Illustration: Rodchenko, Photomontage for rear cover of Mayakovsky's "A Conversation with a Tax-collector about Poetry," 1926.
22 Dec 1921
Vavara Stepanova presented “On Constructivism” to her colleagues at “Inkhuk” Ie the Moscow Institute for Artistic Culture. Inkhuk was the one year old research wing of IZO, the Department of Fine Arts of the Peoples Commissariat of Enlightenment, Nakrompos.
Kandinsky had been involved in its beginnings but now he had left and a new broom was sweeping through the studios. The artists were concerned with how they might face the future, what contribution might they make to Soviet life, on Constructive principles.
'Composition is the contemplative approach of the artist. Technique and Industry have confronted art with the problem of construction as an active process and not reflective. The 'sanctity' of a work as a single entity is destroyed. The museum which was the treasury of art is now transformed into an archive'.
1922 Stepanova designed the sets for The Death of Tarelkin.
1923 with Popova, became designer of textiles at the Tsindel (the First State Textile Factory) near Moscow.
1924 became Professor of Textile Design at the Vkhutemas (Higher Technical Artistic Studios)
Artists, poets and writers became radicalised in a way which had never been possible before:
“Order to the Army of Art” “the streets are our brushes, the squares our palettes.”
In line with the new organisation of society there would be a completely new way of dealing with visual culture, ie both art and design. Part of this was an expression of animosity towards the art which they would sweep away:
"Down with ART, the shining patches on the talentless life of a wealthy man.
Down with ART, the precious gem in the dirty, dark, life of a poor man.
Down with ART, the means to ESCAPE FROM THE LIFE which is not worth living.
CONSTRUCTIVE LIFE IS THE ART OF THE FUTURE.
Conscious and organised LIFE, the ability to SEE and CONSTRUCT, that is the modern art.
Work amongst everyone, for everyone and with everyone,
DOWN WITH monasteries, institutes, workshops, studios, studies and islands.
ART which has no part in life will be filed away in the archaeological museum of ANTIQUITY.
It is time for art to flow organisedly into life."
Born 1891 in Smolensk he went to art school in Kazan were he met the woman who was to be his wife and co-worker Varvara Stepanova [slide]
Going to art school in Moscow in 1914 he soon left the formal academy, having already been introduced to modern art, in the form of the Futurists.
In 1915 and 16 with the Revolution developing around him he was working independently on Futurist inspired compositions. He met Tatlin and Malevich at this time and joined a branch of IZO in 1918.
“After exploiting the object in every possible interpretation, from Realism and Naturalism to Futurism, painting reached Cubism and, almost with a knowledge of anatomy, dismembered it - until painting at last freed itself completely from this defence and reached non-objectivity. After reaching object and subject, painting began to occupy itself exclusively with its own specific tasks : these expanded more than replaced the object and its interpretation which painting had excluded.”
For Rodchenko this use of Line was the embodiment of the revolutionary ethos: Line has bid a red farewell to painting.
“Line has revealed a new world view - to construct essence, and not to depict, to objectivise or to non-objectivise; to build new, expedient, constructive structures in life, and not from life or outside life. A construction is a system by which an object is realised from the expedient utilisation of material together with a pre-determined purpose.”
In the twenties Rodchenko developed a photographic technique which used his formal researches to
i)produce a photography based on the diagonal, the shot from below, the acute angle
ii) a photography based also on sequences of images : a factography as he called it.
“Don’t try to capture a man in one synthetic portrait but rather in lots of snap-shots taken at different times and in different circumstances.”
We also examined Suprematist art by Goncharova, Larinov and Malevich. We discussed Tatlin's Monument to the Third International.
Brettell R.R. (1999) Modem Art, 1851-1929, Oxford, Oxford History of Art
Russian Constructivism, Christina Lodder, Yale University Press, 1983.