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Soviet Salvage: Imperial Debris, Revolutionary Reuse, and Russian Constructivism

by Catherine Walworth Penn State University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 248 pages
AU$89.00 NZ$92.17
Product Status: In Stock Now
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In Soviet Salvage, Catherine Walworth explores how artists on the margins of the Constructivist movement of the 1920s rejected “elitist” media and imagined a new world, knitting together avant-garde art, imperial castoffs, and everyday life.


Applying anthropological models borrowed from Claude Lévi-Strauss, Walworth shows that his mythmaker typologies—the “engineer” and “bricoleur”—illustrate, respectively, the canonical Constructivists and artists on the movement’s margins who deployed a wide range of clever make-do tactics. Walworth explores the relationships of Nadezhda Lamanova, Esfir Shub, and others with Constructivists such as Aleksei Gan, Varvara Stepanova, and Aleksandr Rodchenko. Together, the work of these artists reflected the chaotic and often contradictory zeitgeist of the decade from 1918 to 1929 and redefined the concept of mass production. Reappropriated fragments of a former enemy era provided a wide range of play and possibility for these artists, and the resulting propaganda porcelain, film, fashion, and architecture tell a broader story of the unique political and economic pressures felt by their makers.


An engaging multidisciplinary study of objects and their makers during the Soviet Union’s early years, this volume highlights a group of artists who hover like free radicals at the border of existing art-historical discussions of Constructivism and deepens our knowledge of Soviet art and material culture.


List of Illustrations


Note to the Reader


1 The Economic Shaping of Constructivism

2 A Blank Slate: The First Years of Soviet Propaganda Porcelain

3 Nadezhda Lamanova: On the Elegant Fringes of Constructivist Dress

4 Esfir Shub: “Magician of the Editing Table”

5 The Five-Year Plan Prompts a Fire Sale





“Perhaps the most salient feature of Russian Constructivism is that its universal reputation rests not upon what it produced, but rather upon its unfulfilled intentions, dreams, blueprints, and prototypes. Drawing on rare bibliographical and archival sources and moving across film, photography, fashion, and other media, Catherine Walworth describes the ‘sweet nothings’ of the Constructivists by emphasizing their reliance on the ‘salvage’ of throwaway objects, built-in obsolescence, chance, and art trouvé. In this way she brings to bear an alternative and refreshing light upon the later phase of the Russian avant-garde, offering us a truly synthetic and interdisciplinary assessment.”

—John E. Bowlt, author of Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, 1902–1934

Catherine Walworth is Curator at the Columbia Museum of Art and co-author of Silver to Steel: The Modern Designs of Peter Muller-Munk.