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Modern and Contemporary Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist: El Lissitzky, Russian, active Germany, 1890–1941

Proun 99

ca. 1923–25

Water soluble and metallic paint on wood

129 × 99.1 cm (50 13/16 × 39 in.)
framed: 134.3 × 105.09 × 5.08 cm (52 7/8 × 41 3/8 × 2 in.)
Gift of Collection Société Anonyme

El Lissitzky was a designer, typographer, architect, and photographer affiliated with the Soviet Constructivist and Suprematist movements. He studied and worked as an architect and engineer in Germany and Russia before receiving an invitation from Marc Chagall in 1919 to teach at the Vitebsk School of Art in Belarus. There he encountered painter Kasimir Malevich, the recent founder of the Suprematist movement, which strove to create a style of purely non-objective painting comprised of a language of geometric forms. In 1920 Lissitzky coined the term “Proun”—an acronym for the Russian words meaning “project for the affirmation of the new”—to refer to a series of abstract works that combined the Suprematist lexicon of geometric, monochromatic forms with tools of architectural rendering. In Proun 99, the large composite object that dominates the upper left quadrant could either be a cube or a recessed meeting of three planes. The gridded triangle at the bottom appears to create a sense of depth, yet the elements above it seem to exist in their own, gravity-less space. Through constructing a complex dimensional space that hovers between the coherent and the impossible, Lissitzky strives to evoke utopia—literally “no place”—and to achieve the task of inventing a new art for a post-revolutionary Soviet society.

Not on view
20th century

Collection of the Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950), 158–59, ill.

Ruth L. Bohan, The Société Anonyme’s Brooklyn Exhibition: Katherine Dreier and Modernism in America (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Research Press, 1982), 148, fig. 12.

Robert L. Herbert, Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenney, The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 420, no. 437, ill.

Ruth L. Bohan et al., The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, ed. Jennifer Gross, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2006), 110, fig. 16.

Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski, Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, 3 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 1:61, fig. 4.

Samantha Baskind and Larry Silver, Jewish Art: A Modern History (London: Reaktion Books, 2011).

Harry Cooper and Barbara Haskell, Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, exh. cat. (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2016), 164, ill.

Matthew S. Witkovsky et al., Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia!: Soviet Art Put to the Test, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2017), 280–87.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.