Date of Award

Winter 1-6-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Departments/Programs

Art & Art History

First Advisor

Joachim Pissarro

Second Advisor

Howard Singerman

Academic Program Adviser

Antonella Pelizzari

Abstract

This thesis is dedicated to the work of the Russian Avant-Garde artist Ivan Albertovich Puni (1892-1956): an artist, a theorist and writer, an organizer of exhibition, a teacher of art, and above all, an innovator. This thesis presents an account of the artist's Berlin period (1920-1924), which has so far lacked scholarly attention.

The thesis begins with a close analysis of Puni's Russian period (1914-1919). In this time span,

Ivan Puni demonstrated his ability to adopt a wide gamut of diverse artistic styles. Puni first elaborated works akin to Cubist constructions. However, starting from 1915, the artist became a major representative of the Russian avant-garde movement, also known as the Russian Futurist style. Puni organized the two Futurist exhibits in St. Petersburg (between 1915 and 1916) and co-signed the Suprematist Manifesto (1915) together with Kazimir Malevich. Until 1919, he himself presented ground-breaking Cubo-Futurist works (notably Window Cleaning, 1915), and above all elaborated a Suprematist redefinition of the object and the letter (based on the Russian concepts of zaum and faktura). At the same time, Puni had been putting to the test the Suprematist definition of the traditional representational still life.

Those features of his art would subsequently become important in Berlin, where Puni and his wife moved to in autumn 1920 due to the deteriorating political situation in the budding USSR. Whereas the Berlin period has not previously been examined closely, this thesis argues that it was a critical period, leading Puni to synthesize Russian avant-garde styles with Western art practice. Puni’s exhibition of Dada-like works at the gallery Der Sturm in February 1921 consisted of works conceived in Russia, many recreated, or reassembled according to new artistic parameters. The exhibition largely consisted of a ‘happening’ and had absorbed major aspects of Dadaism. Most remarkably, within his painting The Synthetic Musician (1921-1922), Puni then managed to epitomize his development as an artist and his contesting of non-objective art. Puni’s book Современная Живопись [Sovremennaya Zhivopis’ or Contemporary Art], published in Berlin in 1923, explains at length his rejection of non-objective art and his first preference for Cubist construction, which combined with single, selected elements (such as factura), led him to coin a new term: Constructive Naturalism.

In sum, this thesis hopes to demonstrate the originality and abiding intellectual value of Puni’s works during his Berlin period.

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