The Crisis of Ugliness: From Cubism to Pop-Art


Mikhail Lifshitz is a major forgotten figure in the tradition of Marxist philosophy and art history. A significant influence on Lukács, and the dedicatee of his The Young Hegel, as well as an unsurpassed scholar of Marx and Engels’s writings on art and a lifelong controversialist, Lifshitz’s work dealt with topics as various as the philosophy of Marx and the pop aesthetics of Andy Warhol. The Crisis of Ugliness (originally published in Russian by Iskusstvo, 1968), published here in English for the first time, and with a detailed introduction by its translator David Riff, is a compact broadside against modernism in the visual arts that nevertheless resists the dogmatic complacencies of Stalinist aesthetics. Its reentry into English debates on the history of Soviet aesthetics promises to re-orient our sense of the basic coordinates of a Marxist art theory.

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Mikhail Lifshitz (1905–1983) studied and later taught at the avant-garde art school VKhUTEMAS, where he formulated a Leninist critique of modernism beginning in the mid-1920s. In 1927, he became the first author to write about Marx’s own aesthetic views. His book on the subject (published in Moscow by Gosizdat Khud. Lit. in 1933) first appeared in English as The Philosophy of Art of Karl Marx in 1938 (New York: Critic’s Group) and is still considered a pioneering work in its field.

David Riff (1975) is a writer, artist and curator. He was a member of the work group Chto delat and co-editor of the newspaper of the same name from 2003 to 2008. Riff has curated international exhibitions and event programs and has published extensively on contemporary art. He currently lives in Berlin and works as a freelance curator.
List of Illustrations

Introduction. Mikhail Lifshitz: A Communist Contemporary
David Riff


1 Myth and Reality: The Legend of Cubism
‘Scandal in Art’
Two Appraisals of Cubism
G.V. Plekhanov and Cubism
The Terms ‘Reactionary’ and ‘Bourgeois’
The Revolt against Things
Fusion with Objects as an Ideal
The Evolution of Cubism
Painting in the Other World

2 The Phenomenology of the Soup Can: The Quirks of Taste
The Economy of Painting
Reflection’s Malaise

3 Why am I Not a Modernist?

Illustration Section
Art historians, critical theorists, students of Soviet aesthetics, modernism and Marxist cultural theory.
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