EL LISSITZKY (1890–1941)
EL LISSITZKY (1890–1941)

Footballer, 1926

EL LISSITZKY (1890–1941)
Footballer, 1926
gelatin silver print
image: 5 1/4 x 4 3/8 in. (13.3 x 11.1 cm.)
sheet: 5 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (13.9 x 11.4 cm.)
Descended from the artist to Jen Lissitzky, the artist's son;
The Image as Object: Photographs from the Collection of Barry Friedman, Christie's New York, October 5, 1998, lot 68;
acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, El Lissitzky 1890-1941, Municipal Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1990, cat. no. 113.
Exhibition catalogue, El Lissitzky, Experiments in Photography, Houk/Friedman, New York, 1991, pl. 13, p. 32.
Margarita Tupitsyn, El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999, pl. 42, cat. no. 45, p. 107.
Hannover, Sprengel Museum, El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration, 1999.

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Shlomi Rabi
Shlomi Rabi

Lot Essay

In our country the main emphasis is placed not on the “sports record” but on “physical culture,” that is, the culture of the body. ?—?El Lissitzky, 1930

The 1920s marked a turning point for the arts in the Soviet Union, following the Russian Revolution. Practitioners of the arts, from poets to musicians and filmmakers, were conscious of the previous distance between the fine arts and the public, and in an effort to minimize said distance, turned to ways in which the arts could be accessed by the masses. Accordingly, murals gained in popularity, and in 1925 the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky celebrated Diego Rivera’s sprawling frescos at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City as “the world’s first Communist mural.” The following year, Lissitzky, himself an avant-garde designer, was inspired to apply the power of the photographic image to the fresco in two notable commissions, Record (depicting a hurdles runner), and, as seen in the current lot, Footballer. In so doing, Lissitzky launched his signature style of ‘monumental photography’, installing mural-sized photographs for the International Press Exhibition in Cologne in 1928, the International Hygeine Exhibition in Dresden in 1930, and the International Fur Trade Exhibition in Leipzig, 1930. The effectiveness of the mural was its ability to be seen and understood by the masses—including the uneducated and the illiterate—an unapologetic nationalist propaganda. Record and Footballer were likely intended to be installed in a (never realized) sweeping sports stadium and performance space in southwest Moscow. The stadium, Mezhdunarodnyi krasnyi stadion (International red stadium, or MKS), was a major project within the physical-culture movement of the Soviet Union. It was intended to improve the health and productivity of Russian workers by encouraging participation in organized physical activities; host future Olympic Games; and provide unprecedentedly large spaces to host spectacles for the masses.

Footballer depicts a hyper-dramatic moment in a soccer game, in which a number of players jockey for the ball. The pyramidal composition is dominated by a central figure, who hovers almost preternaturally above the group, appearing more superhero than athlete. He is captured at the brink of kicking a ball, a pre-victorious adrenaline rush that is undoubtedly meant to excite the viewers. The underlying drama is heightened by the chiaroscuro lighting and the graphic design of the uniforms. And perhaps what brings the image to even greater heights is the graphic collaging woven throughout. The image is ‘sliced’ into strips that elongate the composition and emphasize its verticality. The bright floodlights inject an electric shock that ripples through the scene and exaggerates the theatricality of this public display of strength and domination. This image is not about sports, but about the constellation of emotions—from pride to awe and excited anticipation—that surround it.

As of the time of this writing, this is believed to be the only print of this image.

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