Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Faces From Vladimir And Georgii Stenberg's Soviet Movie Poster Designs


"The Stenberg brothers, whose father was a Swede and whose mother was a 
Russian, were both born in Moscow, Russia but remained Swedish citizens until 
1933. They first studied engineering, then attended the Stroganov School of 
Applied Art in Moscow, 1912–17, and subsequently the Moscow Svomas (free 
studios), where they and other students designed decorations and posters for 
the first May Day celebration (1918). 1919, the Stenbergs and comrades 
founded the OBMOKhU (society of young artists) and participated in its first 
group exhibition in Moscow in May 1919 and in the exhibitions of 1920, 1921 
and 1923. The brothers and Konstantin Medunetskii staged their own 
"Constructivists" exhibition in January 1922 at the Poets Café Moscow, 
accompanied by a Constructivist manifesto. Also that year, Vladimir showed his 
work in the landmark Erste Russische Kunstausstellung (First Russian Art 
exhibition) held in Berlin. 1920s–30s, they were well established as members of 
the avant-garde in Moscow and of Moscow's INKhUK (INstitut 
KHUdozhestvennoy Kultury, or institute of artistic culture). Other INKhUK 
members included Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Lyubov Popova, 
Medunetskii, other artists, architects, theoreticians, and art historians. INKhUK 
was active only 1921–24.

1922–31, the Stenbergs designed sets and costumes for Alexander Tairov's 
Moscow Kamerny (Chamber) theatre and contributed to LEF (art journal of the 
left front) and to the 1925 "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et 
Industriels Modernes" in Paris. 1929–32, they taught at the Architecture-
Construction Institute, Moscow.

The Stenbergs practiced in a range of media, initially active as Constructivist 
sculptors, subsequently as theater designers, architects, and draftspeople. 

Their design work covered the gamut from clothing, including women's shoes, to rail
carriages. Some examples of their sculpture were spidery and spindly 
structures, such as the reconstruction (1973–74) of KPS 11: Construction of a 
spatial apparatus no. 11 (1919–20) in steel, glass, paint and plaster on wood in 
the National Gallery of Australia Canberra. However, the arenas in which they 
excelled were theater, costume and graphic designs, particularly the graphic 
design of film posters, encouraged by the surging interest in movies in Russia 
and the government's sanctioning of graphic design and the cinema.

The brothers were at their prime during the revolutionary period of politics and 
artistic experimentation in Russia, centered in Moscow. There was a shift from 
the illustrator-as-creator to the constructor-as-creator or nonlinear-narrator-as-
creator. In the visual language of the constructor or Constructivist, the 
Stenbergs and other graphic designers and artists assembled images, such as 
portions of photographs and preprinted paper, that had been created by 
others. Thus, the Stenbergs and others realized wholly new images (or 
compositions) which were no longer about realism. Hence, graphic design as a 
modern expression eschewing traditional fine art was born in the form of the 
printed reproductions of collage or assemblage. One of the causes of the avant-
garde artists in the new Russia, who considered fine art to be useless, was 
served when the Stenbergs and others as constructors-as-creators produced 
posters that had a use, particularly to serve the state. (In fact, painter 
Nadezhda Udaltsova resigned from the UNKhUK in protest against the 
replacement of easel painting by use-intended industrial art.)

The serendipitous success of the Stenbergs' radical approach had been 
facilitated by a number of factors: their talent as graphic designers and their 
knowledge of film theory, Constructivism, Malevich's Suprematism, and the 
avant-garde theater. Even though commercial graphic design and advertising is 
propaganda, the dissemination of propaganda (пропаганды) was considered a 
desirable and honorable practice in Russia at the time. In fact, the Bolsheviks, 
who sought to reform the peasant class, considered film to be a potent 
propaganda tool for communicating with a widely illiterate population. Even 
though most films were imported, the Stenbergs designed posters for Sergei 
Eisenstein's movies and Dziga Vertov's documentaries.

The innovative visual aspects of Stenberg posters included a distortion of 
perspective, elements from Dada photomontage, an exaggerated scale, a 
sense of movement, and a dynamic use of color and typography—eventually all 
were to be imitated by others. The Stenberg artwork was frequently based on 
stills from the films. Radical even today, the posters by the brothers working 
together were realized within the nine-year period from 1924 to 1933, the year 
Georgii died at age 33. His motorcycle hit a truck, a few months after the 
brothers had become Russian citizens. Vladimir continued to work on film 
posters and organized the decorations of Moscow's Red Square for the May Day 
celebration of 1947."

--- wikipedia ---

The images below are details from reproductions in the book
'Stenberg Brothers - Constructing a Revolution in Soviet Design'
(The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Georgii Stenberg

Vladimir Stenberg

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