Following the exhibition by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, the impresarios of the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project (closing July 14), BAMPFA presents the work of another convention-defying Russian artist, Alexander Rodchenko. Whereas Komar and Melamid represent dissident art that grew on the ruins of the Soviet state, Rodchenko epitomizes the art of the romantic nascent period of Soviet history; his art was made possible by the newly formed government in 1918. In fact, it was thanks to Rodchenko's political influence that his fellow radical artists had institutional clout. Nevertheless, in the 1930s his zeal was turned against him, and the artist lived in oblivion until his death in 1956. What unites the three artists, and allows their common identification with the avant-garde, is their total disdain for "bourgeois" art - art that "sit(s) on its ass in a museum," as Claes Oldenburg once defined it. Rodchenko, like Komar and Melamid three quarters of a century later, insisted on a tangible purpose for art. The latter's witty conceptual project takes the form of real charity where art is used to help endangered Asian elephants survive. In the case of Rodchenko, art was used to celebrate the totalitarian ideal through the forms we now call commercial: photographic reporting, poster and book design, advertising, and propaganda film. In search of the most effective and innovative visual communication, Rodchenko embraced the findings of European modernism, including the graphic language of propaganda and advertising. He introduced radical elements into design and photography: extreme angles, diagonals, energetic exclamation points, and dramatic layouts were virtually patented by the artist. Rodchenko's designs are still being copied today, and some of them look as contemporary as anything around now. The exhibition on view in Gallery 3 celebrates Rodchenko's contribution to the modernist aesthetic. Included are photomontages, original publications, cinematic montages, and photographic portraits of poets, writers, and artists. Exhibition curator Steve Yates, Curator of Photography at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, rightly describes the artwork on view as "visually stunning and formally dynamic." Yet, can it be admired in the knowledge that Rodchenko capitulated to each turn of Communist Party ideology and willingly abetted criminality? He took thousands of propaganda photographs at the forced-labor White Sea Canal project, gazing through his camera lens at a slow-motion massacre of 200,000 people. By the mid-1930s his photographic work was hardly distinguishable from that of his German contemporary Leni Riefenstahl, whose romance with the Nazis forever stained her brilliant visual innovations. This thorny question, recently taken up by scholars and critics, will be addressed in the panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition to be held September 29 and described in our fall issue.