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Andrew Curry writes:

I knew about the Russian Constructivist artist Rodchenko’s work as a photographer and a designer, but until I visited the Tate Modern’s current exhibition (in London until 17 May) I hadn’t realised that he’d also run an advertising agency. His partner was the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote the copy, and the company was called ‘Advertising-Constructors-Mayakovsky-Rodchenko‘.

They designed adverts for the Moscow department store GUM, for the state airline, and also some posters which would these days fall under the heading of ‘social marketing’, for trade unions (“The Trade Union is a Defender of Female Labour”).

The two men were able to set up the business after Lenin encouraged some small-scale private enterprise in the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921. Mayakovsky dismissed criticism of those who thought that this wasn’t revolutionary work by saying ‘it is necessary to employ all the weapons used by our enemies’. He clearly learnt the lesson well – one of their posters was for a union opposing the NEP. Rodchenko later did the famous posters for Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin. Their advertising and design work was revolutionary, in both senses (British and American ads from the same period look fussy and cluttered in comparison), and decades ahead of its time.

The poster at the top of this post, for the state airline, is courtesy of the Tate Modern.

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