Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize


Honorable Mention

Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism

Honorable Mention: Christina Kiaer
Title: Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism (MIT Press)

Christine Kiaer’s Imagine No Possessions is a richly-researched excursion into the saturated field of Constructivism that manages the ultimate hat trick: to say something new. She takes us beyond the established categorical path of Groys, humanizing the Constructivists by placing them more squarely in the material and philosophical contradictions of NEP. Using Benjamin to mediate between artistic innovation (cast as “revolutionary”) and the new consumer appetites legitimized by NEP, she enters sympathetically into the unique atmosphere of the 1920s, when artists were evolving their stripped-down, idealist-materialist aesthetics of design and world-recreation. The book thus becomes a gripping account of utopian aspiration and historical improvisation rather than a retrospective analysis of ultimate failure. Kiaer most acutely poses topics that are almost never explored. She untangles the seeming oxymoron of “constructivist advertising” and lays bare, through the example of Rodchenko, this central dialectical pivot in early Soviet history, showing how planners made peace with ways of extracting surplus value and delivering it through commodity spectacle. Kiaer does all this in a book so luminously written and gorgeously illustrated that Sovietologists, art historians, and students of modern culture of all stripes will find it a treat to open and impossible to put down.

Winner: Francine Hirsch