“Deconstruction is the opposite of construction.”
David Burliuk devoted his artistic practice—which spanned painting, poetry, drawing, and engraving—to the pursuit of the modern. Using bold typefaces, vibrant colors, and energetic brush strokes, Burliuk turned against the artistic conventions of the past, capturing Russian Futurism’s ideas of dynamism, innovation, and revolution, declared in the 1912 manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste. Burliuk and his Futurist compatriots challenged audiences to question the accepted ideals of aesthetics and beauty in the hope of developing a new and more forward-thinking world.
Artists, like Burliuk, associated with Russian Futurism sought to both question and analyze—what they called “deconstruct”—established principles of art, including a classical attention to realism, balance, and natural subject matter. Explaining his methods, Burliuk wrote:
“deconstruction is the opposite of construction.
a canon can be constructive.
a canon can be deconstructive.
construction can be shifted or displaced.”
David Burliuk was born on January 21, 1882, in the Village of Riabushky in the Russian Empire, in what is now Ukraine. He exhibited an early affinity for creative art, beginning independent painting studies at the age of 10. By the end of the 19th century, Burliuk had enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art in Munich, the first of four formal arts programs he would attend throughout his life. It was at the Moscow Academy of Fine Art, an institution in which Burliuk enrolled in 1910, that he began participating in exhibitions and collectives that questioned the conventional standards of beauty in art. During a time of significant industrialization and political change, movements such as the famed Der Blaue Reiter, a group Burliuk associated with in 1912, while he was in Munich, emphasized a shift away from the classical styles of the past, prioritizing the innovations of the future.
Between 1910 and 1913, Burliuk began to assemble artists and poets—including Vladimir Mayakovsky, Benedict Livshits, and Velimir Khlebnikov—to form a group that would become known as Gileia. Initially formed as a modern literary collective and founded on the principles proposed by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurism,” Gileia and its members would quickly metamorphose into the Cubo-Futurists. Marked by graphic handling of subjects and unconventional editorial displays, the Cubo-Futurists were unwavering in pushing the boundaries of accepted aesthetics.
The Cubo-Futurist movement carved out a space for artists to explore the creative possibilities of the modern future that lay ahead. Unfortunately, by 1916 the First World War had taken its toll on the creative communities of Eastern Europe, and the group dissolved. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, political conflict forced many to search for safer havens, and in 1922 Burliuk settled in the United States. He continued creating works consistent with the style of Cubo-Futurism, now informed by the trauma and displacement of war.
Distressed by the turmoil in his homeland, Burliuk joined other displaced artists, including Alexander Bogomazov and Vadym Meller, in creating the New York–based Association of Revolutionary Masters of Ukraine in 1925. While continuing his artistic practice, he would spend much of his later life attempting to revisit his homeland, a pursuit that proved successful in 1956, when his petition to visit was granted by the Soviet government. David Burliuk passed away on January 15, 1967. His art is a testament to constant innovation and, as he wrote in a 1912 manifesto, “the new impending beauty of the self-valuable (self-creating) word.”
Emily Olek, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, 2022