“Apparently there is no place where talent of an artistic or literary sort is so carefully nurtured as in Moscow,” wrote Alfred H. Barr, Jr., MoMA’s founding director, in his diary during a visit to the Russian capital in 1927–28. Constructivism, a radical new movement that married art and technology, had taken root in the new Soviet Union, bringing together practitioners across a range of disciplines, including graphic design, painting, and photography. Its revolutionary sensibility was epitomized by the film posters of the Stenberg brothers. In this period, film was cultivated by the Soviet state as a means of both political propaganda and mass communication in a country where illiteracy was common.
This poster for the 1927 film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, an important piece of nonnarrative experimental cinema directed by the German filmmaker Walter Ruttmann, exemplifies the success of the Stenbergs’ methods. The image of a skyscraper, an architectural form then unknown to citizens of Berlin or Moscow, and a low-flying airplane appear alongside a depiction of a male figure suspended in space. Part machine, part human, he has a camera lens for an eye, while his mechanical arms wield a pen and a typewriter. A keen observer and a powerful communicator, he may be a stand-in for the filmmaker, whose cinematic ode to a city portrays life in a seething modern metropolis from dawn to dusk.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)