Female Shock-workers Strengthen the Shock Brigades, 1931
98 x 71 cm
Valentina Kulagina (Moscow, 1902-1987)
In the two decades following the historical events of the Soviet Revolution, between the formal experimentation of the first abstraction and the controlled artistic production of socialist realism, photography and photomontage were essential to the development of avant-garde movements that gave birth to an unprecedented visual language. Valentina Kulagina took an active part in the debates and implementation of these new communication techniques, cultivating the expressive possibilities arising from the combination of photography and other resources of the press, together with graphic design, in order to create large-format posters to be displayed in public spaces, them being the genuine precursors of the innovative possibilities of mass media.
Kulagina had an extensive experience in designing posters and publications, and she displayed her work in various exhibitions in Russia and Europe. In 1919, she joined the studios of Antoine Pevsner and Vladimir Favorsky in the SVOMAS (free state art studios) in Moscow, where she met her future husband, the artist Gustav Klucis. During 1920-1921, they studied together in the VkhUTEMAS (higher state artistic and technical studios). Her first photomontages and constructivist typography were exhibited in 1925, standing out for the strength and power of the images. In 1928, she engaged in the organisation of the Soviet section of the Pressa exhibition in Cologne, devoted to current affairs in journalism, and that year she became a member of the art group October, thereby exhibiting her work in the 1930 group exhibition in Moscow. In the late 1920s, she designed and created posters for the Izogiz (the State Publishing House of Fine Art). She exhibited her work in 1931 Berlin’s Photomontage and 1932 The Poster in the Service of the Five-Year Plan exhibitions. She continued to display her work in exhibitions in Russia and throughout Europe until her husband was arrested during Stalinist purges.
Kulagina’s engagement in this period of profound social and cultural changes made her a key figure in the evolution of photomontage and graphic design, and its ability to analyse reality, coupled with its relevance to the visual culture involved in the transformation of political and social structures. This aesthetic of productivist design relied upon the consolidation and diversification of the range of expressive resources in the era of mechanical reproduction, which fostered the exchange of ideas in a clear defence of the revealing power of compositional montage techniques.
In all Kulagina’s covers and posters, but also in her designs for exhibitions and fairs, these methods of mobilisation and mass awareness plotted a path towards the defence of contemporary themes such as gender equality and the active demand for women’s access to the new means of production, as illustrated by this poster from the IVAM collection, which contains a representative selection of works by this artist acquired in 1995.