Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented

Liubov Popova. Production Clothing for Actor No. 7 (Prozodezhda aktera No. 7). 1922, dated 1921

Gouache, cut-and-pasted colored paper, ink, and pencil on paper, 12 15/16 × 9 1/8" (32.8 × 23.1 cm). The Merrill C. Berman Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Alice and Tom Tisch, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, David Booth, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Jack Shear, the Patricia Bonfield Endowed Acquisition Fund for the Design Collection, Daniel and Jane Och, The Orentreich Family Foundation, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, The Modern Women's Fund; and by exchange: Gift of Jean Dubuffet in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Colin, The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, and the Richard S. Zeisler Bequest

Curator, Jodi Hauptman: We're looking at a work by the Russian artist Popova, a costume design for a play called The Magnanimous Cuckold.

She was trained originally as an easel painter in the 1910s. And then the Russian Revolution happens in 1917. In the wake of that, she actually abandoned painting to produce forms of art that she feels will more directly engage a mass society.

She creates these costume designs that are based on worker's clothing. So, the blue in this costume would allude to the basic blue worker smock. So she's thinking about the role of industry and the way serial production is so much a part of people's lives. You can take one costume and repeat it and repeat it again and just change it in slight ways.

The red square is a form that's very much associated with the young Soviet Union. It's really a stand-in for the boldness and aspiration of this new society that artists, architects, workers, leaders are all building together. And it's a sign of this new visual language for a new world. And it's the language of abstraction, but what Popova and some of her fellow artists that you see in this room did, was they took that visual language, that abstraction, and retooled it for radical political ends.

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