- El Lissitzky
- The Constructor
- Gelatin silver print
The Collection of Lydia Winston Malbin, New York
Sotheby's New York, The Collection of Lydia Winston Malbin, 16 May 1990, Sale 6021, Lot 87
Hendrik Berinson, Berlin
Steven Kasher Gallery, New York, 1998
Palm Beach Photographic Centre, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, March 2011
Middletown, Delaware, Warner Gallery at St. Andrew's School, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, October - November 2011
Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold, FotoAuge (London: Thames and Hudson facsimile reprint of the 1929 original edition, 1977), cover
Margarita Tupitsyn, El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet (Yale University Press, 1999), pp. 76, 78-82
Ute Eskildsen and Jan-Christopher Horak, Film und Foto, der Zwanziger Jahre (Stuttgart, 1979), pl. 152
Dawn Ades, Photomontage (London, 1976), pl. 102
John Szarkowski, Photography Until Now (The Museum of Modern Art, 1989), p. 176
Lissitzky wrote: ‘The language of photography is not the language of painting, and photography possesses properties not available to painting. These properties lie in the photographic material itself and it is essential for us to develop them in order to make photography truly into art’ (Sovetskoe foto, No.10, May 1929). In The Constructor, Lissitzky offered a masterful demonstration of how photography could be used to create a kind of art that was wholly new.
The Constructor was completed in 1924, during the Russian artist’s sojourn in Berlin. The original work, now in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, combined a variety of photographic techniques, including multiple exposure, collage, and photogram. The photographer’s own name, in Roman type, appears in the upper left portion of the frame, and was made by using his Berlin letterhead as a paper negative. The stenciled letters XYZ and the circle were drawn on the original in ink. In The Constructor, two central figures are merged together: the hand of the artist, holding a draftsman’s compass, intersects with a self-portrait of Lissitzky. Lissitzky’s eye appears in the very center of the hand’s palm. The merging of Lissitzky’s lucid and attentive eye, with his hand, which seems poised to add to the already completed circle, captures Lissitzky’s conception of the thinking modern artist, perfectly in control of the new media. In the Buhl Collection, this image takes its place within a group of images, most notably Herbert Bayer’s Lonely Metropolitan (Lot 12), in which hands and eyes are meaningfully combined.
This photograph was previously owned by Lydia Winston Malbin, the great collector of Modernism and Futurism, whose collection was sold by Sotheby’s New York in 1990. Along with the Lissitzky offered here, the auction included works by Kandinsky, Duchamp, Balla, Picasso, Braque, Miró, and many others. The Malbin catalogue states that Lissitzky gave this print of The Constructor to artist and photographer Kate Steinitz (1889-1975).