Article

Brik, Osip (1888–1945) By Reeve, Charles

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1185-1
Published: 01/10/2016
Retrieved: 05 July 2020, from
https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/brik-osip-1888-1945

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Abstract

Osip Maksimovich (Meerovich) Brik (Осип Максимович Брик) was a prominent Soviet poet and critic, editor of Left Front of the Arts (LEF) and a founding member of OPOYAZ (Society for the Study of Poetic Language). His role in Soviet Constructivism and Futurism emerges neatly in Alexander Rodchenko’s famous photomontage of the critic. Replacing the left lens of Brik’s glasses with the letters ‘ЛЕФ’ (in reference to Левый фронт искусств, or LEF, the magazine that Brik ran with the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky from 1923–25), Rodchenko underscores three fundamental elements of Brik’s persona: the emphasis on the photograph as construction underscores Brik’s interest, following Roman Jakobson, in the cultural product’s materiality (Fer 124); the image captures Brik’s LEF-tinted world view (abandon handicraft for industrial process; eschew genius for collectivity; forego fiction); and, being known more for Rodchenko’s artistry than for Brik’s visage, it captures Brik’s deference to artists and writers – most notoriously to Mayakovsky. Brik celebrated Mayakovsky’s work in his essays and also shared his wife, Lilya Yuryevna Brik, née Kagan, with whom Brik had an open marriage, with the poet. The three cohabited from 1919. Though certain biographical elements of Brik’s personal history remain controversial, it is known that Brik came from a Moscow merchant family, studied law and, with his wife, worked for the Cheka (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption), a forerunner of the KGB, for at least part of the 1920s (Kurchanova 54). After LEF, Brik became involved with Novyi LEF (1927–28; ‘New LEF’), though not as an editor, directed INKhUK (the Institute of Artistic Culture) and helped organize VKhUTEMAS (The All-State Artistic-Technical Workshops). He consistently emphasized the importance of the cultural product’s materiality, but shifted from supporting artistic freedom to arguing that art must serve the state (Kurchanova 73).


Osip Brik. Artist: Rodchenko, Alexander (1891-1956)
Osip Brik. Artist: Rodchenko, Alexander (1891-1956)

Osip Maksimovich (Meerovich) Brik (Осип Максимович Брик) was a prominent Soviet poet and critic, editor of Left Front of the Arts (LEF) and a founding member of OPOYAZ (Society for the Study of Poetic Language). His role in Soviet Constructivism and Futurism emerges neatly in Alexander Rodchenko’s famous photomontage of the critic. Replacing the left lens of Brik’s glasses with the letters ‘ЛЕФ’ (in reference to Левый фронт искусств, or LEF, Left Front of the Arts, the magazine that Brik ran with the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky from 1923–25), Rodchenko underscores three fundamental elements of Brik’s persona: the emphasis on the photograph as construction underscores Brik’s interest, following Roman Jakobson, in the cultural product’s materiality (Fer 124); the image captures Brik’s LEF-tinted world view (abandon handicraft for industrial process; eschew genius for collectivity; forego fiction); and, being known more for Rodchenko’s artistry than for Brik’s visage, it captures Brik’s deference to artists and writers – most notoriously to Mayakovsky. Brik celebrated Mayakovsky’s work in his essays and also shared his wife, Lilya Yuryevna Brik, née Kagan, with whom Brik had an open marriage, with the poet. The three cohabited from 1919. Though certain biographical elements of Brik’s personal history remain controversial, it is known that Brik came from a Moscow merchant family, studied law and, with his wife, worked for the Cheka (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption), a forerunner of the KGB, for at least part of the 1920s (Kurchanova 54). After LEF, Brik became involved with Novyi LEF (1927–28; ‘New LEF’), though not as an editor, directed INKhUK (the Institute of Artistic Culture) and helped organize VKhUTEMAS (The All-State Artistic-Technical Workshops). He consistently emphasized the importance of the cultural product’s materiality, but shifted from supporting artistic freedom to arguing that art must serve the state (Kurchanova 73).

List of Works

  • To date, there is no volume of Brik’s writings in translation. However, below are some useful resources for anyone seeking an introduction to Brik’s criticism and political writings.

  • Brik, O. 1971. ‘Translation from lef with an Introduction’. Translated by R. Sherwood, Screen 12 (4): pp. 25–58.

  • ------ 1989. ‘The Photograph versus the Painting’. Translated by J. E. Bowlt in C. Phillips (ed.) Photography in the Modern Era: Documents and Critical Writings, 1913–1940. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Aperture, pp. 213–218.

  • ------ 1989. ‘What the Eye Does Not See’. Translated by J. E. Bowlt in C. Phillips (ed.) Photography in the Modern Era: Documents and Critical Writings, 1913–1940. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Aperture, pp. 219–220

  • ------ 1989. ‘From the Painting to the Photograph’. Translated by J. E. Bowlt in C. Phillips (ed.) Photography in the Modern Era: Documents and Critical Writings, 1913–1940. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Aperture, pp. 227–233

  • ------ 2010. ‘Selected Criticism, 1915–1929’. Translated by N. Kuchanova. October 134: pp. 74–110.

  • Phillips, C. ed. 1989. Photography in the Modern Era: Documents and Critical Writings, 1913–1940, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Aperture.

Further Reading

  • Enzensberger, M. 1974. ‘Osip Brik: Selected Writings’. Screen, Vol. 15, (3), pp. 59–81.

  • Fer, B. (1993). ‘The Language of Construction’. In Fer, B., Batchelor , D. and Wood , P. ed. Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 87–169.

  • Jangeldt, B. 1980. ‘Osip Brik: A Bibliography (With an Introduction and a Post Scriptum)’. Russian Literature, Vol. 8, (6), pp. 579–604.

  • Kuchanova, N. 2010. ‘Osip Brik and the Politics of the Avant-Garde’. October, Vol. 134, pp. 52–73.

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01/10/2016

Article DOI

10.4324/9781135000356-REM1185-1

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Citing this article:

Reeve, Charles. "Brik, Osip (1888–1945)." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 5 Jul. 2020 https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/brik-osip-1888-1945. doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM1185-1

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