Engineer, Agitator, Constructor

The Artist Reinvented

Dec 13, 2020–Apr 10, 2021

MoMA

Valentina Kulagina (Russian, 1902–1907). Maquette for We Are Building (Stroim). 1929. Cut-and-pasted printed and painted paper, sandpaper, gouache, and pencil on paper, 22 5/8 × 14 1/4" (57.5 × 36.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 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.
  • MoMA, Floor 3, 3 East The Robert B. Menschel Galleries

“We regarded ourselves as engineers, we maintained that we were building things…we put our works together like fitters.” So declared the artist Hannah Höch, describing a radically new approach to artmaking in the 1920s and ’30s. Such wholesale reinvention of the role of the artist and the functions of art took place in lockstep with that era’s shifts in industry, technology, and labor, and amid the profound impact of momentous events: World War I, the Russian Revolution, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the rise of fascism. Highlighting figures such as Aleksandr Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, John Heartfield, and Fré Cohen, Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented demonstrates the ways in which artists reimagined their roles to create a dynamic art for a new world.

These “engineers,” “agitators,” “constructors,” “photomonteurs,” “workers”—all designations adopted by the artists themselves—turned away from traditional forms of painting and sculpture and invented new visual languages. Central among them was photomontage, in which photographs and images from newspapers and magazines were cut, remixed, and pasted together. Working as propagandists, advertisers, publishers, editors, theater designers, and curators, these artists engaged with expanded audiences in novel ways, establishing distinctive infrastructures for presenting and distributing their work.

Engineer, Agitator, Constructor marks a recent transformative addition to MoMA from the Merrill C. Berman Collection, one of the great private collections of political art. Illuminating the essential role of women in avant-garde activities while mapping vital networks across Europe, the exhibition presents the social engagement, fearless experimentation, and utopian aspirations that defined the early 20th century, and how these strategies still reverberate today.

Organized by Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Adrian Sudhalter, Consulting Curator, with Jane Cavalier, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Major support for the exhibition is provided by The Modern Women’s Fund.

Generous funding is provided by The Dian Woodner Exhibition Endowment Fund.

Leadership contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund, in support of the Museum’s collection and collection exhibitions, are generously provided by Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Sandra and Tony Tamer Exhibition Fund, The Contemporary Arts Council, Eva and Glenn Dubin, Alice and Tom Tisch, Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, the Noel and Harriette Levine Endowment, The David Rockefeller Council, the Eyal and Marilyn Ofer Family Exhibition Fund, The Marella and Giovanni Agnelli Fund for Exhibitions, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis.

Major contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund are provided by Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Brett and Daniel Sundheim, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Publication

  • Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented, 1918–1939. The Merrill C. Berman Collection at MoMA Hardcover, 288 pages
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