Progression of Art
Dance. An Objectless Composition
Rodchenko attended a lecture by Russian Futurists Wassily Kamensky, David Burliuk, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, in Kazan in 1912, and was immediately converted. He abandoned the Art Nouveau styling of some of his earlier work and began to fragment his forms to create dynamic compositions. Dance is perhaps his most Futurist painting, and it clearly resembles works by Italian Futurists such as Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. However, Rodchenko soon grew disinterested in the style and, following this, he began to create even more abstract pictures, putting aside entirely the last suggestions of illusion that Dance creates.
Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Non-Objective Painting No 80 (Black on Black)
Rodchenko was powerfully influenced by Kazimir Malevich's Suprematism, and particularly by works such as Black Square (1915), which reduced the components of the painting to a single black square that echoed the shape of the canvas. However, Rodchenko rejected the older man's spiritualism and strove instead to emphasize the material qualities of painting, in particular surface and texture (or "faktura" as the Russians called it). Non-Objective Painting No 80 is typical of this phase in his career and is part of a series of similar "Black on Black" paintings, which were exhibited alongside five white paintings by Malevich in Moscow in 1919. The exhibition was important in catapulting Rodchenko into the forefront of Russia's avant-garde.
Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Construction No. 127 (Two Circles)
By 1920, Rodchenko no longer felt obliged to imbue his basic geometric figures with distinguishable layers of color. In this composition, two perfectly drawn circles intersect. The white circles on black canvas form a powerful juxtaposition liberating the line from any recognizable connotations. This balanced and precise geometric composition underlines Rodchenko's preoccupation with engineering and design that he maintained throughout his career. Rodchenko arrived at compositions such as these by progressively stripping away all that he considered unnecessary in the field of painting; after reducing color to black and emphasizing surface texture, he seized on line as the most important and elemental component of the medium. This development may have been influenced by Wassily Kandinsky's ideas, since the two artists were closely associated, though while Kandinsky stressed the expressive possibilities of line, Rodchenko emphasized its possibilities as a tool of construction.
Oil on canvas - The Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color
Here Rodchenko reinterprets the iconic art form of the Western tradition - the triptych - which was traditionally reserved for the representation of religious scenes. The piece reflects Rodchenko's interest in Malevich throughout these years, but instead of pursuing Malevich's spiritualism, he stressed the physical, material properties of painting - in this case, color. Rodchenko regarded these pictures as his final statement on painting, famously writing, "I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic Colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation." These monochrome experiments have been a crucial example for later generations of abstract artists, particularly Minimalists.
Oil on canvas - Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova Archive, Moscow
Maquette for the Advertisement of the Red October Bisquittes
When Rodchenko abandoned painting in 1921, he also abandoned many of the traditional attitudes of the artist as a commentator on society and began instead to put his talents in the service of the Russian industry and the nascent revolution. This is an early example of his work for Russian industry, advertising Red October confectionary. Rigid geometry defines the composition through the juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical lines. The letters themselves are stylized. Both whimsical and visually arresting, Rodchenko's designs were an important influence on such key artistic laboratories as the Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic.
Gouache on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Books (The Advertisement Poster for the Lengiz Publishing House)
This poster arguably brought Rodchenko the most fame and appreciation from his patrons in the Soviet government. The composition is typical of his use of photomontage in the period (the combination of photography and text). And it also reflects the ways in which he updated Russian advertising, using geometric compositions and strident colors to trumpet modernity. While his designs are directed at promoting individual companies or products, they also - often explicitly - endorse the goals of political revolution.
Photomontage and Gouache on Paper - Private Collection
This is one of Rodchenko's finest photographs. Often credited with devising the key principles of modern photography, Rodchenko is praised for his use of unusual angles and perspective. Here, he juxtaposes the motif of a woman with a child against the stern geometry of the man-made environment. The position of the camera at a peculiar angle provides for an innovative, yet carefully balanced and flowing composition. Compositions such as this were an important influence on New Vision, the modernist photography movement that gripped Europe in the 1920s and '30s.
Gelatin-silver print - Private Collection