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Ilya Zdanevich (1894–1975) - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Ilya Zdanevich (1894–1975)

Ilia Zdanevich (known also as Iliazd or Eli Eganbjuri) is a figure that only the early 20th century could produce: Avant-garde artist, writer, collector, publisher, typographer, researcher, Dadaist, graphic designer, performer, fashion designer, promoter and catalyst of the arts in Georgia, Russia, and France.

Growing up in Tbilisi, Zdanevich discovers Futurism and the writings of Tommaso Marinetti as a teenager. He moves to Saint Petersburg to study law in 1911. There, he starts writing about art. Together with his brother Kiril he meets the Russian futurists, and befriends the artists Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. Zdanevich gives public lectures in which he presents proto-dadaist texts. Among other things he makes the claim that any shoe is worth more than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. He becomes a defender of «vsechestvo» or «Everythingism». The «Everythingists» position themselves as an alternative to the Futurists, which they call fanatics and narrow minded. «Everythingism is a special school of mastery; it wages war against past senselessness and thus overthrows futurism. It is not related to any particular aesthetic.» (Zdanevich in a lecture on November 5th, 1913). Under the name of Eli Eganbjuri he publishes a small monograph on the artists Natalija S. Goncharova and Michail F. Larionov in 1913. Together with them and the artist Mikhail Le Dantiu, he writes the manifesto Why We Paint Ourselves (1913): «We are not aiming at aesthetics only. Art is not just a monarch but also a journalist and a decorator. We value both the font and the news. Synthesis of decorativeness and illustration lies at the core of our painting. We decorate life and preach – and therefore we paint ourselves.»

During a vacation stay in Tbilisi in 1913, Zdanevich, his brother Kiril and Le Dantiu discover the works of the Georgian painter Niko Piromanishvili (also called Pirosmani). They show his paintings in Tbilisi and Moscow. During the First World War, Zdanevich works as newspaper correspondent and takes part in an expedition to research the architecture of Georgian churches. He becomes a reputable specialist for cruciform central-plan churches.

When Georgia announces its independence in 1918, Zdanevich returns to Tbilisi where he learns the art and technique of typography, and (re-)publishes books by the Russian avant-garde. Together with Aleksei Kruchonykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, the Russian poets and inventors of the artificial language «Zaum», he establishes 41° (41 degrees). It is an artists’ collective, a school of poetry and university, a publishing house, and a magazine (presented here is the first, and last, issue of the magazine). 41° stands for fever and strong alcohol, but it is also the latitude on which Tbilisi is situated, along with Naples, Istanbul, and New York.

It is in the context of 41° that Zdanevich publishes his five-part series of Dra (Dra stands for drama). The texts of Dra (and Zaum) become more and more complex and finally dissolve into a form of orchestral poetry for solo voice and choir. Using his skills in typography, Zdanevich transforms the texts into typographical masterworks.

In 1920, Zdanevich leaves Tblisi and travels via Istanbul to Paris, where he establishes himself permanently. In Paris he meets with Russian emigrant writers and artists, and befriends Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Robert und Sonia Delaunay, Max Ernst, the Dadaists and others. Barely having arrived in Paris, he starts giving lectures to explain the technics of the Russian proto-dadaist poetry, especially the technic of «shift» and «estrangement. » He changes his name into the feminized Iliazde, but soon drops the final «e». He organizes a series of artists’ balls, as in 1922 to celebrate the arrival of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, or, in 1923, «La soirée du coeur à barbe» as an homage to Tristan Tzara, a ball that turns tumultuous. From 1922 on, Zdanevich designs fabrics, first in collaboration with Sonia Delaunay, then, from 1927 on for Coco Chanel, for whom he also runs a textile factory. The designs shown at Kunsthalle Zürich were made for Coco Chanel.

From 1940 to his death in 1975, Zdanevich publishes numerous books in collaboration with artists such as Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Joan Mirò, Jacques Villon and others. On request by Marcel Duchamp he also produces a series of his famous La-boîte-en-valise.

We are grateful to the Archives Iliazed and to François Maire for all loans, support, and hospitality.

Plans of Georgian medieval churches:

Fabric design by Ilia Zdanevich for Coco Chanel, around 1920:


Futuristic books by Ilia Zdanevich: