Constructivism was an artistic philosophy that originated in Russia after the 1917 Revolution. Posters were one of the key forms of art in Constructivism, as they were set it in opposition to oil paintings that were proclaimed a remnant of the overthrown bourgeois society. A poster used to be called “a painting for workers” and was considered one of the most characteristic art forms of the Industrial age alongside photography and cinema.

The Constructivists wrote that the role of a poster artist resembled that of a designing engineer. An enormous canvas of the poster was a field for experimenting with a new artistic language, the main characteristic of which had become the combination of typographic and graphic elements in a single dynamic composition. The two-dimensional typographic elements, such as fonts of various sizes, full tone areas, lines, exclamation and question marks etc., were combined with parts of three-dimensional photographs, redefining the meaning and creating unexpected effects.

Alexander Rodchenko and Gustav Klutsis, who contended each other’s precedence in the use of photomontage, were unanimous in their highest estimation of this technique and used it extensively in their works, mainly in posters. In the first issue of the LEF magazine under the editorship of Vladimir Mayakovsky, in a flagship article the Construtivists, Aleksandr Rodchenko wrote: “A new way of illustration was implemented that involves combining print and photo material on a certain topic… which makes any art and graphic illustration meaningless.” In 1931 Gustav Klutsis proclaimed a revolutionary role of the photomontage technique for any kind of art in his article Photomontage as a New Means of Propaganda in Art from a book Izofront.

In the second half of the 1920s, the popularity of political and social-themed posters was accompanied with the golden age of movie posters. The formal language of movie posters was largely influenced by the innovative processes in the film art of that times: the original methods of the newsreel shooting by Dziga Vertov, Lev Kuleshov’s film editing theory, Sergey Eisenstein’s artistic discoveries etc. Brothers Vladimir and Georgy Stenbergs, Anton Lavinsky, Nikolay Prusakov and other artists whose posters are featured at the present exhibition used unusual perspectives and created interesting visual metaphors. Their works were displayed at the two poster exhibitions in Moscow in 1925 and 1926.

The Constructivists advocated photomontage technique in a number of editions, such as the Proletkult Anthology (1925) with Alexey Gun’s articleCostructivism in Typography and Nikolay Tarabukin’s Photo Mechanics; N. Tarabukin’s book The Art of the Day. What One Needs to Know to Make a Poster, a Commercial, a Book, a Playbill, a Newspaper… Therefore, many amateur artists turned to photomontage. El Lissitzky considered this to be an achievement of Russian Constructivism. In a guide to an All-Union Printing Exhibition of 1927 in Moscow he wrote that composite photos were used in American commercials, in the European Dadaist works and in German political lay-outs, but only in Russia photomontage “acquired a distinct social and artistic form” and was used in the workers’ and Komsomol art clubs greatly affecting wall newspapers.

The widespread of photomontage, its “victorious march” through the country, lasted up till 1931, when the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of the Bolsheviks issued an act On Poster Literature. The following year, numerous groups of artists were disbanded and the Union of Artists was formed. From then on started the domination of an official Soviet art form – Socialist Realism. The issues of developing and improving photomontage techniques that were of concern to the masters of Constructivism were forgotten for a long time.