Katherine Reischl

Panel 6C: Avant-garde and Artist’s Books
Session 6 – July 3, 15:30 – 17:30

Russian Color Pedagogies: Training Chromatic Judgment

The history of color – told through scientific discovery, philosophy, art, technology and media – is certainly a global one. In its broadest aims, this paper asks: what is Russian color literacy? Considering publications from school primers to high-quality, high-cost arts volumes from the 19th-21st centuries, this paper will provide a brief overview of the typology of color theories published in Russia and highlight the influence and exchange of those theories and histories with the West. In its more particular sets of case studies, this paper will seek to (re)situate the revolutionary color manual published by Mikhail Matiushin (Spravochnik po tsvetu, 1932), based on both his works in his Visiology Center (Zor-ved) and application in courses at GINKhuK, within both the spectrum of pedagogies of color and as refracted through Mikhail Karasik’s book and exhibition project, Color is Optics (Tsvet – optika, 2015) and Komar and Melamid’s color projects as instantiated between 1976 and 1997. Color literacy, materialized first in the book, provides a mobile architecture for forming both trained judgement and its pragmatic applications, including the parodic and subversive coloring of late Soviet nonconformist art for the western art market. In an extended exploration of twentieth century color training, this paper will seek to articulate the particular problems intrinsic in translating color to the printed page (in word and image) as the historical signification of this optic, material, and metaphorical experience shifts within ideological and commercial marketplaces.


Katherine M. H. Reischl is an assistant professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. Her work focuses on twentieth-century Russian literature, art, and culture, with particular attention paid to the relationship between text and image. Her first book, Photographic Literacy: Cameras in the Hands of Russian Authors (Cornell University Press, 2018), explores the intersection of photography and writing in the texts of author-photographers. She is currently working on a new project dedicated to the intermedial exploration of color and color technologies in the 20th century, focused largely on the late Soviet period. It is tentatively titled, Beyond Red: Soviet and Post-Soviet Color. She teaches courses on media theory, 20th century Russian literature, urban studies, and photography.