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Artists Vladimir Tatlin

Vladimir Tatlin

Russian Architect, Painter, and Sculptor

Movement: Constructivism

Born: December 28, 1885 - Moscow, Russia

Died: May 31, 1953 - Moscow, Russia

Quotes

"Not the old, not the new, but the necessary."
Vladimir Tatlin
"The investigation of material, volume, and construction made it possible for us in 1918, in an artistic form, to begin to combine materials like iron and glass, the materials of modern Classicism, comparable in their severity with the marble of antiquity. In this way an opportunity emerges of uniting purely artistic forms with utilitarian intentions. An example is the project for a monument to the Third international."
Vladimir Tatlin
"We declare our distrust of the eye, and place our sensual impressions under control."
Vladimir Tatlin
"Work in the field of furniture and other articles of use is only just beginning: the emergence of new cultural institutions, vital in our daily lives, institutions in which the working masses are to live, think and develop their aptitudes, demands from the artist not only a feeling for the superficially decorative but above all for things which fit the new existence and its dialectic."
Vladimir Tatlin
"In the squares and in the streets we are placing our work convinced that art must not remain a sanctuary for the idle, a consolation for the weary, and a justification for the lazy. Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and acts."
Vladimir Tatlin

"In the squares and in the streets we are placing our work convinced that art must not remain a sanctuary for the idle, a consolation for the weary, and a justification for the lazy. Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and acts."

Synopsis

Vladimir Tatlin was central to the birth of Russian Constructivism. Often described as a "laboratory Constructivist," he took lessons learned from Pablo Picasso's Cubist reliefs and Russian Futurism, and began creating objects that sometimes seem poised between sculpture and architecture. Initially trained as an icon painter, he soon abandoned the traditionally pictorial concerns of painting and instead concentrated on the possibilities inherent in the materials he used - often metal, glass, and wood. He wanted above all to bend art to modern purposes and, ultimately, to tasks suited to the goals of Russia's Communist revolution. He is remembered most for his Monument to the Third International (1919-20). A design for the Communist International headquarters, it was realized as a model but never built. It crystallized his desire to bring about a synthesis of art and technology, and has remained a touchstone of that utopian goal for generations of artists since. The arc of his career has come to define the spirit of avant-gardism in the twentieth century, the attempt to bring art to the service of everyday life.

Key Ideas

Much of Tatlin's mature work shows a desire to abolish the traditionally representational function of art and put it to new, more practical uses. This accorded with his desire to put art in the service of the Russian Revolution, but also to express the dynamic experience of life in the twentieth century. Although this would be more effectively achieved by a later generation of artists, some of whom put art aside to produce advertising and propaganda for the state, Tatlin's work marks an important early stage in the transformation of Russian art, from modernist experiment to practical design.
Tatlin believed that the materials an artist used should be used in accordance with their capacities and in such a way that explored the uses to which they could be put. In part, this attitude is characteristic of the ethic of "truth to materials," an idea that runs throughout the history of modern sculpture. But Tatlin's approach was distinctively shaped by his desire to bring lessons learned in the artist's studio to the service of the real world. That might explain why his work seems to shift from a preoccupation with the texture and character of materials, to a focus on technology and the machine.
Tatlin's training as an icon painter may have been significant in suggesting to him how unusual materials might be introduced into painting, but the most important revelation in this respect was his encounter with Picasso's Cubist collages, which he saw on a trip to Paris in 1913. Another echo of his earliest concerns - one that remains in his work throughout his career - is his preoccupation with curves, something that can be traced all the way from his early nudes through the experimental sculpture of his Counter-reliefs up to his architectural Monument to the Third International (1919-20).

Most Important Art

Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)
Monument to the Third International, also sometimes known simply as Tatlin's Tower, is his most famous work, as well as the most important spur to the formation of the Constructivist movement. The Tower, which was never fully realized, was intended to act as a fully functional conference space and propaganda center for the Communist Third International. Its steel spiral frame was to stand at 1,300 feet, making it the tallest structure in the world at the time. It was to be taller, more functional - and therefore more beautiful by Constructivist standards - than the Eiffel Tower. There were to be three glass units, a cube, cylinder, and cone, which would provide functional space for meetings and would rotate once per year, month, and day, respectively. For Tatlin, steel and glass were the essential materials of modern construction. They symbolized industry, technology, and the machine age, and the constant motion of the geometrically shaped units embodied the dynamism of modernity.
Wood, iron, and glass - Destroyed
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Biography

Childhood

Vladimir Tatlin was born in 1885 in Moscow. He grew up in the Ukraine and attended school in Kharkiv. His father was a railway engineer and his mother was a poet. At a young age, Tatlin left home to work as a merchant sea cadet. He traveled to places such as Turkey, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Bulgaria, continuing his adventures at sea intermittently until around 1915.

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Early Training

Having copied religious frescoes when he was young, he began formal artistic training as an icon painter in 1902. Many of the stylistic principles employed in icon painting and Russian folk art traditions - the peasant woodcut, or lubok, for instance - had a strong and lasting impact on Tatlin throughout his career.

Tatlin attended the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture from 1902 to 1904. Afterwards, from 1904 to 1909, he studied at the Penza School of Art under Aleksey Afanas'ev. He belonged to a group of artists whose work addressed the social and political concerns of contemporary Russia, and subsequently became one of Tatlin's greatest artistic influences. He was perhaps inspired by Afanas'ev to devote his efforts to socially relevant art.

Vladimir Tatlin Biography

After graduating from Penza, Tatlin resumed his studies at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture from 1909 to 1910. Around the same time, he also developed close friendships with leading artists of the Russian avant-garde, such as the Vesnin brothers, the Burluk brothers, Natalia Goncharova, and Mikhail Larionov. He became familiar with Larionov's movement, Rayonism - a style of abstract painting derived from the principles of Futurism. The characteristics of this style were the fragmentation of the object through reflected rays and the analysis of the object's relationship to its spatial environment. Tatlin later applied similar principles to his non-utilitarian sculptures. He also began exhibiting in major avant-garde exhibitions in cities such as Odessa, Moscow, and Petrograd.

In 1913, Tatlin traveled to Berlin and Paris. It was during this time that he met another great influence - Pablo Picasso. Tatlin visited Picasso's studio and became acquainted with the Cubist analysis of form through Picasso's three-dimensional mixed-media constructions. The effect of his exposure to these collage and assemblage works is apparent in his mixed-media reliefs, composed of industrial materials such as glass, metal, plaster, and wood, that he began to construct shortly after visiting Picasso's studio.

The earliest known relief from this period in which Picasso's influence is most clearly recognized is The Bottle (1913). This first construction is not yet fully abstract or fully three-dimensional, and, like Picasso's constructions, it is largely painterly in character - in other words, its concerns are no different from painting's traditional, pictorial preoccupation with representing the world. Indeed, Tatlin often referred to these works as "painterly reliefs," but after 1914 he began to create a new type of object and to describe these as "counter-reliefs." The latter are far more concerned with materials and with the space the object occupies; to emphasize this, Tatlin often erected them in the corner of rooms, making them resemble architecture more than painting or traditional sculpture. They were also entirely abstract, allowing the artist to explore the natural potential of the materials used and the new forms they can create through their interaction and juxtaposition.

In these sculptures, the surrounding space is used as another material for construction, interacting with the object and creating dynamism and tension. The geometric corner counter-reliefs, which he started to construct in 1914, are an example of this more developed abstract style. In these corner-spanning works, the flat rectangular frame is discarded and the object is able to fully interact with its spatial environment. By breaking away from the two-dimensional surface and into space, these sculptures embody Tatlin's slogan, "art into life." One might also read them as a fusion of art and engineering, and, in that regard, many critics have pointed to the talents of his parents, one a poet, the other an engineer.

His familiarity with religious icons, as well as his awareness of developments in Western art - from works by Monet, Gauguin, and Cézanne in Moscow collections - is also evident in his early work. In paintings such as The Nude (1913), the influence of icon painting and folk art is clear in the subject's monumentality, spatial configuration, and skewed perspective. What is also significant in some of these paintings is Tatlin's focus on the materiality - or faktura - of the paint. This became central to his later experiments with industrial materials and their natural properties, as well as the ideology of the Constructivist movement as a whole.

Mature Period

Vladimir Tatlin Photo

Though seeking to establish a new utopian society by breaking with tradition, prior to the October Revolution of 1917, Tatlin and other artists of the Russian avant-garde remained essentially apolitical. Following the revolution, however, Tatlin's artistic focus shifted and his work directly addressed socialist concerns, equating the artist with the proletariat and works of art with mass-produced factory goods. He became devoted to implementing social change through new forms and utilitarian works designed for everyday life.

Project for the Monument to the Third International (1919-20) was the culmination of Tatlin's earlier counter-reliefs, which had employed a non-utilitarian analysis of material and form. Tatlin's Tower, as it came to be known, evolved from earlier experiments with industrial materials into a fully functional construction, aesthetically and functionally symbolizing the ideal communist society of the new modern age.

While this monument was his most famous and last major work of the period, Tatlin remained devoted to the constructivist cause. He worked in the Department of Material Culture in Petrograd, between 1923 and 1925, and focused on creating versatile, multi-purpose clothing designs for the working class. Designs from this period include a multi-seasonal coat and practical working clothes, which provided insulation, freedom of movement, and sufficient air circulation. Tatlin also participated in the constructivist campaign to restructure society by working on designs for more efficient household appliances and furniture designed to better suit contemporary life.

After his project for the monument, Tatlin became primarily interested in teaching. In the 1920s, he held a professorial position at Svomas in Moscow and was the acting head of the Studio of Volume, Material, and Construction at Svomas in Petrograd. In 1923, he also established the Museum of Artistic Culture in Petrograd, which functioned as a laboratory for the experimental study of art. It was at the Museum of Artistic Culture that Tatlin designed, staged, and performed Velimir Khlebnikov's poem Zangezi in 1923. The production featured mechanized geometric planes created by Tatlin to complement Khelbnikov's transrational word constructions. The stage was an important outlet for the avant-garde, as it allowed for their new forms, language, and designs to be seen, heard, and experienced by a large audience.

Late Years and Death

Although he remained active until his death, Tatlin's career as an artist is considered to have ended in 1932 with his last major work, the Letatlin (1929-32), a human-powered flying machine. Tatlin began work on his Letatlin glider in 1929. He conducted extensive research on bird flight and the structure of birds' wings, with the idea that humans would be able to imitate the effortless, efficient, and harmonious flight of birds in nature.

Constructivism and the entire Russian avant-garde died out in the early 1930s when Social Realism became the official style. Tatlin began painting in oils again around this time. However, these later works make little reference to his previous abstract paintings and constructivist sculptures, as they are mostly limited to flower still lifes painted in an expressionistic manner.

Legacy

While the details surrounding Tatlin's life and work are relatively obscure, he remains one of the leading artists of the Russian avant-garde and the creator of the most visionary and influential architectural design to arise from Constructivist ideology. Though his project for The Tower was never fully realized, it is an icon for modernity and has since been an inspiration to artists and architects. His suspended corner counter-reliefs changed the relationship a work of art could have with its surroundings and revolutionized the way in which sculpture could be visualized. Tatlin's constructions, as well as the Constructivist ideology, continually influenced artists throughout the later half of the twentieth century by seeking to revolutionize society by introducing new forms of art. Particularly, feminist artists and those involved with the pattern and decoration painting movement of the 1970s and '80s took the Russian Constructivists as direct inspiration. These artists employed craft methods and incorporated everyday objects and materials into their work to expand the boundaries of what could be considered art and to challenge the notions of "high" and "low" forms of art and culture.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Vladimir Tatlin
Interactive chart with Vladimir Tatlin's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Aleksey Afanas'ev
Pablo Picasso
Paul Cézanne
Umberto Boccioni

Friends

Mikhail Larionov

Movements

Futurism
Cubism
Primitive Art
Folk Art
Productivism
Vladimir Tatlin
Vladimir Tatlin
Years Worked: 1912 - 1932

Artists

Varvara Stepanova
Alexander Rodchenko
Dan Flavin

Friends

Nikolai Punin
Lyubov Popova
Mikhail Larionov

Movements

Minimalism
Constructivism

Original content written by Julianne Cordray

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Vladimir Tatlin

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Tatlin's Tower: Monument to Revolution

By Norbert Lynton

Tatlin

By Larissa Alekseevna Zhadova

Russian Constructivism

By Christina Lodder

The Tradition of Constructivism

By Stephen Bann

Museum Tinguely: "New Art for a New World" Exhibition

Includes Exhibition Materials from the 2012 Tatlin Retrospective

Tretyakov Gallery: Vladimir Tatlin

Features an Image Gallery with Works by Tatlin

Tony Shafrazi: Vladimir Tatlin

Provides Information and Images from the 2011 Exhibition on Tatlin's Monument to the Third International

Tatlin's "New Art for a New World"

By Sybille Fuchs and Marianne Arens
WSWS
June 19, 2012

Poetry of Metal

By Brian Dillon
The Guardian
July 24, 2009

The Model of Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International: Reconstruction as an Instrument of Research and States of Knowledge

By Nathalie Leleu
Tate Papers
Autumn 2007

A Soviet Movement That Tried To Change All Aspects of Life

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
August 9, 1990

interesting links
Tatlin's Tower and the World

Includes Information on Tatlin's Tower and a Project to Build the Monument

Monument to 3G

A Contemporary Appropriation of Tatlin's Tower

Constructivism
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
Aleksey Afanas'ev
Aleksey Afanas'ev
Aleksey Afanas'ev
Aleksey Afanas'ev was an instructor at the Penza School of Art in Moscow. Vladimir Tatlin was one of his pupils.
Aleksey Afanas'ev
Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova
Natalia Goncharova was a Russian Cubo-Futurist artist, who initially worked with the Suprematists and Constructivists. She fled Soviet Russia for France, where she promoted the principles of the Russian avant-garde as they were defined by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko.
Natalia Goncharova
Mikhail Larionov
Mikhail Larionov
Mikhail Larionov
Mikhail Larionov was a Russian avant-garde painter and the founder of Rayonism, the first movement that celebrated Russian abstract painting. Larionov was also a major promoter of Post-Impressionist and Neo-Primitive art during the early twentieth century, and helped widen the international appeal of artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.
Mikhail Larionov
Rayonism
Rayonism
Rayonism
Rayonism, sometimes refered to as rayism, was an abstract style of painting developed by Russian artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. The term was derived from the use of dynamic rays of contrasting color that represented lines of reflected light. Rayonism was a crucial step in the development of Russian abstract art.
Rayonism
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a French artist who helped pioneer the painterly effects and emphasis on light, atmosphere, and plein air technique that became hallmarks of Impressionism. He is especially known for his series of haystacks and cathedrals at different times of day, and for his late Waterlilies.
ArtStory: Claude Monet
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist who employed color fields and painterly strokes in his work. He is best known for his primitivist depictions of native life in Tahiti and Polynesia.
ArtStory: Paul Gauguin
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
ArtStory: Paul Cézanne
Velimir Khlebnikov
Velimir Khlebnikov
Velimir Khlebnikov
Velimir Khlebnikov was a member if the Russian Futurist movement. Part of the Hylaea group, he experimented with the Russian language and finding the pictorial significance of Cyrillic alphabet in his art.
Velimir Khlebnikov
Social Realism
Social Realism
Social Realism
Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.
Social Realism
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni was an Italian painter and sculptor. Like the other Futurists, his work centered on the portrayal of movement (dynamism), speed, and technology. After moving to Milan in 1907, he became acquainted with the Futurists, including the famous poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and became one of the movement's main theorists.
ArtStory: Umberto Boccioni
Primitive Art
Primitive Art
Primitive Art
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists in the West were greatly influenced by art they deemed 'primitive' or 'naïve', made by tribal or non-Western cultures. Such art, ranging from African and Native American to naive depictions of the French peasantry, was thought to be less civilized and thus closer to raw aesthetic and spiritual experience.
Primitive Art
Folk Art
Folk Art
Folk Art
Folk Art refers to any and all forms of art produced by indigenous cultures and people who are self-taught, and whose work is in no way influenced by artistic movements and academia. Most Folk Art is utilitarian or decorative in nature, and is tied directly to a particular culture's values and tribal identity.
Folk Art
Productivism
Productivism
Productivism
Productivism was an art movement founded by a group of Constructivist artists in Soviet Russia, promoting the idea of art as a practical, socially relevant endeavor with an emphasis on industrial production.
Productivism
Varvara Stepanova
Varvara Stepanova
Varvara Stepanova
Varvara Stepanova was the wife of Alexander Rodchenko. An artist herself, she devoted her life to the collaboration with her famous husband. Rodchenko's experimentation with geometry and abstraction was formative for her own pursuits in painting and design.
Varvara Stepanova
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Alexander Rodchenko
Aleksander Rodchenko was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer, and graphic designer. Concerned with the need for analytical-documentary photo series, he often shot his subjects from odd angles - usually high above or below - to shock the viewer and to postpone recognition. He was one of the founders of Constructivism and Russian design; he was married to the artist Varvara Stepanova.
ArtStory: Alexander Rodchenko
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin
Dan Flavin was an American artist best known for his Minimalist constructions of color and light. Often using nothing more than a few dozen fluorescent bulbs for his work, Flavin was a crucial figure in the Minimalism of the 1960s and '70s. His light installations altered the physical exhibition space, and were designed as experiential art rather than visual art.
ArtStory: Dan Flavin
Nikolai Punin
Nikolai Punin
Nikolai Punin
Nikolai Punin was a Russian art scholar and writer. He was the editor of Izobrazitelnoe Iskusstvo magazine and was also co-founder of the Department of Iconography at the State Russian Museum. Punin was a lifelong friend and common-law husband of poet Anna Akhmatova.
Nikolai Punin
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova
Lyubov Popova was an eminent Russian avant-garde artist, painter, and designer. Her work was important for several modern styles, including Cubism, Suprematism, and Constructivism.
Lyubov Popova
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism