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EL LISSITZKY About Two Squares: In 6 Constructions: A Suprematist Tale

Library Information and Colophon


Suprematicheskii Skaz Pro Dva Kvadrata v Shesti Postroikakh
 (About Two squares : In 6 constructions : A Suprematist Tale)
View record in Reed Digital Collections


[Cambridge, Mass.] : MIT Press, 1991

Library Call #

N6988.5.S9 L5713 1922a View Reed library catalog record

Colophon Notes, original edition

“Assembled by the author for Sythian Press, Berlin. Printed in Leipzig by Haberland Printers. 50 copies of this edition authographed and numbered.” –Colophon

Colophon Notes, mit press edition

“El Lissitzky, About 2 Squares, a facsimile reprint of the original editin of Spring 1922, published in Berlin by Scythian Press, with English language translation by Christiana Van Manen. Copyright Artists Bookworks 1990, Forest Row, Sussex England.

This facsimile reprint is the exact size (280 x 223mm) of the original. The paper on which about 2 Squares was printed in 1922 was a machine finished newsprint of approximately 85-90gsm. The paper chosen for this edition is the same color as that of the 1922 edition, but of library standard. The original was printed in letterpress. For reasons of modern reproduction, only the red has been printed letterpress, while th black and the grays are printed by offset litho. The colours are true to the original. The facsimile has been wirestitched, after the manner of the original.

First MIT Press edition, 1991.

This book was printed and bound in Great Britain by the Hand Press, Westerham Heights Farm, Westerham Hill, Kent, England.” –Colophon

Accompanied by More About 2 Squares by Patricia Railing. 52 p.: ill.; 26 cm. Published in England by Artists Bookworks. Typesetting and Page Layout by Crocodile: Forest Row, East Sussex. Printed in England by The Hand Press: Westerham Heights Farm, Westerham Hill, Kent.


El Lissitzky


El Lissitzky was an artist who was an important member of avant-garde movement that flourished in Soviet Russia and in Germany until the 1930s. In his children’s book About 2 Squares: In 6 Constructions: A Suprematist Tale he uses Suprematist geometric forms to tell a story of revolution. The copy of About 2 Squares in Reed’s Special Collections is a facsimile of the original 1922 printing, with an addition of tissue paper over-leaves printed with English translations, done in 1991 by MIT press. It is accompanied by a critical commentary titled More About 2 Squares by Patricia Railing.

Born Lazar Markovich Lissitzky in 1980 to an educated middle-class Jewish family in the Smolensk province of western Russia, El Lissitzky, from an early age, was deeply involved in Russian nationalism. As a student he studied futurism but eventually became deeply involved in the Communist-connected suprematism movement, which was associated with constructivism.

In 1919, at the invitation of Marc Chagall, Lissitzky moved to Vitebsk to begin teaching at the Vitebsk Popular Art Institute. After the arrival of his colleague, Kazimir Malevich, Lissitzky’s work “underwent a swift and fundamental shift from figuration to geometric abstraction.”1 Malevich introduced Lissitzky to suprematism, a Russian non-objective art movement focused on fundamental geometric forms, which highly influenced his own invented style that he named "proun" (Project for the Affirmation of the New).2 Along with its suprematist aesthetics, the foundations of proun were its interest in typography as form and its connection with Soviet propaganda. Proun “exemplified the modernist utopian vision of art as a means of social transformation that was emerging in a number of similar iterations throughout Europe.”3

Lissitzky created many propagandist works during the civil war while he worked in the Suprematist collective UNOVIS (Affirmirs of the New Art) founded by Malevich. He designed agitational posters with causes ranging from inciting workers to return to factories to encouraging Jews to rally around the Communist principles of Bolshevism.4 He continued to advocate a utilitarian and socialist platform after the disbandment of the Vitebsk Popular Art Institute in 1921 when he left Russia for Berlin and collaborated with “others on printmaking, book and periodical designs, and manifestos promoting Proun theory and a new international constructivism.”5

Produced as a part of his activity with UNOVIS, About 2 Squares is Lissitzky’s first children’s book to use abstract proun forms to create an allegory of the recent revolution. “The book tells the story of two squares, one red and the other black, who join forces to shatter chaos and establish a new order.”6 Lissitzky encourages child readers of the book to act out the story on their own using “paper…fold; rods…color; blocks of wood…build.”7

Highly influenced by the “typographical and display advertising innovations of the Bauhaus and ‘de Stijl’”8 Lissitzky uses modern typographical effects in a sans serif type to tell the story. The original book was printed by letterpress, including the slanted text and illustrations.9  About 2 Squares was first produced (“constructed”) in 1920 in Russia for UNOVIS, and was later printed in 1922 by Sycthian Press, Berlin, by Haberland. Printed in paperback and an edition of 50 hardbound copies autographed and numbered.10 The Reed College Library holds an MIT edition of the book with an English translation by Christiana Van Manen on tissue over-leaves between the facsimile pages. Accompanying this edition, bound similarly but separately, is a critical commentary titled More About 2 Squares by Patricia Railing.11


1 Margarita Tupitsyn. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1999; 9.

2 “Proun.” “Monuments of the Future:” Designs by El Lissitzky. Getty Research Institute. Web. 31 July 2007. View website

3 Tupitsyn. 9.

4 Perloff and Reed. 7.

5 Ibid.

6 “Proun.” “Monuments of the Future:” Designs by El Lissitzky. Getty Research Institute. 31 July. 2007.

7 Lissitzky, El. About 2 Squares: In 6 Constructions: A Suprematist Tale. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991.

8 “Suprematicheskii Skaz (About 2 Squares).” Ibiblio at The University of North Carolina. Web. 25 June 2003. View website

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

References and Links

“Biography: El Lissitzky.” Guggenheim Museum.  Web. 24 July 2006. View website

Lissitzky, El. El Lissitzky, 1890-1941: Architect, Painter, Photographer, Typographer. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Lissitzky, El. Russia: An Architecture for World Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 1970.

Lissitzky-Küppers, Sophie, Ed. El Lissitzky; Life, Letters, Texts. Trans. Helene Aldwinckle and Mary Whitall. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1968.

Margolin, Victor. The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917-1946. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Mayakovsky, Vladimir. For the Voice: Mayakovsky and El Lissitzky. London, England: British Library, 2000.

“’Monuments of the Future’: Designs by El Lissitzky.” Getty Research Institute. Web. 31 July 2007. View website

“Suprematicheskii Skaz (About 2 Squares).” Ibiblio at The University of North Carolina. Web. 25 June 2003. View website