Russian Constructivism artistic and architectural movement arose in Russia after the Revolution of 1917. The Revolution set the stage for one of the most remarkable transformations of artistic theory in the history of art. The Constructionist form was born from many artists such as Rodchenko who were in pursuit of a much more innovative approach to art. The Constructivists strived to produce bold work in painting, sculpture, photography and architecture through the use of new mediums. The Constructivists abandoned traditional medium and embraced influences from the progressive and technologically advanced industrial society after the revolution. The movement called for the artists' direct involvement in industrial production and thus the construction of a new society after the Revolutions.
Artists of this time tried to apply the laws of "pure" art to objects of utilitarian purpose and mass consumption, and to "build a bridge" between art and the new "savior" of the people -- industry (Gray, p. 250). In the spirit of the movement, the Constructivists proclaimed the death of easel painting and asserted that the artist was a researcher, an engineer, and an "art constructor." The basic theory behind Constructivism was essentially to fit utilitarian purposes and to fulfill, if only unconventionally, the material needs of the people. The Constructivist artists and their works affected many facets of Russian life, including architecture, applied arts, particularly furniture, textile and clothing design, book illustration, theatre, stage and costume design, and film
Other important figures associated with Constructivism were Lissitzky, Popova and Malevich. After the late 1920's, Soviet opposition to the Constructivists' aesthetic radicalism resulted in the group's dispersion. Tatlin and Rodchenko remained in the Soviet Union, but Gabo and Pevsner went first to Germany and then to Paris, where they served as the main influence of Constructivist theory. In the 1930s Gabo spread Constructivism to England and in the 1940s to the United States. Lissitzky's combination of Constructivism and Suprematism influenced the de Stijl artists and architects. Although there are many artists who have contributed a significant amount to the movement, this paper will focus on those made by Rodchenko, Malevich and Popova.
The Russian Revolution:
In order to understand the Constructivism movement, it is important to examine the circumstances and the Revolutions in Russia in 1917. The Russian Revolution can be characterized as a violent upheaval in that overthrew the czarist government. The revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest. From the time of Peter the Great, the czar form of government became an autocratic bureaucracy that imposed its will on the people by force, and often with disregard for human rights. As the czars adopted Western technology, Western humanitarian ideals were acquired by a group of educated Russians. Among this growing intelligentsia, the majority of whom were abstractly humanitarian and democratic, there were also those who were politically radical and even revolutionary.
The reforms of Alexander II brought the emancipation of the serfs and opened the way for industrial development. However, emancipation imposed harsh economic conditions on the lower class and did not satisfy their need for farmland. Industrialization concentrated people in urban centers, where the exploited working class was a receptive audience for radical ideas. By 1903, Russia was divided into several political groups. The autocracy was upheld by the landed nobility and the higher clergy; the capitalists desired a constitutional monarchy; the liberal bourgeoisie made up the bulk of the group that later became the Constitutional Democratic party; lower and middle class were incorporated into the Socialist Revolutionary party; and the workers, influenced by Marxism, were represented in the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Social Democratic Labor party.
By March of 1917, workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow were striking and rioting for higher food rations. Nicholas II ineffectually sought to put down the workers by force and also dissolved the Duma. The Duma refused to obey, and the St. Petersburg insurgents took over the capital. Nicholas was forced to abdicate after the Duma had appointed a provisional government composed mainly of moderates. Although most Russians welcomed the end of autocracy that was the only point on which they agreed.
The revolution in October placed the Bolsheviks in power and by late 1917 the bond between the tsar and most of the Russian people had been broken. Governmental corruption and inefficiency were rampant. The tsar's reactionary policies, including the occasional dissolution of the Duma, or Russian parliament, had spread dissatisfaction throughout all the parties.
For Russian artists, the Revolution raised hope that they might actually see a revolutionary state in which the avant-garde would transform the world, creating a new home for the newly modern society. The Constructivism movement was fueled by this desire and was successful in exploring innovative possibilities. The installation of Stalin in the 1920's, followed by the establishment of the Socialist Regime, put an end to this dream and the movement.
Beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century and with the increasing social pressure from the Revolution, Russian artists began to exchange ideas with European counterparts, a move that was previously nonexistent in Russian art history. Russian artists responded to this sharing of ideas with enthusiasm to the innovation of the West, especially with regard to technology and industry. The key innovators during this time are Kasimi Malevish and Vladimir Talin, each of which contributed significantly to the Cubist style and abstract art.
Alexander Rodchenko is a painter, sculptor, designer, and photographer and unquestionably an important member of the Constructivist movement. According to Dabroeski, "the work of Aleksandr Rodchenho represents a high point in the evolution of Russian Constructivism, its innovative, experimental spirit, its versatility, and its incomparable creativity distinguishing it from that of other constituents of the Russian avant-garde movements that flourished during the first two decades of this century" (Dabrowski, 1998, p. 19).
Rodchenko studied art at the Kazan School of Art in Odessa from 1910 to 1914 and then went to Moscow. He soon abandoned a Futurist style of painting in favor of a completely abstract, highly geometric style using a ruler and compass. His first major show was part of an exhibition organized in Moscow in 1916 by Vladimir Tatlin, and in 1918 Rodchenko presented a solo show in Moscow. In 1918 he painted a series of black-on-black geometric paintings in response to the famous "White on White" painting of fellow innovator, Kazimir Malevich. In 1919 Rodchenko began to make three-dimensional constructions out of wood, metal, and other materials, again using geometric shapes in dynamic compositions; some of these hanging sculptures were, in effect, mobiles.
Rodchenko led a wing of artists in the Constructivist movement, know as the Productivist group, whose goal was to construct closer ties between the arts and industry and to produce works that they considered more appropriate in the daily lives of worker-consumers. As a result, he gave up traditional easel painting in the 1920s and focused on other art forms, among them photography; poster, book, and typographic design; furniture design; and stage and motion-picture set design. He held various government offices concerned with art-related projects, helped to establish art museums, and taught art.
Kazimi Malevich was a Russian painter, who is considered the founder of the Supremacist school of abstract painting. Malevich was trained at the Kiev School of Art and the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts. In his early work he followed Impressionism as well as Fauvism, and, after a trip to Paris in 1912, he became influenced by Picasso and Cubism. As a member of the Jack of Diamonds group, he led the Russian Cubist movement.
In 1913 Malevich created abstract geometrical patterns in a manner he called Suprematism. On a 1926 visit to the Bauhaus in Weimar he met Wassily Kandinsky and published a book on his theory under the title Die gegenstandslose Welt "The Nonobjective World." Later, when Soviet politicians decided against modern art, Malevich and his art were doomed. Although he contributed greatly to the school of abstract art, he died in poverty and was virtually unknown.
Regardless of his unpopularity at his death, Malevich was the first to exhibit paintings composed of abstract geometrical elements. His well-known "White on White" (1918; Museum of Modern Art, New York City) is an excellent example of his Suprematist theories.
Women in the Constructivist Movement:
Women have played a particularly significant role in the development of Russian art, especially the abstract genre. As Yablonskaya points out, little has been studied or written about the role that women artist have played in Russian art. "There still exists a historical tradition of mistrust towards the idea of 'women's studies', and male chauvinism in Russia is still evidence...In Russian art, this struggle for equality continues to this day" (Yablonskaya, p. 9). But as Yablonskaya stresses, it is important to note that in Russia, women artists have become stronger and more active in times of great social tension and that it is true to say that "a real consciousness of their role came to women at times of intense social…