Various drawings onto a yellow background

Isms and Non-Isms: Recent Acquisitions by Watson Library

Through April 16
Free with Museum admission

Constructivism and Concrete Art

Geometric abstraction in art became increasingly widespread internationally between World War I and World War II. Among many avant-garde and modernist artists, landscape and portrait paintings gave way to stripped-down compositions of shapes and forms, devoid of any symbolic or referential meaning. Seeing greater purpose and relevance for themselves as artist-engineers and designers, many artists abandoned easel painting and studio art altogether in favor of book, journal, poster, textile, and household object design.

Books and journals helped fuel the growth of non-representational art and design worldwide, through both their content and their appearance. Works exhibited in this section feature landmarks of avant-garde design, celebrated for their inseparability of text and image, dynamic layouts, non-conventional uses of metal type as pictorial devices, and incorporation of photography and photomontage.

Selected Artworks

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Erste Russische Kunstausstellung, Berlin, 1922, Galerie Van Diemen & Co. ... Unter den Linden 21, El Lissitzky  Russian
El Lissitzky (Russian, Pochinok 1890–1941 Moscow)
Dli︠a︡ golosa, El Lissitzky  Russian
El Lissitzky (Russian, Pochinok 1890–1941 Moscow)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1894-1930)
Zlom, Karel Teige  Czech
Karel Teige (Czech 1900–1951)
S lodí jež dováží čaj a kávu : poesie, Karel Teige  Czech
Karel Teige (Czech 1900–1951)
Het boek van PTT, Piet Zwart  Dutch
Piet Zwart (Dutch, Zaandijk 1885–1977 Wassenaar)
Hikō kannō, Onchi Koshiro  Japanese
Onchi Koshiro (Japanese, 1891–1955)
Raison et nature : théorie, Joaquín Torres-García  Uruguayan
Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan, Montevideo 1874–1949 Montevideo)
30 dibujos constructivos : 12 reproduciones en negro y 18 en color, José Gurvich  Uruguayan
José Gurvich (Uruguayan (born Lithuania), Jieznas 1927–1974 New York)
Antonio Pezzino (Argentine, Córdoba 1921–2004 Montevideo)
Arte madí, Diyi Laañ  Argentine
Diyi Laañ (Argentine, Buenos Aires 1927–2007)
Arte concreta, Bruno Munari  Italian
Bruno Munari (Italian, Milan 1907–1998 Milan)

Réverbères, Lettrism, and Art Brut

Formed in late 1937, the artist group Les Réverbères espoused experimentation across art forms. The group organized exhibitions, jazz concerts, dances, readings, and re-stagings of Dada plays by Tristan Tzara, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Guillaume Apollinaire. Most active between 1938 and 1939, the group presented itself as a neo-Dada “refuge” from Surrealists and Surrealism which they believed had run its course, and firmly believed in the practice of “art as resistance." The word réverbères (“street lamps”) is itself an homage to Dada, and a clear reference to a key work by Tzara. Réverbères artists exploited handwritten text and stencil lettering in their publications for additional expression, and often combined various paper types, sizes and colors. 

Artists associated with the Lettrisme (or “Lettrism” in its English-language form) art movement held similar reverence for the expressive potential of letterforms and pictograms. Convinced that “new art needs new forms,” Lettrist artists used letters as purely pictorial elements, rather than as components of words with pre-established meanings. 

Selected Artworks

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Saint ghetto des prêts : grimoire, Gabriel Pomerand  French
Gabriel Pomerand (French, Paris 1926–1972 Corsica)
Psi, Roland Sabatier  French
Roland Sabatier (French, Toulouse, 1942–2022 Paris)
Micheline Hachette (French, Paris 1938–1993)
Editions lettrisme et hypergraphie, Roland Sabatier  French
Roland Sabatier (French, Toulouse, 1942–2022 Paris)
Micheline Hachette (French, Paris 1938–1993)
Apeïros, Roberto Altmann  Cuban
Multiple artists/makers
Les Réverbères, Aline Gagnaire  French
Aline Gagnaire (French, 1911–1997)
Hommage à Dada, Michel Tapié
Michel Tapié
Polyphème, ou, L'escadron bleu : poëme, Jean Jausion  French
Jean Jausion (French, 1917–1944)
Michel Tapié
Les Reverberes anthologie : poemes dessins : catalogue de la 1re exposition : peinture, dessins, sculpture, Michel Tapié
Multiple artists/makers
Evolution, Miguel Hernández  Spanish
Miguel Hernández

Activism and Actionism: Publication as Provocation

None of the works in this exhibition were created simply as vehicles for personal, individual expression. They all carry an underlying or overt attempt by their authors to impact and inspire change in the worlds around them, either in the realm of art, culture, government, interpersonal relations, or daily society. In the works in this section, artists directly address issues of misogyny, authoritarianism, violence, inequality, inhumanity, economic disparity, complicity, and complacency. Performance and action artists expressed urgent and extreme concerns through extreme actions: public nudity, acts involving bodily fluids and self-harm, and uses of national and religious imagery in manners considered blasphemous or pornographic are among the tactics artists utilized to try to disrupt, awaken, and rally the world to action. For these artists, books and magazines offered a way to extend the reach of their live events and record them for posterity. The collage, décollage, and cut-and-paste compositions with found text and imagery in these publications capture the chaos and tumult of the times and conditions to which these artists were responding, and directly inspired the punk-aesthetic that later emerged on album covers and flyers.

Selected Artworks

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Internationale situationniste : bulletin centrale édité par les sections de l'Internationale situationniste, Internationale situationniste
Internationale situationniste
Multiple artists/makers
SPUR, Hans-Peter Zimmer  German
Multiple artists/makers
The Situationist times : international edition, Jacqueline de Jong  Dutch
Jacqueline de Jong (Dutch, born 1939 Hengelo)
Monday, January 1, 1962 – Sunday, December 31, 1967
Parts of a body house book, Carolee Schneemann  American
Multiple artists/makers
Die Schastrommel, Günter Brus  Austrian
Günter Brus (Austrian, born 1938)
Die Drossel, Günter Brus  Austrian
Günter Brus (Austrian, born 1938)
Escracho, Eduardo Kac  Brazilian
Eduardo Kac (Brazilian, born 1962)
Dé-coll/age happenings, Wolf Vostell  German
Wolf Vostell (German, 1932–1998)
The Something Else Press (New York, NY)
L'optique moderne, Daniel Spoerri  Swiss
Daniel Spoerri (Swiss, born 1930)
François Dufrêne (French, 1930–1982)
Spatial poem. No. 3 : a fluxcalender, Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi  Japanese
Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi (Japanese, born 1938)
Monday, January 1, 1968 – Sunday, December 31, 1972
Fluxfilm no. 4 : "disappearing music for face", Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi  Japanese
Multiple artists/makers

Plan Your Visit

Through April 16
Free with Museum admission
Various drawings onto a yellow background