Pro Dva Kvadrata (About Two Squares)

Many Russian artists supported the Revolution of 1917, which was led by Vladimir Lenin against the old Tzarist regime, and established the first communist government. They turned their talents to promoting the social justice they believed it would bring, through Suprematism, a new abstract style in Russian art, with roots in cubist and futurist systems of painting. The creator, Kazimir Malevich, was head of the UNOVIS (Utverditeli Novovo Iskusstva  or  The Champions of the New Art). The role of UNOVIS was to teach the suprematist system and apply its principles to construction, architecture, theatre, book design, and graphic arts in general. Among the key faculty was Lazar (“El”) Lissitzky, who drew propaganda posters for the Communist Party and designed their first flag. He was a leading proponent of the Suprematist movement and began a series of projects called PROUNS1, with which he hoped to move Suprematism from a two dimensional platform to a three-dimensional one through his architectural expertise.

About Two Squares chaos plate


A graphic typography book, created during 1920, and published in its final form in Berlin in the spring of 1922, demonstrated how the combination of the graphic word and letter can visually complement each other to create a pictorial image in a higher dimension. The book was titled Pro Dva Kvadrata (About Two Squares), and is considered today, to be Lissitzky’s masterpiece of Suprematist book illustration. The book is portrayed as a children’s tale, depicting the adventures of the red square (communist ideals), as it overcomes the black square (convention), that fly to earth from afar to create a better world. With six main plates which encapsulate a breakthrough in typographic art with cryptic social political messages, the book is simplified to appeal to children in the form of a fable. It is based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on a visual depiction of objects.

Chaos is depicted using words “black” and “alarming”, with a disorganized mix of slanting blocks and angular objects which float disturbingly in midair without any sense of perspective or logic.

About Two Squares Race to Earth

On Course

With this abstract and artistic image, the political message is quite clear: On course to attend the chaos on planet earth, the Soviet red square is ahead of the old order black square.

Finally order is on the way. Even though a corner of the red square crashed down on the chaotic objects below, scattering them, a sense of order seems to have been achieved with the items being re-arranged by shape and size, with the words “crash” and “scattered” printed.

About Two Squares depicts the victory of the new over the old, and a higher consciousness of reality over three-dimensional consciousness. It transmits a reality beyond that of earthly three-dimensional determinism and limitation by which man’s perception of art had been associated with. Lissitzky, using non-Euclidean geometry of point, line and plane, coupled with his architectural projective methods, was able to create suprematist forms in cosmic space. Out of these notions, access to the realm of the fourth dimension becomes possible by releasing the imagination to embrace those higher dimensions of space and time. It is through the tale’s analogy that the reader can postulate the world of three dimensional beings, to the world of the fourth dimension.2

About Two Squares Order Restored

Order being restored

Suprematism remained mostly a Russia-based art movement. Although heavily criticized, it gained some popularity in the West as well. Lissitzky, in particular, was the one who made the movement popular in Western Europe with collaborations from representatives of similar movements, such as De Stijl and the Bauhaus.

While Suprematist artworks are very popular among collectors at auctions, our Rare Book Sales Monitor failed to record any significant price increase during recent years. The few surviving copies of the original Pro Dva Kvadrata, are very rarely up for sale. The most noticeable sale took place during a Sotheby’s auction in London, in 2006 for £19, 200; more than 3 times the high end of the estimate. Another copy offered in 2012, sold at a Christie’s London for £15,000; 25% above the high estimate. Three years later a similar copy sold for £18,750; close to the high end of the estimate. At the high art market, Malevich’s painting Suprematist Composition (1916) broke a few records, first during the recession in 2008 where the abstract painting was the star of the day setting the world record for Russian art at $60 million. The same work more recently, in 2018, sold for $85.8 million at Christie’s, breaking the record for a work of Russian art once again.


1 In 1920 Lissitzky coined the term “Proun”—an acronym for the Russian words meaning “project for the affirmation of the new”—to refer to a series of abstract works that combined the Suprematist lexicon of geometric, monochromatic forms with tools of architectural rendering.

2  Railing, Patricia. More About Two Squares. Artists Bookworks, 1990. Patricia Railing is an art historian specialising in the Russian Avant-Garde. She has published widely on Cubism and Suprematism in both books and articles.



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Silent Spring, Silent Earth

by Admin on September 7, 2020

In 1962, the American marine biologist and natural history writer, Rachel Carson, published her seminal book, Silent Spring. Carson’s powerful and poetic writing was beautifully complemented by the detail-oriented drawings of American illustrators Lois and Louis Darling. Today, it is considered to be one of the most powerful natural history books ever written; the spark that ignited the environmental movement. The title, “Silent Spring,” originates from the description of a scenario in which all spring songbirds were killed by DDT.

In 1958, Carson was prompted to investigate the use of pesticides when a friend wrote to her about the fact that DDT was killing birds in nearby Cape Cod. After communicating with many scientists, she demonstrated that DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including humans, causing genetic damage and disease such as cancer. The bald eagle, the US national symbol, experienced deterioration to the shell of its egg, while in the river waters, the salmon passed it up the food chain to reach human consumers.

Carson’s argument swayed President John F. Kennedy to order an investigation of the defending chemical companies, vindicating her research. The use of DDT came under close scrutiny and in 1972, eight years after Carson’s death; it was banned in the US as a crop spray. The UK followed in 1984, and in 2001; the Stockholm Convention introduced a worldwide ban on the agricultural use of DDT. Today, its sole legal use is to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The first edition of Silent Spring, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, has been re-printed more than 10 times with additional editions by BOMC, Random House, Fawcett Crest, Penguin Books, Mariner, Folio Society, Easton Press, Thorndike Press and the first UK edition by Hamish Hamilton. Naturally, the first printing of the first American edition is quite scarce, and to secure a copy in nice condition is quite difficult and pricey.

Unlike the substance DDT, whose detrimental effect on the environment took decades to remedy, our climate change problem, which was first introduced 200 years ago is still being debated. The solution is also not as simple as a worldwide ban, it will take decades to develop and deploy clean-energy innovations that are needed to make our world healthy again.

The idea of “greenhouse gases”, was first introduced by Joseph Fourier, in his quantitative analysis of the phenomenon, published in Annales de Chimie et de Physique Tome XXVII October 1824. Concern was raised over the impact of human activities on the earth’s climate which  are based on the fact that “greenhouse gases” produced by industrial activity, including particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), can absorb, and convert infrared radiation into heat, which  emitted from the earth’s surface, can thus increase the average global temperatures.

Svante Arrhenius, who is credited with the first quantitative analysis of carbonic acid (carbon dioxide) and its role in climate change, published the first climate model of its kind in 1896, showing that the halving of CO2 could have produced the drop in temperature initiating the ice age. Arrhenius calculated the temperature increase expected from doubling CO2 to be around 5–6 °C (9.0–10.8 °F). His work, Ueber den Einfluss des Atmosphärischen Kohlensäregehalts auf die Temperatur der Erdoberfläche, was published in Stockholm in 1896, by P.A. Norsstedt & Söner. It was first published in English “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” in The Philisophical Magazine, in April of 1896. Arrhenius won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903, in recognition of the extraordinary services he rendered to the advancement of chemistry by his electrolytic theory of dissociation.

Is it possible, that as we progress to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the world economies within the next 50 years, that there will be a number of publications that will be recognized? A number of collectible rare books should emerge in the years to come, as innovations become reality in tackling the big emitters of greenhouse gases. One aspect that Rachel Carson’s contribution has made obvious is that the next generation of rare book on the prevention of a climate disaster, will be the one that will force governments to take action worldwide.




Islamic Libraries: A Short History

August 19, 2020
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This video highlights the early and spectacular development of public, semi-public, and private libraries in Islamic land between the 10th and the 18th century, from Spain to India and from Timbuktu to Sarajevo. A lecture by Laurent Ferri (Curator of pre-1800 Books and Manuscripts, Cornell University Library). Selected bibliography: ATIYEH, G. N. (ed.), The Book […]

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Speculative Fiction for the Future

July 17, 2020
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The future is here, the future is now. It was, in-part, imagined some years ago in science fiction novels, and prophesized by psychics, gurus and thinkers of sorts. If our recent experience is any indication, our future may lie in the conceptual, fantastical and slightly implausible worlds created by figments of our imaginations. With so […]

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Bauhaus = Building House = Modernist Architecture = Communism?

May 21, 2020

Modernism in architecture grew from the Bauhaus, a German architecture and design school established in 1919, in Weimar, by German architect Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (18 May 1883 – 5 July 1969).  Paradoxically, Bauhaus, directly translated: “building house”, did not offer courses in architecture in its early years of operation despite a proclamation in its […]

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Infectious Diseases: A Groundbreaking Book (1546) – Some resemblance between Didier Raoult and Girolamo Fracastoro (?)

March 29, 2020
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As the world is struggling with Coronavirus-19, it may be interesting to look at the history of pandemics, long seen as God’s punishment of our sins, and/or as something provoked by the witches. The History of Science Collection in Cornell’s RMC has the first edition of Girolamo Fracastoro’s De contagione et contagiosis morbis (Venice: Giunti, 1546; […]

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The Most Expensive “Candy”

March 9, 2020
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The unison of three greatly provocative and time-changing minds were responsible for the bestseller Candy, which on one hand greatly influenced popular culture of the 1960’s,  and on the other, caused furor for its vulgar take on contemporary culture. The work of writer Terry Southern, poet Mason Hoffenberg and publisher Maurice Girodias, was originally pseudonymously […]

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The First Ethnic Cook Books of America

February 8, 2020
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Up until twenty years after the political upheaval of the American Revolution in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies had been using British cookbooks reprinted in America. The first such cookbook was printed in Williamsburg, by William Parks in 1742, titled “The Compleat Housewife.” The book was in fact, a London bestseller, published fifteen years earlier in […]

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Women author scarcity

November 12, 2019
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The women’s liberation movement during the 1960’s propelled feminist intellectualism which brought us wonderful modern women writers, such as J.K. Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.  The boys’ club definitely was broken, and is even more apparent when looking back!  Critic Sarah Weinman, argues in an essay published by the Library […]

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Jean-Michel Basquiat is “PYRO” hot

September 30, 2019
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Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which will take place in London on the 3rd of October 2019, will offer a Jean-Michel Basquiat acrylic, silkscreen ink and oil stick on canvas titled “PYRO”, signed and dated 1984 on the reverse. This is the highlight of the event and is estimated to sell for …….., “Estimate upon […]

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