The “Everyfeelingism” of Iliazd
Better known as Iliazd, Ilia Zdanevich (1894-1975) contrived to remain at the forefront of the avant-garde all his life. From his youthful efforts to his more mature work, through middle age to old age, he was always at the very epicentre of the avant-garde. During his long lifetime - Iliazd lived to the age of 81 - art movements came and went with dizzying speed, with avant-garde styles in a constant state of flux, appearing, disappearing, reorganizing, merging, changing names. The most consistent figure of the avant-garde, Iliazd was something of a living monument - and he was our compatriot. As the exhibition “Iliazd. The 20th Century of Ilia Zdanevich” runs at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, curator Boris Fridman recalls a unique figure in 20th century culture.
Natella Voiskunski: For the best part of a century we seem to have lost interest in Iliazd - and now it has returned. Why do you think this is?
Boris Fridman: To begin with, let us be clear that we will not here be discussing the consistent interest the work of Iliazd has enjoyed abroad. Such a discussion can only serve to highlight our own failures. In other countries, Iliazd is a popular and well-known Artist with a capital "a". Despite the fact that he never produced a single painting, solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the Pompidou Centre, New York's MOMA, in Montreal, in Italy, and then again in Paris. And I'm only listing the big shows!
What was the timing of these exhibitions?
The first was held in 1978, and the last, if I remember rightly, in 1994. After that the interest remained, but exhibition activity diminished. I am pretty certain that it will return, though - it is already returning, in fact, following the exhibition in Moscow. This exhibition is much more complete than the previous ones. It goes much deeper, it demonstrates a much fuller understanding of the phenomenon that was Iliazd. The shows abroad were quite rightly focused on his artist's books, of which we know virtually nothing. We are not acquainted with Iliazd the publisher, yet this was his occupation for 35 years! And, as the author and publisher of a series of unique books, he entered the history of world culture.
The elite of world culture, indeed...
Here in Russia, we know virtually nothing of this period. All our publications and all our interest have always been focused on his Futurist days in Tiflis...
Pirosmani, the Futurists, Goncharova and Larionov, zaum, Kruchenykh, the King of Albania and, later, the “Olbanian" cant of the Russian-language internet...
Pirosmani - wonderful, indeed, but don't forget that those were just a few months in Iliazd's 80-year lifespan. We are organizing a major two-day conference, and around 70 percent of the papers being submitted are on Futurism. Almost nothing else! Is it not a crime to take so narrow a view of the life, work and achievements of Iliazd, this truly remarkable man, this big Artist? I'm not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that never before has there been such an exhibition devoted to this man. It includes everything: the main posters for his performances both here and in Paris - all originals, not copies... The fruits of his cooperation with Gabrielle Chanel, including painted fabric samples and his little-known attempts to develop something like a mathematical theory of fashion... All his architectural drawings of churches, with descriptions and detailed sketches - some of these churches no longer exist, others have managed to survive...
What else is so special about this Moscow exhibition?
That it is dedicated to such an extraordinary figure. I am certain that there was no other such figure in the entire 20th century.
Indeed, he was an "Everythingist", as Iliazd himself and his contemporaries liked to say?
Absolutely, an "Everythingist", in the sense described by the wonderful artist Mikhail Le Dentu, the friend of his youth. Ilia was not exactly cunning, he was extremely quick-witted... Take Futurism, for instance: he didn't invent it, yet was key in its development and in the public's understanding and acceptance of it. And this was typical of him...
He knew how to formulate things, he knew how to “wow", how to draw attention. That's quite a lot for one person, isn't it?
Yes, he was good at all of that, and he was tremendously active... Actually, he didn't discover Pirosmani, either. Pirosmani was discovered by...
Iliazd's brother, Kirill Zdanevich..?
Yes! By Kirill, together with Le Dentu. Or, to be more precise, he wasn't discovered by Kirill at all, he was discovered by Le Dentu.
Kirill became passionate about him though, he travelled all over Georgia in search of works by Pirosmani. He would try to buy them, he'd bargain with tavern-owners, as Konstantin Paustovsky reminisces...
True, but it was Le Dentu who first noticed Pirosmani. Le Dentu was a true genius, his early death was nothing short of tragic...
He died in World War One?
Yes. He died returning from the front. Le Dentu is known as a fascinating artist, and as a real expert on art and art history. A drawing of his can be seen at the exhibition.
But let us return to our hero. What was it that made Iliazd so remarkable? Having visited the Iliazd archive in Marseille three times, I began to understand this better. Incidentally, that archive contains a lot of material that has tremendous importance for Russian, and for world culture. In addition to all his other talents, Iliazd was also an outstanding archivist. He recorded everything, he explained everything. As you say, he knew how to formulate things well... The archive contains mountains of texts, they are written in a neat hand, and are completely legible.
I can now say that I have a good idea of how his life was spent. By this I mean that I can reproduce the chronology of his life's events, I know what he was doing and when, I can trace the logic of events. But I still cannot comprehend one thing. Unlike Kirill Zdanevich and Mikhail Le Dentu, who partially completed their studies at the Academy of Arts, Iliazd was a student of the Law Faculty at St. Petersburg University. So how could a man who was not educated in art or in art history undertake so many different tasks in his life, and achieve such absolute perfection, such outstanding results in each?
To give but one example. Becoming interested in the history of Armenian, Georgian and Spanish churches, Iliazd undertook a huge task. Among his papers are 150 detailed church-building plans. After conducting thorough studies of these structures, he drew up the plans whilst working with Chanel, on the very machines that were used for decorating fabrics. From the sketches he'd made on his extensive travels, Iliazd used the machines to draw up the church plans...
It all started when Professor Ekvtime Takaishvili took him on an expedition...
Yes. It was during World War one. The Russians had entered turkey. takaishvili took Ilia on an expedition to study ruined Georgian churches, some of which had long ago been turned into mosques... zdanevich was the draftsman and photographer. Lado Gudiashvili was part of that expedition, too. Decades later, in 1952 a Georgian academic publishing house brought out a book by Professor takaishvili... I came across it in the archive in Marseille. It was in Russian. It contained the often-repeated phrase "this elevation was made by a young draftsman". Not once is Zdanevich's name mentioned, but the drawings clearly feature his handwriting, in pencil...
The writing is probably always identical, too...
Yes, everywhere it says "Zdanevich"!
This notwithstanding, Ilia Zdanevich was actually extremely fortunate to meet this man, who, even before his official canonization, was known as "St. Ekvtime", so early on in his life... Ekvtime Takaishvili was responsible for saving countless treasures of Georgian culture from destruction. In France, he was one of the founders of the Georgian Hearth association in Leuville-sur-Orge, near Paris. Ilia Zdanevich and his second wife, the Nigerian princess and poet Ibironke Akinsemoyin-Zdanevich, are both buried at Leuville Cemetery.
Our "young draftsman" did much more than just study architectural monuments, though. Iliazd presented papers at three world congresses of Byzantine experts, and was considered the top specialist on churches of the southern Black Sea region.
After his lectures and essays on Futurism, and his study and plans of Christian churches, Iliazd turned to a new pursuit. Arriving in Paris, he was in need of money, and he got himself a job with Sonia Delaunay, colouring scarves. So he got into working with fabrics by chance, as it were, and yet contrived to create a stunning decoration for vera Sudeikina's dress, a collar and sleeves. They really are stunning! At first glance the design resembles a pattern, but it is actually text. The originals are in the National Library of France, in Paris. We are just showing photographs of them. So, Sonia Delaunay recommended him for work at one of the weaving factories...
Which was later purchased by Gabrielle Chanel...
That's right, and so he started working for Chanel.
He even became its director, did he not?
He did, but not immediately. Before that, he was in charge of the designers, his notebooks from that time are filled with fabric designs. he developed an entire theory around fabric design, he left masses of notes on the subject. one of these notebooks is on show at the exhibition: it's full of mathematical formulae, technical drawings and notes on everything, how to place a rhomboid shape on a dress, which direction it should face, and at what angle... Personally, I don't understand how all those formulae were meant to work, but there it is. In 1935 Iliazd published a work called "O Modye 1935 Goda" [on the Fashion of 1935]. he wrote on fashion without having been trained to do so, and these are serious writings, not just the efforts of a novice. Chanel put him in charge of the designers, then before long he was made director of Tissus Chanel. It was in this role that he invented a knitting loom, which he patented. Chanel purchased the patent and used it for virtually the rest of the century to make such looms.
Not much is known about this, but Zdanevich was also, of course, a writer.
Indeed, that was another of his occupations. He wrote three novels. "Voskhishcheniye" [Rapture] was written in 1930. Iliazd attempted to get it published in the USSR, but he was refused. Olga Leshkova, Le Dentu's fiancee, left some fascinating letters on the subject. But naturally, he was refused. So he had the novel published in 1930 in Paris. As well as being a novelist and a playwright, he was also a poet, and had several books of poetry published...
And what a transition from the zaum of "krUl albAnskai" [The King of Albania] to classical verse! Just compare: "Uchastok steregu zhilishch dremotnykh / gde otpechatok Vashei krasoty / pokoitsia na skomkannykh polotnakh" ['I guard that corner of the dreamy houses, / With crumpled canvases, on which / A likeness of your beauty still reposes...']; or this: "Maleishy problesk Vami nazovu... / I nad moey lachugoi ptitselova / ne perestanete gnezditsia Vy / boginya budushchego i bylogo" ['Your name in each stray shaft of light I find... / And so, above my humble fowler's dwelling / You weave your nest and settle, Goddess mine, / Of past and future days the tales telling...'] How would you describe the evolution of his literary work?
His Futurist days quickly came to an end. Futurism, like so many other things, came into his life completely by chance. His father, who had studied at the Sorbonne, was a teacher of French. He'd been the first to translate Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism" into Russian. Iliazd read the Manifesto and was quick to absorb Marinetti's ideas... He was always quick to grasp any new concept. So he became a Futurist and spent a year shocking and impressing the public. Had it not been for his father's translation, he might, perhaps, never even have heard of Futurism, let alone have become a Futurist. As it was, he came up with all kinds of ideas to impress audiences, such as that shoe, which he liked to wave during his performances...
Yes, we know that he thought a "shoe is more beautiful than the Venus of Milo"...
Pure provocation, all done for effect! So, he scandalized the public, then a year later, he stopped. Officially. After a year, Ilia Zdanevich declared that Futurism did not exist, that it holds no interest. In 1923 he wrote his final work in zaum, "LidantU fAram" [translated into French as "Le Dentu le Phare"], dedicated to Le Dentu. I see that work as a real masterpiece, the pinnacle of achievement in that particular genre. Ilia Zdanevich started working on "LidantU fAram" in Tiflis in 1919. He then edited it in Constantinople in 1920-1921 before publishing it in Paris in 1923. It was brought out by the 41° publishing house.
Continuing the work of the Tiflis group 41°?
Yes, it is usually mentioned as the most extreme example of the zaum dra, or dramas, of the aslaablIchya pentalogy. Ilia Zdanevich himself wrote of it: "This book is a crown on the grave of my dead friend, and on all that which, for ten years, made up our lives."
We should recall also that Jean Cocteau called this book a miracle, and Alexei Kruchenykh said it was "wonderful" Upon its publication, Iliazd himself declared that "this was the highest point... Farewell, youth and zaum. The long path of the acrobat, the puns, the cool mind, everything, everything, everything."
It was displayed at an exhibition...
In the Soviet pavilion of the Exposition Universelle in Paris?
Yes, in 1925. We have a photo, it is part of the exhibition, too.
Iliazd got the idea for the theory of Everythingism from Le Dentu, too. It is actually a very profound theory, a fascinating one. Had it been developed further, it would still be in use today. The theory holds that any form of art that is interesting to today's public is contemporary.
So if today there is interest in the Egyptian pyramids, then they are contemporary. Any attempts to separate that which is contemporary from that which is not, are deeply wrong... The theory of Everythingism was a serious theory. It took Iliazd just one year to start lecturing on Everythingism. At the same time, he was working on language creation and sound symbolism with zaum, the linguistic experiments of zaum.
A precursor to contemporary Russian-language Internet jargon.
To some degree, perhaps, although Internet posts can scarcely be compared to zaum.
He combined and coded meanings, did he not?
One of the speakers at the conference, which will be held at the same time as the exhibition, is Regis Gayraud, one of the foremost Zdanevich scholars in the West. Gayraud is the only one who regularly works with the archive material. We succeeded in bringing to Moscow some 100 items from the Iliazd archives in France. Gayraud claims that there is a Freudian element to all of Zdanevich's writings. Zaum is not merely some kind of tomfoolery, as many seem to think. It's actually a direct connection to unconscious processes...
Let's turn to the exhibits themselves. The exhibition has a French and a Tiflis section?
The exhibition is in three sections that occupy seven rooms in the Gallery of 19th and 20th Century European and American Art. The first room - the first stretch - is devoted to the period before Iliazd left Russia, up until 1920. One could call this the Futurist period, or you might prefer some other name. Here are the writings of that period, everything on Futurism and on Everythingism, his lectures. This is just one room, which will surely come as a disappointment to those experts who feel that these are Iliazd's only achievements, that there was nothing else.
Tiflis - St. Petersburg - Tiflis?
Yes, if you also add Moscow.
The Target exhibition? Pirosmani?
There is nothing from the Target, just some text in the catalogue, but we have the posters for his talks on Goncharova. And the poster from the evening when he declared an end to Futurism. Also a huge poster for Borzhom Park, announcing readings by Zdanevich, Kruchenykh and Terentiev.
A very interesting and beautiful poster.
We have also the poster for his first lecture, on Everythingism. For some reason the poster says Vsechuvstvo [Everyfeelingism], not vsechestvo [Everythingism]. Maybe this was a mistake, or maybe a deliberate play on words and meanings, I'm not sure...
I believe they were playing - both consciously and unconsciously... Often, the results were quite brilliant!
In the same room is the book "Yanko krUl albAnskai" [Yanko the King of Albania] and all his other publications from that period. Basically, these are the main fruits, the main stages of his first period... The second room is dedicated to his life in Paris prior to his artistic and editorial activity there. That began in 1940, and that made him famous. The initial years in Paris, however, were a time of searching and trying out all sorts of pursuits. Also a kind of Everythingism, but on a new level, in new surroundings. Paris in the 1920s was a different environment to that of Tiflis.
It was an incredible time, of course, even for Paris. There was nothing like that before or since, and there never will be. You might say that Iliazd was like a seed that fell on the most fertile ground. So for Iliazd, his first 20 years in Paris, of which extremely little is known in Russia, were a time of searching and of trying out. He tried everything, literally everything, all possible and impossible avenues. For instance, although not himself an artist, Iliazd quite early on became first the Secretary, and then the Chairman of the Union of Russian Artists. He met with a lot of people, both in this capacity, and independently.
At one point, for instance, he went to Berlin and stayed with Viktor Shklovsky. These days many believe that Berlin was the centre of Russian emigre life, artistic and literary. Certainly, it boasted so many publishers, so many exhibitions... Zdanevich, however, took a dislike to the cultural life of Berlin. Returning to Paris, he gave a lecture: the striking green poster for this can be seen at the exhibition. In deliberately ugly writing, it announces "Berlin i Yego Khaltura" [Berlin and Its Fakery]. Despite his departure from Futurism Iliazd, of course, knew Vladimir Mayakovsky. They had met in Berlin, Zdanevich had helped Mayakovsky organize a soiree in Paris. Iliazd also knew Lilya Brik; he corresponded with her, and with Katanyan, but later, in the 1960s.
During those first 20 years, Iliazd showed himself to be an excellent organizer of events, indeed this was yet another of his many talents. A master entertainer, he held the most fantastic balls, magnificent gatherings with concerts and all-night dancing...
Seven balls were held in Paris between 1922 and 1929. The Fete de Nuit, for instance, was a truly breathtaking affair. Gayraud says that never, before or since, were balls seen like the ones held by the Union of Russian Artists. And never will they be seen again! Just imagine: all-night costume balls with circus acts and plays! Our exhibition features an entire wall covered with the posters for these remarkable balls; all the posters are originals, they are incredible. And everyone who was anyone was there, of course: Picasso, Leger, Zadkine, Stravinsky... Everyone!
Tristan Tzara too, probably?
Naturally! He was at the very first ball, the Fete de Nuit, then at the Zaumny one...
Here, they refer to that event as the "Transmental Ball"...
We translated the name into Russian as Zaumny. If we had called it "transmental", no one would have understood.
Then there was the living painting Triumph Kubisma [The Triumph of Cubism]...
The extraordinary thing is that there is no footage of the ball in the archive. You'd think unique events like this would have been filmed by many. But there's nothing.
Not even any photographs?
Not a trace. I have asked cinema experts, and they say that there's nothing. Another legendary soiree was the "Evening of the Bearded Heart". This event went down in history as the evening which put an end to Dada. The soiree was interrupted by a massive fight: they were all there, all the main proponents, Breton, Tzara, everyone. The poster was done by zdanevich, actually... That evening, they staged Thara's play "The Gas heart". The costumes were by Sonia Delaunay, and it was put on by Granovsky and Zdanevich. Iliazd took one of the parts in the play, too. Luckily, we have one photograph from the play, just a single one... That was when they had their dreadful row, putting an end to Dada. Dadaism was over, and the reign of Surrealism began.
One wall in the second room is dedicated to Zdanevich's Paris lectures. This room also covers "LidantU fAram", the fifth and final play from Iliazd's "aslaabllchya. pitErka dEistv" pentalogy. There are also some church plans there. The next wall features posters for the balls. Then there is a whole big wall devoted to Chanel. It shows his work with gouache, his painted textiles. The remaining five rooms are devoted to Iliazd's books.
Let's talk about Iliazd's main achievement - his artist's books. Zdanevich first started working in this genre in the 1940s, shortly after Ambroise Vollard was killed in a car accident. It was to become Iliazd's main occupation.
You might say that he picked up where Vollard left off, taking up the baton from his comrade, who was the pioneer in this particular area.
Yes, and no. He did not really pick up the baton. Rather, he inherited an idea, which he then developed in his own particular way, achieving absolutely unique results. Iliazd devoted the remaining 35 years of his life to this type of publishing work. Five rooms are filled with the fruits of his labours, and all Iliazd's artist's books are on show. You're right, this was by then an established genre, where art - and I don't just mean illustration, but art - meets printing. Unlike Vollard, Zdanevich was not just a publisher, he was also an extremely talented designer and printer...
And type designer...
Unsurpassed, yes, he was quite brilliant! The exhibition includes many of the pages of text from his books. These are quite exceptional works, they are perfect! So, at the age of 50 Iliazd entered a new phase of life - he found a new occupation. His passion became publishing books, and in this area it is important to work steadily and with precision. He had countless connections, he was friends with the entire literary and artistic elite of Paris. Picasso was a close friend, and he really helped Iliazd out, saved Iliazd's bacon you might say, in the late 1930s. Iliazd was in a real fix, everything went wrong at the same time: his marriage fell apart, he lost his home and his job... Picasso gave him a lot of support. Strangely enough, Zdanevich's activity is actually rather similar to that of Diaghilev. Like Diaghilev, Iliazd had little money; like Diaghilev, he spent more than he could afford on his creative activities. Zdanevich did so many extraordinary things, he lived a life of such genius that sometimes it is hard not to wonder how exactly he was able to do all this. Where did he get the money?
Isn't that usually the case with pure art? Throughout history, the main resource it has always run on has been enthusiasm, has it not? Except for that, there is nothing...
True. And of course the artist's books were never a commercial enterprise. Naturally, Zdanevich wished, and tried, to sell his books, but he could never count on it, and he could not live on this alone.
Neither were the profits sufficient in order to make new books, although some of them he did contrive to sell.
Yes, he managed to sell some of them, of course. The first book he made was "Afat". The story behind it is truly fascinating... As you know, his life was an exceptionally eventful one. He was an extraordinary figure, an exceptional man, no doubt about it. And his books were not just hastily compiled, ill-thought out pap... Nothing is left to chance in any of his works. Each of them contains if not a mystery, then at least a voyage, a journey deep into human relationships. We didn't want the exhibition to become just a collection of pictures, although it does contain a lot of them, there are some 200 printed works, and that's just the etchings.
The exhibition was conceived first and foremost as an educational project. An exhibition should educate, it should tell a story, revealing something new to visitors. People should come away feeling that they have just been to a fascinating lecture.
To resume: Iliazd made his first book in 1940, and behind it lay his latest love affair. Iliazd had an unusual and fascinating relationship with the wonderful English artist Joan Spencer. The couple spent two years together. Iliazd wrote 76 sonnets dedicated to joan. These made up his first book 'Afat", for which Picasso made six wonderful etchings. Iliazd made six presentation copies of the book, giving the first to his Nigerian wife Ibironke Akinsemoyin.
I'd like to draw your attention to the fifth copy, however. The fifth copy he presented to Gabrielle Chanel - Chanel No. 5, you see? What's more, he also wrote a special, 77th sonnet for Chanel, and put it in her copy. The book is now part of the Chanel collection in Paris. And it is this fifth copy of "Afat" that visitors to the exhibition will be able to admire. I might also add that in my own collection I possess another copy that is especially valuable from the point of view of Russian cultural heritage. It is Zdanevich's personal copy with an inscription to Serge Ferat and Helene d'Oettingen.
Is there any kind of chronological sequence to them?
Not directly. Because, for instance, Iliazd made books with Picasso both early on, and extremely late in life. They made seven books together! Incredible, but there you have it: Picasso, who never illustrated books for anyone else, only Zdanevich. And not only did he provide his wonderful illustrations, he actually took instructions from Iliazd on how and what to do. The great, the wilful Picasso, being told what to do by Iliazd! This is how it happened. zdanevich would send him the made-up panels as he was the one who did the layout. Iliazd was a superb designer of books, so he would plan the layout exactly as he wished, placing everything in the way that pleased him. Then he would send a panel of the right size to Picasso with instructions as to what he would like to see on it.
His second book Iliazd made with Survage, who became famous following the Exposition universelle in Paris. His third work is the quite unique book titled "Pismo" [The Letter]. Its story runs thus: in Paris, Iliazd met a Georgian woman. Striking up a conversation in Russian, he then continued to speak Russian to her. One day she even asked why he always spoke Russian. Iliazd replied that he was helping someone with their dissertation (in Slavic studies, perhaps), and that besides, he wished to practise his Russian. Why don't you write to me in Russian then, she suggested. So the pair began to correspond, giving Iliazd an excellent story for a new, unique book, which he called "Pismo".
The design of this book is phenomenal, too. The illustrations were created by Picasso, Iliazd sent him the panel - he wanted to make a narrow book, and the title page was to contain an etching of the word PISMO in Russian. Iliazd made some chalk markings in order to show where the word should be situated. Picasso created the page, but it seems he was tempted to take things a step further. In the remaining space he placed a naked feminine form, seen from the back. It was as if the woman was gradually disappearing, leaving the space of the book. A striking image, truly magnificent! So of course when Iliazd saw the panel, he was loath to part with this beauty, and the book's format was changed. Some of the illustrations remained narrow, others were made wider, and the text was laid out in a most creative manner.
As far as I am concerned, Iliazd was the most creative designer and publisher of books in the 20th century. In 1949 he created another unique masterpiece called "Poesie de mots inconnus" [The Poetry of Unknown Words, or in Russian: Poeziya Nevedomykh Slov]. Naturally, it too has a fascinating history. There was a movement around that time called Lettrism, invented by the Romanian poet and artist Isidore Isou. Upon becoming acquainted with it, Zdanevich fell into a rage. Lettrism had been created and presented to the world as long ago as 1918, in Tiflis, he claimed: this latest effort was merely imitation. Well, Zdanevich was right. And just to spite all those who were ignorant of the proper chronology of art movements, he organized a conference called Apres Nous, le Lettrisme [After Us, Lettrism]. This was of course meant to show that Zdanevich and his contemporaries had "been there first", and cared not one jot what happened next. He also brought out this wonderful book, "Poesie de mots inconnus" which contained verse by the Futurists, Dadaists and others. It includes works by Khlebnikov, Poplavsky, Tzara and Arp.
Iliazd, it must be said, was fond of etchings, and not too fond of colour. He only brought out a handful of books with works in colour. The final one was created together with Miro. At that time, Iliazd was already in poor health, whereas Joan Miro was full of energy, so Iliazd allowed the artist to take over a little. The result was a strikingly beautiful book with colour etchings by Miro. Most of Iliazd's other creations are black and white, somewhat severe... For "Poesie de mots inconnus", the artists specially made an etching for each of the poems.
We are talking about Picasso, Dominguez, Chagall, Matisse, Leger, Giacometti...
Yes, Giacometti did an amazing job. There's Arp, as well. Altogether, some 20 artists each created a small etching at Iliazd's request. His placing of the text was truly masterful. The exhibition features 26 pages out of 30 - almost the entire book. Also, a fascinating and very special item: the original mock-up of one page, which somehow survived and was discovered... It's actually the Chagall page, the one that contains his original drawing. So, with all this, Zdanevich then did something absolutely extraordinary. He drew up the entire text by hand, using the type that was intended for each section... Letter by letter, including all the paragraphs, everything that the compositor would subsequently have to do. A real labour of Hercules! letter by letter! The final room contains a book dedicated to the engraver Roger Lacouriere, the undisputed master of intaglio printing of the 20th century. He was a real legend. All Zdanevich's books with etchings were, of course, printed by Lacouriere... To honour his memory, Zdanevich created this delightful book, which can be seen in the final room. This room actually contains two items: Iliazd's very last book, as we have discussed, it was co-created with Joan Miro; and the book dedicated to Roger Lacouriere. Iliazd sought the participation of other artists, and they each contributed an etching. They also went and found works by deceased artists in their studios, and used those as well. The result is a unique book honouring the memory of Lacouriere. It contains two texts, one by Zdanevich, the other by Picasso.
Let us return to the rest of the exhibition, though. The third room contains works by Picasso: all seven books that the artist made with Iliazd from 1940 onwards. The last one, dedicated to Pirosmani, appeared in 1972. It's called "Pirosmanishvili 1914". Basically it contains an article and a frontispiece, a portrait of Pirosmani, an etching by Picasso... So this was their final joint labour: Picasso died in April 1973.
And Iliazd's own final book appeared soon after that...
Yes, he brought it out in 1974 with Miro. He'd spent 20 years convincing Miro to do it. I don't mean that he kept coming round and begging Miro, no; rather, he would remind him from time to time when the pair corresponded... This was the book we have just spoken about.
Another whole room is dedicated to Iliazd's work with Max Ernst. Together, they created "Maximiliana" - one of the most important artist's books of the 20th century, a truly phenomenal work with, yet again, a remarkable story. Zdanevich never published books with well-known texts, but "Maximiliana" is quite extraordinary, even for him. In the 19th century there was a German astronomer called Wilhelm Tempel. He was actually a very talented lithographer, too. Tempel travelled to various observatories to work, and in his studies of the skies he discovered quite a few asteroids. One of these he decided to call Maximiliana, in honour of King Maximilian II of Bavaria. Tempel, however, was not recognized by his fellow-astronomers as a true professional, they considered him a self-taught upstart. So they refused to accept his name for the asteroid, and instead called it Cybele.
Iliazd and Max Ernst took it upon themselves to address this historical injustice. In order to study Tempel's legacy, Zdanevich visited all kinds of observatories in which the astronomer had worked: Venice, Marseille, I think, Hannover, I don't recall for sure. He went to the libraries, where Tempel's works were kept, and copied out all his works by hand! Can you imagine? He copied them all out, the notebooks are in the archive. Some lines Iliazd chose to quote in his book, which of course was quite phenomenal, 34 etchings by Max Ernst. For this book, Ernst created a sort of cryptogram. It looks like real text, but actually it's just a sequence of invented characters. They are laid out in such a way as to resemble actual text, they fit elegantly round the illustrations. So, a text, but not quite a text. "Maximiliana" has a whole room devoted to it.
The sixth room contains several other intriguing books, for instance the one created with Giacometti. The story of this gem is quite unusual. Iliazd once asked Giacometti to produce an etching, it was meant to be his portrait for the frontispiece of a book of his verse. Giacometti went off to his studio, then some time later reappeared, bearing not one, but 13 whole versions of the portrait. It was up to Iliazd to choose. Zdanevich indeed chose one - we have reproduced that particular version on our invitations, actually. He published a little book with that portrait, but he was so loath to waste the remaining 12 that he brought out another book specially, calling it “Les Douze Portraits du Cdlebre Orbandale" [The Twelve Portraits of the Famous Orbandale]. It appeared in Paris in 1962.
Totally unknown, yet at once so famous...
Yes, Orbandale. When asked, why the book was called “The Twelve Portraits of the Famous Orbandale", he would retort, “Well, what do you think it should have been called? 'Twelve Portraits of the Famous Iliazd'?" What a book! It doesn't actually contain any text at all, just a title page signed by Giacometti and by Iliazd himself, followed by the 12 portraits in vertical format.
Oh yes, and two more things. He had a real passion for paper. He loved paper, any paper. In each of his books you will find three, four, five different types of paper. What's more, the first few pages of the books were always different - only after leafing through several types will you get to a patch of uniform pages. These might be white, grey, or any other colour, but they are always visually pleasing... Iliazd adored paper and understood it well. You hear about this incident, for instance, when a butcher's shop was closing down, and Iliazd came to the butcher to buy all his remaining rolls of paper for wrapping meat. The paper really was extremely attractive, he used it in his book-making.
The second thing is about Iliazd's approach to covers. This is truly extraordinary, perhaps the most unusual feature of all. Iliazd almost always made his covers from parchment. The exhibition contains three covers like this, they look like huge printed hides: etchings by Picasso, Miro and Michel Guino.
To conclude: how would you sum up Iliazd? What inspired him, what made up his life? Would it be accurate to say that he was driven by insatiable curiosity by a fascination that was impossible to quell?
Absolutely. He was not a martyr, nor was Iliazd driven by mere desire to impress. These were not his motives. He was just curious as an artist. That was his natural state of being. All the things that we find extraordinary, for him went without saying. Iliazd was essentially a Renaissance man.
You mentioned that the exhibition is an educational one. It will teach all of us something new, it's like a lesson in the quest for knowledge, in the development of one's potential. After all, virtually all the artists Iliazd approached were eager to work with him. They were all interested in doing something unique and exclusive. For the artist, the main thing is interest, creative challenge, the chance to show one's skill; ultimately, if you like, the test of one's creative abilities. When this kind of challenge comes up, you cease to worry about whether or not you will get paid. The main task becomes, simply, to meet the challenge. And to do so for a person who is undoubtedly capable of appreciating your work, although sometimes, his response might be critical. This becomes the main goal.
I recall this line from his verse: po labirintamylitsy I slova ["along the winding labyrinths of streets and words..."]. In his poetry and in his book-making, Iliazd was constantly tracing those "labyrinths of words". Words were the starting point for him: words are what books are made of, the printed word reaches out to us through the centuries... As Iliazd noted in his lecture in Paris on 27 November 1921, "the dead in Russia continue to be members of society, in fact, they are its most active and least lazy members. Everything, everything rests on their shoulders." How wonderfully he put it! And how accurately! Time appeared to pass differently for him. He managed to do so much! His time was so condensed, was it not?
Yes, absolutely! And his brain was probably organized in a totally different way, as well.
And one more final thing: from Batumi, he moved to Constantinople, where he lived with two friends. One of them was the Georgian Alexandre Tarsaidze, the other was Iva Patcevitch. The three of them rented a house together. From Constantinople Zdanevich moved on to Paris, and Patcevitch moved to the USA. In 1930, Iva Patcevitch took on Paris Vogue, and in 1942 was made president of Conde Nast Publications. The most amazing thing happened recently though: Vogue ran an article on Zdanevich. So, the two met again... I repeat: two men, two emigres, both young and penniless, sharing a house in Constantinople... 95 years later, they meet on the pages of Vogue magazine.
And on the pages of the Tretyakov Gallery magazine, too!
Ink on paper. 1927
Ink on paper. 1949 or 1953
Wood engraving on paper. 1941
Etching on paper. 1953
Etching on paper. 1953
Etching on paper. 1940
Etching on paper. 1961
Colour etching on paper. 1964
Colour etching on paper. 1965
Etching on paper. 1968
Etching on paper. 1968
Colour etching on paper. 1974
Drypoint with aquatint on parchment. 1974
Iliazd is on the left, Axelle Brocard in the centre. 1925. Photograph
Etching on paper. 1948
Etching on paper. 1948
Etching on paper. 1940
Etching on parchment. 1959
Etching on paper. 1971
Colour etching on paper. 1964
Colour etching on paper. 1964
Colour etching with aquatint on paper. 1968
Colour etching on paper. 1974