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Constructivism

Started: 1915

Ended: Late 1930s

Constructivism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Constructivism

The below artworks are the most important in Constructivism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Constructivism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Corner Counter-Relief (1914)
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Corner Counter-Relief (1914)

Artist: Vladimir Tatlin

Artwork description & Analysis: Tatlin's Counter-Reliefs were a vital part of his developing ideas, and they form a bridge between the influence of Cubism on his work, and the birth of Constructivism. It is typical of this development that Corner Counter-Relief conforms neither to the conventional format of painting or sculpture, because Constructivism would aspire to display those old fashioned forms. However, its placement in the corner of a room also echoed the traditional site of religious icons in a pious Russian household - hence Tatlin suggests that modernity and experiment should be Russia's new gods. The idea for the series may have come from the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture (1912), a volume by the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, in which he calls on sculptors, "Let's split open our figures and place the environment inside them." The way in which the object spans the corner changes the space of the room, and establishes a unique relationship to the surrounding environment. The diagonal wires are evocative of a musical instrument, and they were perhaps inspired by Tatlin's experience as a musical instrument maker.

Iron, copper, wood and strings - State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Design for the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)
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Design for the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920)

Artist: Vladimir Tatlin

Artwork description & Analysis: Monument to the Third International, also sometimes known simply as Tatlin's Tower, is the artist's 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, or Comintern. Its steel spiral frame was to stand at 1,300 feet, making it the tallest structure in the world at the time - taller, and 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 have different spaces for meetings, and these 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. Although the tower was commissioned as a monument to revolution, and although it was given considerable prominence by the Bolshevik regime, it was never built, and it has continued to be an emblem of failed utopian aspirations for many generations of artists since.

Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)
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Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color (1921)

Artist: Alexander Rodchenko

Artwork description & Analysis: Traditionally, color is used in art to describe the appearance of a particular object, or else to lend associations (the blue traditionally used to depict the Virgin Mary's robes in Renaissance paintings carried symbolic meanings). But Rodchenko's triptych focuses only on the material character of color, and it is considered the first artwork to do so. Here, red, blue, and yellow are used neither to describe an object nor to elicit certain associations; instead they are presented almost as a palette from which the artist can work. This is typical of the Constructivist attitude to materials, which was focused not on transforming them into art but on utilizing their properties in the most honest and effective ways possible. The triptych might be read as a rejection of the mysticism that seemed to tinge some work by Rodchenko's Suprematist contemporary, Kazimir Malevich. Rodchenko wrote of it, in 1921, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue, yellow. I affirmed: this is the end of painting. These are the primary colors. Every plane is a discrete plane and there will be no more representation."

Oil on canvas - The Rodchenko and Stepanova Archive, Moscow

Textile Design (c. 1924)
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Textile Design (c. 1924)

Artist: Lyubov Popova

Artwork description & Analysis: Popova first emerged as an Impressionist painter, but she was later drawn into Constructivist and Suprematist circles. By 1921 she had abandoned painting to pursue the Constructivist ambition to leave behind traditional art forms and to make work for mass production. She concentrated on textile design, such as in this work, Popova uses repeating geometric patterns which were thought more appropriate to modern life and mass production than the floral designs that had previously been popular for such textiles. The intersecting circles and spacing of the stripes add tension and movement within the pattern, while also visually creating the effect of different textures. Popova's prominence within Constructivism is indicative of the significant role played by women in driving the movement's concerns; other avant-garde movements of the period were dominated by men.

Pencil and ink on paper - Private collection

Constructed Head No. 2 (Originally conceived c. 1916)
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Constructed Head No. 2 (Originally conceived c. 1916)

Artist: Naum Gabo

Artwork description & Analysis: Gabo was never fully accepted into the Russian Constructivist circle due to his continuing devotion to the category of art, and his disinterest in making utilitarian objects. His devotion to modernity, however, is reflected in his choice of materials, which often lent his forms the quality of a machine. Although this Head is made from iron, its composition is remarkably similar to Picasso's sculptured heads of his mistress, Fernande.

It also betrays a more traditional approach to composition and form than that pursued by most Constructivists, since it uses materials to depict a figure, rather than using them to reveal the qualities of the materials themselves. In Gabo's work, the materials are merely a vehicle; their presence recedes as we begin to imagine the object they depict. Gabo was ultimately more influential outside Russia, bringing Constructivist ideas to Germany, Britain and, later, the United States.

Galvanized iron - Private collection

Proun Room (1923)
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Proun Room (1923)

Artist: El Lissitzky

Artwork description & Analysis: Lissitzky was in many respects closer to the Suprematist movement than to Constructivism, yet he reflects the ambitions of the latter by introducing more political ambitions into the abstract and formal concerns of Suprematism. He was also important in exporting Constructivist ideas to Germany. This room was constructed at the Grosse Berliner Ausstellung, where he assisted with the design of the exhibition areas. It marks the first time he had expanded ideas from painting into three dimensions. This is among a series of works from the early 1920s that Lissitzky entitled Prouns, an acronym for the Russian words "Project for the Affirmation of the New". Although the elements of this Proun work are hung flatly against the wall, the contrast of light and dark, as well as the combination of different materials, give the illusion of objects floating in space. The geometric forms and their dynamic arrangement evoked the modern transformations that Russian society was then undergoing, and which the artists wished to celebrate. Installed on all sides of a room, Lissitzky's environment conveys the idea of Constructivism as a way of life, and the hope that these geometric figures might soon inform the everyday objects that surrounds us.



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Related Art and Artists

The City Rises (1910)
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The City Rises (1910)

Movement: Futurism

Artist: Umberto Boccioni

Artwork description & Analysis: The City Rises is often considered to be the first Futurist painting. Here, Boccioni illustrates the construction of a modern city. The chaos and movement in the piece resemble a war scene as indeed war was presented in the Futurist Manifesto as the only means toward cultural progress. The large horse races into the foreground while several workers struggle to gain control, indicating tension between human and animal. The horse and figures are blurred, communicating rapid movement while other elements, such as the buildings in the background, are rendered more realistically. At the same time, the perspective teeters dramatically in different sections of the painting. The work shows influences of Cubism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism, revealed in the brushstrokes and fractured representation of space.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art

Black Square (c. 1915)

Black Square (c. 1915)

Movement: Suprematism

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Once described as Malevich's "living, royal infant," the Black Square has been seen as a major landmark in the history of abstract art, a point of both beginning and ending. Malevich would paint four versions of it between 1915 and the early 1930s, and it is said that the last version was carried behind his coffin during his funeral. Pared down from a design he painted for the Victory Over the Sun (1913), this first version depicts a purely black square against a thin border of white, further obscuring any sense of normal space or perspective. At the 0.10 exhibition in 1915, Malevich emphasized its status by hanging it across the corner of a room, emulating the Russian tradition for the placement of religious icons.

Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

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Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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