> Constructivism


Started: Around 1915.

Ended: Late 1930s.

Key Artists: Vladimir TATLIN, El LISSITSKY, Alexander RODCHENKO, Varvara STEPANOVA, Gustav KLUTSIS, STENBERG Brothers.

Russian Constructivism has been one of the most influential modern art movements to flourish in the 20th century, which has significantly impacted the graphic design of Soviet periodical publications and books. It has emerged in Russia (Soviet Union) just as the Bolsheviks came to power in the October Revolution of 1917, and initially acted as a driving force for a cultural revolution, which has eventually transformed the art into a practice for social purposes. It has borrowed ideas from the previously popular movements such as Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism, but at its heart was an entirely new approach to making art: it sought to abolish the traditional artistic concern with composition, and replace it with 'construction.' 

Key Ideas

Constructivists proposed to replace art's traditional concern with composition with a focus on construction. Objects were to be created not in order to express beauty, or the artist's outlook, or to represent the world, but to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art, one which might lead to the design of functional objects. 

The seed of Constructivism was a desire to express the experience of modern life - its dynamism, its new and disorientating qualities of space and time. But also crucial was the desire to develop a new form of art more appropriate to the democratic and modernizing goals of the Russian Revolution. Constructivists were to be constructors of a new society - cultural workers on par with scientists in their search for solutions to modern problems.

History and development 

Initially the Constructivists worked on three-dimensional constructions as a means of participating in the industry: the OBMOKhU (Society of Young Artists) exhibition showed these three dimensional compositions, by Rodchenko, Stepanova, Karl Ioganson and the Stenberg brothers. Later the definition would be extended to designs for two-dimensional works such as books or posters, with montage and factography (the idea that new technologies such as photography and film should be utilised by the working class for the production of 'factographic' works) becoming important concepts.

Graphic Design in the constructivism movement began to impact the production of product packaging to logos, posters, book covers and advertisements. The book designs of Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and Anton Lavinsky were a major inspiration for the work of radical designers in the West, particularly Jan Tschichold. Many Constructivists worked on the design of posters for everything from cinema to political propaganda: the former represented best by the brightly coloured, geometric posters of the Stenberg brothers, and the latter by the agitational photomontage work of Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina.

Photomontage as the new technique

The Constructivists were early developers of the techniques of photomontage. Gustav Klutsis' 'Dynamic City' and 'Lenin and Electrification' (1919–20) are the first examples of this method of montage, which had in common with Dadaism the collaging together of news photographs and painted sections. Perhaps the most famous of these montages was Rodchenko's illustrations of the Mayakovsky poem About This. (can include pictures)

LEF also helped popularise a distinctive style of photography, involving jagged angles and contrasts and an abstract use of light, which paralleled the work of László Moholy-Nagy in Germany: the major practitioners of this included, along with Rodchenko, Boris Ignatovich and Max Penson, among others. (can include pictures)

A Sudden End

Constructivism called for a careful technical analysis of modern materials, and it was hoped that this investigation would eventually yield ideas that could be put to use in mass production, serving the ends of a modern, Communist society. Ultimately, however, the movement floundered in trying to make the transition from the artist's studio to the factory. Russian Constructivism was in decline by the mid 1920s, partly a victim of the Bolshevik regime's increasing hostility to avant-garde art. The Communist Party would gradually favour realist art during the course of the 1920s: the counter-doctrine of Socialist Realism was eventually instituted in Constructivism's place in 1934. However, Russian Constructivism would continue to be an inspiration for artists in the West, sustaining a movement called International Constructivism which flourished in Germany in the 1920s, and whose legacy endured into the 1950s.