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The Getty Research Institute Presents the Exhibition "Monuments of the Future": Designs by El Lissitzky

November 21, 1998 - February 21, 1999

November 20, 1998

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- El Lissitzky (1890-1941), one of the most influential artists of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, will be the subject of an exhibition at the Getty Center opening on November 21, 1998. Drawing entirely on the Getty's own collections, "Monuments of the Future": Designs by El Lissitzky will display 133 works spanning the artist's career, some on public view for the first time. The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities holds one of the largest collections in the United States of Lissitzky's books and manuscripts. Five Lissitzky photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum collection will also be included in the exhibition.

Organized by Nancy Perloff, the Research Institute's Curator of Manuscripts and Archives, and Eva Forgacs of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, the exhibition will highlight important threads underlying Lissitzky's work from the outset of his career to his final years. Arranged chronologically, the exhibition will begin with Lissitzky's earliest known book design from 1916 in Futurist style, and continue by exploring the Jewish books he produced after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Proun books and typography which were inspired by Suprematism, photographs of designs for utopian skyscrapers and demonstration spaces, photographs documenting designs for international exhibitions (Press, Printing Trades, Film and Photo, Hygiene, Fur Trade), and the late Soviet albums and periodicals. Lissitzky's original letters to his wife Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers will be interspersed with these images, serving both as illustrations of Lissitzky's famous letterhead and as commentary on particular projects.

Lissitzky's artistic career was marked by changing identities: First, experiments with Russian Futurist and Jewish book designs; then a sudden shift to the invention of a new system of abstract art called Proun, applied to painting, prints and typography; finally a move away from painting to the documentary world of photography and Socialist Realism. Yet, according to exhibition curator Nancy Perloff, "these shifts mask the continued importance for Lissitzky of unifying ideas and images. For instance, he was preoccupied from early to late career with the book as a dynamic object, a 'unity of acoustics and optics' requiring the viewer's active involvement. He was preoccupied with a social mission which called upon him to link his artistic aims with the goals of the state. Dovetailing with this social mission was the Soviet government's choice of Lissitzky, from 1922 on, as their artistic representative in Western Europe. And among the recurrent visual images in his graphic designs was the letter, be it Hebrew, Cyrillic, or Latin, used as an architectural element and a pictorial symbol."

The Getty Research Institute exhibition will feature a special installation of the Proun books, which will be mounted so that they appear to float in their Plexiglas display case, conveying something of the "unearthly" character of Constructivist-Suprematist utopias and the effect of objects floating and rotating in an infinitely extending space. Books' fronts and backs will both be visible, in keeping with Lissitzky's radical concept of the dynamic book and the active viewer. The exhibition will also include a recreation of Lissitzky's model of a shop window display for Pelikan typewriter ribbons, in which the ribbon package is mounted in a circular mirror and the "P" of Pelikan appears to rotate in space.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Research Institute will sponsor a two-day conference entitled "Interpreting El Lissitzky: New Perspectives." An international group of scholars will examine works by El Lissitzky, including his book designs, demonstration spaces, photographs, and the propaganda billboard, in order to assess the importance of underlying threads that hold his diverse career together. The conference will take place on December 7 and 8 in the J. Paul Getty Museum Lecture Hall. Advance reservations are required.

Public inquiries: For information and parking reservations to visit the exhibition at the Getty Center, call (310) 440-7300.
Press inquiries: For information on the exhibition and conference, please call Public Affairs at (310) 440-6474.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.