskii, 1888-1955), and for the Russian release of Paramount’s The Spanish Dancer (1923) starring Polish-born actress Pola Negri (b. 1897 in Lipno, d. 1987 in San Antonio, Texas).

IMG_1020IMG_1021Thanks to support from Avery Library Director Carole Ann Fabian, Columbia purchased two very rare Hungarian titles:

A Ház [The House] (Budapest: Atheneum, 1908-1911), a journal dedicated to the building and visual arts, which appeared for four years under the directorship of Béla Málnai (1878-1941). It is a major document of the Hungarian architecture of the era, as well as examining the building and design of traditional Hungarian arts and crafts. From the late 19th century up to 1918, the territories under Hungarian rule employed a unique form of Secessionist architecture.

A Haz 1 A Haz 2Unfortunately, a number of examples of this style were destroyed in the closing days of World War II, and these pages may provide the only visual record of them. There are only two, incomplete sets of this title in North America.

 

The second Hungarian title, Dezső Keér’s (b. 1905) Harminc vers [Thirty Verses] (Budapest: Vajda Janos Tarsasag, 1925), features illustrations by Róbert Byssz (1899-1961), an early

Harminc verscontributor to avant-garde and leftist publications. Not found in any other WorldCat location, this title was produced in only 100 numbered copies, with a handwritten dedication by Keér.

Among North American collections, Columbia’s Hungarian holdings are exceeded in size only by those of  the Library of Congress.

 

Recent Slavic & East European Antiquarian Acquisitions

In recent months, the 2CUL Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies made a number of significant antiquarian purchases for library partners Cornell & Columbia.

  • Cornell purchased two stunningly illustrated Hungarian artist books by Tibor Galle (1896-1944).   Linoleumok.  Masodik konyv. (Budapest, [1925]), an extremely rare portfolio of striking expressionist prints.  No other copy is recorded in any public collection.

The other Galle title, 11 Eredeti linoleum-merszete (Budapest: Juventus: 1923), limited to an edition of 100 copies, contains eleven images combining modernist impulses with romantic nationalism.

Both titles are available in the Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections at the Carl A. Kroch Library.

  • This past May, Columbia acquired a remarkable collection of 160 examples of Russian sheet music, with illustrated covers, dating principally from the 1920s.  Among the artists represented are Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) and Iliazd (Ilia Zdanevich, 1894-1975), as well as virtually all of the major sheet music illustrators of the period.  Composers represented include Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953), the Hungarian-born composer who would later immigrate to the United States, fleeing post-Anschluss Vienna; Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944), the Ukrainian Modernist composer whose works were subsequently banned in 1930s Soviet Russia; and “father of the Blues” W.C. Handy (1873-1958), to name but a few.

 

 

Top, “Ekstentrik” with music by Maiman; bottom, “I would See You Often,” with music by Mervol’f.

  • In June, Columbia purchased Vlastislav Hofman’s (1884-1964) F.M. Dostojevskij: Cyklus třiceti kreseb. (Praha: F. Borovy, 1917).  Containing thirty full-page plates, the title is a great rarity, made unique by the presence of  two of Hofman’s original sketches tipped in.  Hofman was trained as an architect, but was a talented graphic artist and set designer as well, strongly

influenced by Cubism.   This item was purchased in honor of Robert Belknap, Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages, former Director of the Russian Institute, and former Director of University Seminars, in recognition of his contributions to Dostoyevsky scholarship, his many kindnesses to generations of students, and his exemplary service to Columbia University.

Top, illustration to “The Double,”; below, “Dostoyevsky in Siberia.”

  • From dealers and collectors in New York, Columbia acquired a woodblock-illustrated Church Slavic Menaion (Moscow: Pechatnyi Dvor.1646), previously lent to the Bakhmeteff Archive’s exhibition Quatercentenary of the House of Romanov, as well as nine Russian and Czech titles dating primarily from the 1920s, including Aleksei Kruchenyk’s (1886-1968) Chornaia taina Esenina (M., 1926), and a beautifully illustrated copy of August Strindberg’s Královna Kristýna ([Prague], 1922) coincidentally also illustrated by Vlastislav Hofman.

 

Both Columbia and Cornell have also benefited from a number of significant donations:

  • More than 3,000 Romanian imprints, as well as some 2,000 Classical Music LPs from Eastern Europe were donated to Cornell by Professor Mircea Pitici.  The collection, from his family home in Sibiu, was packed and transshipped (1.5 tons of material!) to Ithaca in August 2013.  Included are complete collections of historical documents, works by important Romanian authors, and art albums.
  • Burton Miller donated to Columbia a collection of microfilms from the collections of the Russian State Library, including (among other titles) all fifteen District volumes of the household census of the rural population of Kursk guberniia (1882-1887) carried out by the provincial zemstvo, the sixteenth summary volume, several issues of the survey of the state of the province published annually by the governor’s chancellery (1892-1907), and all the numbers of a short-lived agricultural journal, also put out under the zemstvo‘s auspices between 1898 and 1906.
  • David Mortimer, President of the American Assembly, donated thirty titles from the Library of his mother, Kathleen Harriman Mortimer (1917-2011), some dating from her residency in Moscow from 1943-45, and including many inscribed to her father, Ambassador W. Averell Harriman (1891-1986).  Among the items donated are Charl’z Spenser Chaplin (M.: Goskinoizdat, 1945) and D.U. Griffit (M.: Goskinoizdat, 1944); Kartinnyia gallerei Evropy : sobranie zamiechatel’nykh proizvedenii shkol Evropy(St.Pb: Vol’f, 1862-1864), all great rarities in North American collections, as well as one curiosity–Brezhnev’s Malaia zemlia (M.: Politizdat, 1978) inscribed by the author to Ambassador Harriman.