Lissitzky was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the former Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.
El Lissitzky's entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later summarized with his edict, "das zielbewußte Schaffen" (goal-oriented creation). When only 15 he started teaching; a duty he would stay with for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art group UNOVIS, when he developed a variant suprematist series of his own, Proun, and further still in 1921, when he took up a job as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with and influencing important figures of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements during his stay. In his remaining years he brought significant innovation and change to typography, exhibition design and producing critically respected works and winning international acclaim for his exhibition design. This continued until his deathbed.
Lissitzky attended the Polytechnic Institute of Riga, which had been evacuated to Moscow because of the war, and worked for the architectural firms of Boris Velikovsky and Roman Klein. During this work, he took an active and passionate interest in Jewish culture which, after the downfall of the openly antisemitic Tsarist regime, was experiencing a renaissance. The new Provisional Government repealed a decree that prohibited the printing of Hebrew letters and that barred Jews from citizenship. Thus El Lissitzky soon devoted himself to Jewish art, exhibiting works by local Jewish artists, traveling to Mahilyow to study the traditional architecture and ornaments of old synagogues.
In 1923–1925, El Lissitzky proposed and developed the idea of horizontal skyscrapers Cloud Iron, a project which was never realised.
Lissitzky's sole tangible work of architecture was commissioned in 1932 by Ogonyok magazine to be used as a print shop. In June 2007 the independent Russky Avangard foundation filed a request to list the building on the heritage register. In September 2007 the city commission (Moskomnasledie) approved the request and passed it to the city government for a final approval, which did not happen. In October 2008, the abandoned building was badly damaged by fire.
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