Russian theorist and designer. In 1918–20 he was head of the section of mass performances and spectacles of the theatrical department of Narkompros, and he made a radical proposal for the entire population of Moscow to enact the May Day spectacle ‘The Communist City of the Future’ (1920).
This ‘mass action’ activity presaged the anti-aesthetic stance that was to characterize Gan’s approach. Through his co-founding with Varvara Stepanova and Aleksandr Rodchenko of the First Working Group of Constructivists (1921–4), and his publication of Constructivist principles in his book Konstruktivizm (1922), Gan played a leading role in the development of the Constructivist aesthetic. In his interpretation of Constructivism, which he saw as the creative counterpart to the socio-political tasks of the Revolution, Gan called for creative activity to be politicized to the maximum and for its artistic component to be minimized.
His slogans included ‘we declare uncompromising war on art’ and ‘death to art’, which he attempted to encapsulate in his designs for portable book kiosks, folding street stalls, exhibition posters and clothing, where the objects were reduced to the most simple and functional forms. It was this extreme approach that led to a split with fellow Constructivists Rodchenko and Stepanova in 1923 and his setting up of what he considered the true group of Constructivists, comprised of students at Vkhutemas. This group consisted of several production cells: the equipment for everyday life, children’s books, specialized work clothes and typography, as well as cells concerned with material structures, mass action, and cinema and photography (Kino-Fot). The group exhibited their work at the First Discussional Exhibition of the Union of Active Revolutionary Art (Moscow, May 1924). Gan also published and edited the journal Kino-Fot (1922–3), in which he advanced his idea of the replacement of painting by photography and promoted the cinema as a medium unconnected with tradition and capable of the objective recording of successful changes in Soviet life.
He developed these theories in Da zdravstvuyet demonstratsiya byta (1923) and in his articles for Sovremennaya arkhitektura (1926–30), the journal of OSA, for which he was artistic editor. He was also a founding member of ‘October’ (1928–32), a union of artists, designers and architects, which primarily advocated Constructivist ideals as the most suitable for the advancement of the material culture of Soviet society.