Aleksandr Rodchenko was one of the innovators and most dedicated practitioners of Russian Constructivism, the state-approved, post-Revolution artistic style that encouraged the application of standardized abstract designs to utilitarian objects. This style was in direct contrast to traditional art, with its emphasis on individual expression. Rodchenko and like-minded artists worked in a wide variety of mediums, including textiles, ceramics, posters, furniture, architecture, and exhibition design.
Rodchenko's focus was on graphic design, photography, and photomontage—a filmic medium that combines and juxtaposes photographic fragments. His designs for books ranged from collaborations with poet friends to propaganda magazines intended for mass distribution. Among his most fruitful collaborations was that with poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who also embraced Rodchenko's goal of reaching out to the Soviet proletariat rather than to the artistic elite. Together they produced government advertising posters, books, and several journals. One such joint project, About This: To Her and to Me, featured the first photomontages by Rodchenko to be used in book design. The illustrations provide a lively counterpoint to the long love poem Mayakovsky wrote for his lover and muse Lily Brik, whose portrait is on the cover.
Rodchenko's work in book design had begun with handmade carbon-copied books in the late teens that continued an earlier Futurist aesthetic and were made in very small editions. By contrast, his later Constructivist book covers were issued by the state publishing house in much larger numbers. One of the latter is the wraparound cover for Orator: Verse, which exemplifies the architectural, rationalized, compositional structure of the post-Revolution design aesthetic.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 81.