Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life
June 11–October 9
Galleries 182–184


Avant-garde artists of the early 20th century were determined to bring art out of academic or bohemian isolation and into mainstream daily life. An international cohort identified with Dada (c. 1916–22), Constructivism (begun in 1921), and the Bauhaus art school (1919–33) worked to revolutionize the everyday in pursuit of this goal. The six artists featured in this exhibition chose a professional identity as designers rather than fine artists, and they rejected brushes and pencils in favor of drafting tools and photography. They took inspiration from urban popular culture and the nascent mass media and also participated in the media stream through advertising, posters, and work for the illustrated press. Everyday life meant communications, and they sought above all to improve the flow and quality of information in society.

Dutch industrial designer Piet Zwart (1885–1977) realized the Constructivist utopian vision in items as humble as a desk calendar and stationery. His Czech counterpart Ladislav Sutnar (1897–1976) brought modernist "good design" to middle-class consumers as the head of a manufacturing cooperative and an applied-arts school. Karel Teige (1900–1951), the leader of the Czech avant-garde, made important contributions to international ideas in literature, architecture, film, typography, and photography. Lazar (El) Lissitzky (1890–1941) worked in Russia and Germany, creating many of the most exciting book and exhibition designs of the time in both countries. Latvian-born Gustav Klutsis (1895–1938) made key innovations in photomontage as a Soviet propagandist. German artist John Heartfield (1891–1968), likewise a photomontage pioneer, was one of the most influential figures internationally in the fight against Fascism.


A beautifully designed exhibition catalogue contains essays by Matthew S. Witkovsky, curator and chair of the Department of Photography, and a team of specialists writing on these six artists and their attraction to the dynamic realm of "everyday life." It is available for purchase at the Museum Shop.


Major funding provided by Robert and June Leibowits.

Generous support is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, Donna and Howard Stone, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sullivan, and an anonymous donor.

John Heartfield. Cover for Kurt Tucholsky, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles (Germany, Germany Above All), 1929. Robert Allerton Purchase Fund.