Klutsis, Gustav Gustavovich (Klucis, Gustavs)
Клуцис, Густав Густавович
Born Riga, Russian Empire, 1895; died in a Soviet labor camp, 1944
Gustav Klutsis is known as the premiere artist of Soviet photomontage art. Klutsis attended the State Art School in Riga, Latvia from 1913 to 1915. He moved to Russia in 1917 during the period of the October Revolution where he took part in a volunteer rifle regiment that helped overturn the Tsarist regime. After the revolution, he continued his studies at the School of Drawing for the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in Petrograd. In 1918, Klutsis was sent to Moscow where he served as a guard at the Kremlin and, that same year, he participated in the exhibition of art by the members of the workshop of the Ninth Guard's Regiment. While in Moscow, he entered the Ilya Mashkov studio as a student. From 1919 to 1920, Klutsis attended SVOMAS [Free State Art Studios] where he studied with Kazimir Malevich. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1920 and that same year, entered VKhUTEMAS [Higher Art and Technical Studios] – the birthplace of Soviet Constructivism. At VKhUTEMAS he experimented with photomontage and made forays into Constructivist graphic design. In 1921, he married his colleague Valentina Kalugina – an important Constructivist poster artist and a graphic designer in her own right. Klutsis traveled to Denmark on behalf of the Communist International (Comintern), and in 1922, took part in the First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin. Already a well-known and prolific artist by the 1920s, from 1924 to 1930, he taught a course on color in the Woodwork and Metalwork Department of VKhUTEMAS. In 1925, he worked to organize the artwork at the Soviet Pavilion for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Between 1923-1925, he actively contributed designs to cutting-edge graphic arts magazines such as LEF, October, and Izofront. From 1928 to 1932, he was a member of the artists’ collective, October Group, and from 1929 to 1932, he was a presiding member of the Artists of Revolutionary Posters.
By the 1930s, Klutsis was the leading artist of photomontage posters in the Soviet Union. His quality and output could only be rivaled by the Constructivists such as El Lissitzky and Alexandr Rodchenko. In 1938, during the Stalinist purges, Klutsis was accused of being a member of a Latvian fascist organization and he was arrested. His family learned of his death in 1956 when it was released to them that he died in 1944 in a Soviet labor camp. Alternatively, published sources place the year of his death as having occurred in 1938.
Sources & Citations
Margarita Tupitsyn, Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina: Photography and Montage after Constructivism (New York: Gerhard Steidl, 2008).
Leah Dickerman, "The Fact and Photograph," October, no. 118 (Autumn, 2006): 132-152.
Boris Groya and Max Hollein, Traumfabrik Kommunismus: Die visuelle Kultur der Stalinzeit [Dream Factory Communism: The Visual Culture of Stalinism] (Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2003).
Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life, exh., The Art Institute of Chicago: <www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Avant-Garde/Klutsis> A short biography of the artist online.
Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press, 2009, Museum of Modern Art, New York. (An online biography of the artist)
Benjamin H. Buchloh, "From Faktura to Factography," October, no. 30 (Autumn, 1984): 83-119.