MoMA’s new exhibit examines the changing role of 20th century artists.
Herbert Bayer, “Exhibition Stand for Electrical Company” (1924, gouache, ink, pencil and cut-and-pasted printed paper on board), 26 3/8 inches by 14 15/16 inches
When Jodi Hauptman was researching to curate MoMA’s new exhibit, she had many questions with the goal of telling the stories of European and Russian artists of the early 20th century. “In the wake of enormous changes in industry, technology, expansion and mechanical reproduction, what does it mean to be an artist?” she asks. “How can you be an artist under those conditions? How do artists use new technologies? How did they reach an expanded audience? How did they work collectively?”
Hannah Höch, “Collage (Dada)” (1922, original collage, cut-and-pasted papers, printed papers, ink (postmark) and postage stamp on board), 9 3⁄4 inches by 13 inches
Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented looks at how the wake of momentous events such as the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire impacted the artist’s change in perspective. While many artists were traditionally trained in painting or sculpture, they later went on to open their own advertising or graphic design firms. Using photomontage and constructivism, the avant-garde works represented in this collection include painter Valentina Kulagina, graphic designer Elena Semenova, painter Lyubov Popova and photographer Max Burchartz.
John Heartfield, “The Hand Has Five Fingers (5 Finger hat die Hand)” (1928, lithograph), 38 1⁄2 inches by 29 1⁄4 inches
As the senior curator for the department of drawings and prints, Hauptman was able to answer her own questions by utilizing the newest acquisition to MoMA: the Merrill C. Berman Collection, which includes 324 works, many of which were used in the exhibition. The Merrill C. Berman Collection excited Hauptman because of the museum’s ability to showcase artists and stories never told before, such as Fré Cohen. Cohen was a Dutch graphic design artist who worked for both political groups and social groups and for the city of Amsterdam. Cohen is one of many tragic stories of this time period, as she ended up taking her own life after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Max Burchartz, “Red Square (Rotes Quadrat)” (1928, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers on paper), 19 11⁄16 inches by 13 9⁄16 inches
One common theme woven throughout is how artists from the interwar time of 1918 to 1939 were able to use their art to reinvent what it means to be an artist in the ever-changing circumstances. Hauptman explains, “Kurt Schwitters is somewhat well-known as a maker of collage if you go into MoMA or modern art museums. But it turns out that he founded his own advertising agency and designed promotional materials for local cultural institutions and transportation systems in his city of Hanover. All of a sudden, you get this whole other idea of what he is as an artist. He is a fine artist, he is a graphic designer, he’s a marketer, he’s an advertiser.”
Valentina Kulagina, maquette for “We Are Building (Stroim)” (1929, cut-and-pasted printed and painted paper, sandpaper, gouache and pencil on paper), 22 5/8 inches by 14 1/4 inches
When asked about her favorite part of the project, Hauptman says one of the ideas that fascinates her the most is being able to see the process to create the final work. “You can follow the artist as they think through what they’re going to include and how they’re going to represent something, through several stages to get to the final product. It is exciting to be inside the head or be with the hand of the artist, as he or she is cutting and pasting their work,” she says. Dec. 13-April 10, 2021, 11 W. 53rd St.
Lyubov Popova, “The Actor’s Work Clothes, No. 7 (Prozodezhda aktera N. 7) (costume design for the play The Magnanimous Cuckold)” (1921, gouache, cut-and-pasted papers and ink on paper), 12 15⁄16 inches by 9 1⁄8 inches
Photography by: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Merrill C. Berman Collection