MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 27-30 May 2012

27 May 2012

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

We Are Building Socialism

* 44. PIMENOV, YURI (1903-1977)

We Are Building Socialism, signed with a monogram and dated 1931.

Pencil, coloured pencil and gouache on paper, 48.5 by 73 cm.
320,000–500,000 GBP

Provenance: The artist’s family, Moscow.
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert O. Glebova.

Exhibited: Yu. I. Pimenov, Leningrad, 1968, titled My stroim.

Literature: A. Sidorov, Yuri Ivanovich Pimenov, Moscow, Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1986, p. 197, No. 739, listed.

Yuri Pimenov’s posters are among the highest achievements of 20th-century graphic design. Among his widely celebrated works of the 1920s and 1930s on such topical subjects as work, the Revolution and sport, We Are Building Socialism – of which two versions are known – merits special attention.

The first version was commissioned in 1927 for the tenth anniversary of the Revolution and executed in a Constructivist aesthetic. Using four colours, with the powerful figure of a worker in the foreground and a dynamic collage of different elements – fonts, typefaces and various episodes from heroic everyday life during the period of industrialisation – its composition is based on the contrasts in colour, rhythm and scale that were typical of 1920s agitprop graphics. However, although eye-catching as a whole, the design is fragmented and over-complicated.

Returning to the subject of building Socialism in 1931 with this poster design, Pimenov proposes a totally new composition which is far more dynamic and economical. In the four years separating the two attempts at the same theme much had changed, not only in Pimenov’s creative orientation but also in the country itself. If in 1927 it had been necessary to consolidate the results of the first decade of Soviet power, then now the state’s first five-year plan gave grounds for the realisation of a whole series of economic, political and ideological actions that elevated industrialisation to the status of a model for the era of the “Great Turning Point”.

Pimenov’s execution of this new version was preceded – as was usual for easel painters – by a “study period” during which he assembled material. In 1930 he made a tour of the industrial areas of the country, visiting the cement factory “Proletarian” and a model sovkhoz near Moscow. In a change from his previous poster style, Pimenov abandons the collage form and strives, via a system he had devised of areas of flatness and volume, figurative metaphors and associations, to convey first and foremost the movement, dynamism and rhythm demanded by the aims of the new era. He places the worker in the foreground with his back turned to the viewer. His boldly and energetically drawn figure holding a pneumatic drill stands out in his figurative power and direct call to action. The background consists of line drawings – constructed according to the laws of linear perspective, schematised but still recognisable – of electric power lines, railway lines and factory work benches. In this version, the artist is evidently inclined towards a large-scale format and monumental abstraction of form.

Interestingly, despite all the evident merits of the design it still did not go into mass production. This was probably the result of harsh criticism of The Society of Easel-Painters’ poster imagery and of Pimenov personally, which had grown noticeably stronger in the press during the early 1930s.

Today, now that the acuity of the political aspect has lost its pertinence and ideological rigidity, the indisputable quality of Pimenov’s design for the 1931 We Are Building Socialism poster is obvious. The determined quest for expressivity, the skill in creating easily-remembered images, the striving for innovation in subject-matter and in the very techniques for depicting reality – these attributes constitute the principal asset of a mass-produced graphic design.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.