20th Century European Avant Garde

Avant Garde Book Assignment: If They Were Alive Today


Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge—El Lissitzky

Create a “book” of five typographers/designers from the European Avant Garde of the early 1900’s. Imagine that if those designers were alive today, what would they be experimenting with? What would their work look like based upon an understanding of their earlier works? What would inspire them today? Two examples of how you might interpret this question:


  • By looking at clients they worked with during their lifetime as inspiration for what clients they might work with today.
  • By looking at social or political issues that they were involved with as indications of what issues of today would they likely be interested in.

How would they use the technologies of today? Certainly they would use them in unconventional ways, pushing their capabilities to the limit, perhaps trying to “break” them. Experimental and Extreme are the two words that best describe this approach. Examples of how you might interpret this question:

  • By looking at the technologies they explored during their lifetime as inspiration for the technologies of today that they might employ.
  • By looking at the form and choice of materials that characterized their work as indications of a possible evolution to the new materials or innovative uses of materials that exist today.

Your book must contain a minimum of the following information for each person:

  • an image
  • a short biography
  • a quote
  • dates (birth, death)
  • A page layout of this information done in the design style of the specific artist on his/her page(s)
  • The overall form of the book must reflect the ideals of the Avant Garde—(an experimental choice of materials, colors, sizes, shapes, type styles, binding, treatment of images, textures, photomechanical processes, etc.)
  • The overall content of the book must reflect the information that is relevant to each individual designer.Together, your decisions about both form and content should not simply be somethng that looks like it was created during the designer’s lifetime, but instead if those designers were alive today, what would their work look like. However, base this look on a clear understanding of what they were doing back in the early years of the 20 Century. Look not only at their style but also at who their client’s were or what were the “issues” of the day that they addressed.

Explore concepts such as:

  • transparency
  • illusionary space
  • cropping the image
  • involve white space, figure/ground
  • create variety by fragmentation, layering
  • lines of continuity

Cubism is to be seen as a foundation and seminal movement of art and design, which influenced the other Avant Garde movements which followed. Do not pick artists from the cubist movement to be one of the five subjects in your book, but do look for ways in which Cubism influenced your artists.

You must pick a Designer/Typographer, not a person who worked in fine art alone. He/she must have been involved in creating graphic design work. They must have worked with words—typography.

Refer primarily to Part IV, The Modernist Era, in Megg’s History of Graphic Design. Below are key artists and a brief description of the main art/design movements of this era. Names in bold are major players and perhaps easier to find research on them. You may also choose another designer from one of the Modernist Era movements that I have not listed here. However, they must be a designer. In other words, they must have worked with words and/or type.

Use this link to download a PowerPoint slide show containing images from some of the major designers of the Avant Garde.

• avant garde ppt

Use this link to read about the Avant Garde in the form of their manifestos.  

• manifestos.

CUBISM (fragmentation, multi-view, subdued color) the art movement which influence all of art and design movements which have followed. You may not use Cubism or one of the Cubist artists in this book. They are instead to be thought of as major influences on the other designers that came after them.



Words In Freedom—F.T. Marinetti

FUTURISM or CUBO-FUTURISM (dynamism, motion and movement, loud powerful machine; locomotive, race cars, airplanes)—Italian



The Poem Karawane recited by Hugo Ball

DADA, (hobbyhorse, nonsense, anti-war, anti-art)—Switzerland, (ZURICH), Germany, (Berlin), U.S. (New York), France, (Paris)

Recommended Dada links


BERLIN DADA (social political messages)



Kasimir Malevich





Alexander Rodchenko—“Lengiz books on All Subjects!”

CONSTRUCTIVISM (asembling the page layout similar to the construction of a building)—Russian




Red and Blue Chair—Gerrit Reitveld

DE STIJL (the style, neo Plasticism)—Holand


BAUHAUS becomes known as the Swiss style after the war (form follows function, structure, organization unified design, non-decorative, sans serif type)—German



Raymond Loewy

ART DECO (streamline style, or decorative style)—France (Paris), Belgium, (Brussels), U.S. (New York)


  • Léon Bakst (RussianЛеон (Лев) Николаевич Бакст, Leon (Lev) Nikolaevich Bakst) – born as Leyb-Khaim Izrailevich (later SamoylovichRosenberg, Лейб-Хаим Израилевич (Самойлович) Розенберг (27 January (8 February) 1866– 28 December 1924) was a Russian painter and scene and costume designer. He was a member of the Sergei Diaghilev circle and the Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes.

1 thought on “20th Century European Avant Garde

  1. Pingback: Avant Garde Book – Pacific University | Stolen Projects

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