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  IVAN PUNI'S TEXTS ON ART РУ DE EN

The texts written by Ivan Puni on art testify to his unusually serious and thoughtful attitude to his profession. The corpus of his texts consists of articles, letters and reports and covers the period from 1914 to 1925. After 1925, Puni's attitude to art can only be judged from his paintings; his verbal reflection is absent or has not survived.
The first surviving document - Puni's letter to Malevich (РГАЛИ 3145-2-820) from Brussels, dated 12 July 1914. The letter is written at the moment when Malevich and Puni, dissatisfied with the atmosphere in the Union of Youth, decide to organise an exhibition of like-minded people, later called "The 1st Futurist Exhibition of Paintings "Tramway V"". Leaving for Paris in early 1914, the Puni couple planned to participate in the Salon des Indépendants, where they took three paintings by Malevich in addition to their own, as well as a number of works by Matyushin, Kulbin and V. Burliuk.

The second of Puni's surviving letters to Malevich (РГАЛИ 3145-2-821) was written during the preparation of the exhibition following "Tramway V", "The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings "0.10"" and is dated July 1915. At the end of this letter, Puni writes of his intention to publish a small book with his article. The publication did not take place; it is quite possible that the letter was referring to the article "Освобождение живописи" (Liberation of painting), which appeared in April 1919 in the Vitebsk collection "Revolutionary Art" (Van Abbemuseum, LS Collection). The article is subtitled "written in 1914; was not published".

For the "0.10" exhibition, Ivan and Xana printed an epathetical flyer with a set of logical/alogical slogans about new art. In the course of the exhibition, on 12 January 1916 in the hall of the Tenishevsky School, a "Public Scientific-Popular Lecture of the Suprematists" by Malevich and Puni was organised. As the approval of the town governor was necessary, the theses of this lecture have been preserved (ЦГИА 569-13-1545, л. 131-133).

The next portion of Puni's texts with his discourses on art is published in 1919. At this time he works as a professor at the Petrograd State Free Art Workshops (ПГСХУМ), organised on the site of the Imperial Academy of Arts, and is formally an employee of the Fine Arts Department of the People's Commissariat of Education. From January to April 1919 the Puni couple, following the invitation of Marc Chagall, worked in Vitebsk. Some of the of Puni's students also left hungry Petrograd for Vitebsk. Xana, a student and the workshop monitor, in Vitebsk becomes the head of the applied arts workshop. Both Ivan and Xana are members of the Collegium for Arts and Art Industry of Vitebsk Province (M. Chagall - chairman of the Collegium, K. Boguslavskaya - head of the Art Industry Section, I. Puni - head of the Art Agitation and Propaganda Section). Ivan's function also includes compiling the collection "Революционное искусство" (Revolutionary Art), published in April 1919. The collection contains five articles by Puni himself. He also organises public disputations about art, one of which - debate on futurism leads to a lively opinions exchange on the pages of Vitebsk newspapers.

At the same time, the Petrograd newspaper "Искусство коммуны" (Art of the Commune), the organ of the Fine Arts Department of the People's Commissariat of Education, published two important articles by Puni: "Творчество жизни" (Creativity of life; 5 January 1919) and "Современные группировки в русском левом искусстве" (Contemporary groupings in Russian leftist art; 13 April 1919).

The three years that the Puni couple lived in Berlin (1921-1923) were filled not only with creative, but also with vigorous social activity. They were elected to the leadership of the Russian House of Arts (Ivan to the Council, Xana to the Control Commission) and were at the forefront of discussions about the ways of art. One of the "House of Arts" meetings (3 November 1922) was held to hear Puni's report on "Contemporary Russian Painting and the Russian Exhibition in Berlin"; the text of this report formed the basis of his important brochure "Современная живопись" (Contemporary Painting) published a few months later.
A year before this report, in November 1921, Puni published an article "Искусство жизни" (The Art of Life) in the first issue of the Russian-language magazine "Сполохи" (Spolokhi).
In Berlin, Puni socialised extensively with European avant-gardists. In October 1921, the magazine De Stijl published a proclamation (signed by Raoul Hausmann, Hans Arp, Iwan Puni and László Moholy-Nagy) "Aufruf zur elementaren Kunst".
On 20 January 1922, Puni wrote about the problems he had in Berlin to his friends Vladimir and Sarra Lebedev in Petrograd. This letter is published in the article: П. Дружинин. «Художников здесь нет, искусства нет…». Иван Пуни и Ксения Богуславская в Берлине // Искусствознание, 2023, №4, с. 230-243.
In May 1922, Puni took part in the the First Congress of the Union of International Progressive Artists in Düsseldorf. At the congress there was a confrontation between artists, seeking unification (van Doesburg/Mondrian, Lissitzky/Ehrenburg, Richter/Eggeling) and individualist artists (the "Synthesis Group" - Puni/Zalit/Dzirkal). The declarations of the each group were published in the magazine de Stijl (1922, No. 4 Kongres-nummer). The dramatic opinions difference with Lissitzky and Ehrenburg at the Congress was mentioned by Puni in his letter to Punin in summer 1922. At the same time (25 June 1925) the Berlin newspaper "Голос России" (Voice of Russia) published his article "Немецкий экспрессионизм в живописи и русское искусство" (German Expressionism in Painting and Russian Art), in which Pouni once again attacked collectivism in art, branding it "Arakcheyevshchina".
Two months before the congress, the magazine "Новая русская книга" (New Russian Book) (No. 2, March 1922) published Puni's review of Ehrenburg's book "А все-таки она вертится" (And Still It Turns).
In July 1923, Das Kunstblatt (ed. Paul Westheim) published a large important article by Puni in German translation "Zur Kunst von heute". In the same year 1923, Paul Westheim began compiling and in 1925 published a collection of texts entitled "Künstlerbekenntnisse" (Confessions of Artists). These confessions Westheim collected from 63 artists he valued, including eight Russians (Marc Chagall, Robert Genin, Moishe Kogan, Karl Zalit, Ivan Puni, Kazimir Malevich, Nathan Altman, El Lissitzky). Puni gave a short text outlining his credo at the time.

Puni's short review article RUSSIE. L'ART appeared in issue 22 of L'Esprit Nouveau in 1924, when Puni had finally moved to Paris. Puni was friends with Amédée Ozenfant, who edited this journal. The article summarises earlier ideas; the picture it paints was reflected on by Puni five years ago and does not take into account the changes that have taken place in Russia over the years.

Two substantial letters sent by Puni from Paris to his old friends have survived: one to Punin in March 1924, the other to Shklovsky in April 1925. After that, Puni did not write texts about art, and expressed himself only in the language of painting and drawing.

  TALES OF IVAN PUNI

Ivan Puni "had a rare talent for inventing wildly fantastic, amusing tales" - said Korney Chukovsky, recalling an episode from his dialogue with Gorky in 1917:
«In general, Alexei Maximovich valued humour as a measure of influence on children's souls highly and was very pleased when I brought from Kuokkala Ivan Puni's tale "Иеремия Лентяй" (Jeremiah the Lazy Man). Puni was a futurist painter, a friend of Mayakovsky, a shy and silent young man, who had a rare talent for inventing wildly fantastic, amusing tales. <...> Gorky began to laugh animatedly and called a group of artists from another room to come and listen. He wanted to see the author, but Puni was so embarrassed that he did not dare to come to him at the appointed time and even began to claim that the fairy tale was not written by him, but by his wife, Boguslavskaya. In the subtitle I had to print: "A fairy tale by X. Boguslavskaya. Drawings by Iv. Puni."» (Чуковский К.И. Собр. соч. в 15 томах, т. 5, Современники: Портреты и этюды, М.: Терра-Книжный клуб, 2001.)

The tale "Иеремия Лентяй" (Jeremiah the Lazy Man) was published in the collection "Christmas Tree" (Ёлка. Книжка для маленьких детей. Сост. А. Бенуа и К. Чуковский. [Пг.], Гос. Тип., [Парус, 1918], худ.: В. Лебедев, Ал-др Бенуа, Ю. Анненков, В. Замирайло, В. Ходасевич, Б. Попов, А. Радаков, С. Чехонин, И. Репин, М. Добужинский, Ив. Пуни, Г.В.).
Chukovsky began preparing this collection as early as 1917, at which time he published three more of Puni's tales in the Illustrated Supplement for Children to the magazine Niva. These were "Сосулька" (Icicle) in No. 4, April 1917, "Самоварная шипелка" (Samovar Fizzle) in No. 7 and "Портной Пепка - шьет крепко" (Tailor Pepka) in No. 11. All of them were illustrated with drawings by Xenia Boguslavskaya, and she was credited with the authorship of "Icicle" - as in the case of "Jeremiah the Lazy Man".
In 1919 Puni was going to publish seven of his tales in a separate book and even agreed with Alexander Benois on the illustration for the cover, but the publication failed. Only Puni's letter to Benois has survived (undated [April 1919], ОР ГРМ 137-1-1437) with a list and synopses of these seven tales: Jeremiah the Lazy Man, Emelia the Hollow Man, Icicle, Cockroach, Fly and Sliver, Samovar Fizzle, Flying Dutchman and Tailor-Pepka.
Puni managed to publish a collection of his fairy tales called "Сказки-минутки" (Minute Fairy Tales) only in 1922 in Berlin (Пуни, Иван. Сказки-минутки. Берлин, Русское творчество, 1922. 95 с. Рисунки И. Пуни и К. Богуславской). The collection includes 14 fairy tales. One of them - "История про Таракана Иваныча" (The Story About Cockroach Ivanovich) may well have inspired Chukovsky to write the famous "Тараканище" (The Cockroach).