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Constructivism - Soviet Industrial Avant-Garde Art
September 25, 2013 16:33


Constructivism is the Soviet avant-garde trend in fine arts, architecture, photography and arts and crafts development in the 1920s — early 1930s.

It is characterized by stern, geometric, laconic forms and solidity of outer appearance.

Constructivism is considered to be a Russian (to be more exact, Soviet) phenomenon, which arose after the October revolution as one of the directions of the groundbreaking, vanguard, proletarian art. Nevertheless, just like any art phenomenon it cannot be limited to the framework of one country only. Thus, a nunciate of this style in architecture was the Eiffel Tower combining elements of Art Nouveau and bared Constructivism.

As Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote in his sketch about French painting: “For the first time it is not from France, but from Russia a new word of art - Constructivism - has arrived…”

In the context of continuous search for new forms, implying the oblivion of everything “old”, innovators proclaimed doing away from “art for the sake of art”. From now on art had to serve industry, and industry was to serve the people.
Most of those who subsequently adjoined the constructivism movement were ideologists of utilitarianism or the so-called “industrial art”. They urged artists “to deliberately create useful things” and dreamed of the new harmonious person using convenient things and living in the improved city.

The term Constructivism was used by Soviet artists and architects in the 1920s. The leading constructivists were Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin — the author of the famous Tower of the III International. For the first time Constructivism is officially pointed out in 1922 in Alexey Mikhaylovich Gan's book under the title Constructivism.

Constructivism played a significant role in development of poster graphic art (photomontages by the Stenberg brothers, G. G. Klutsis, and A.M.Rodchenko) and book design (using expressive opportunities of fonts and other type-setting elements in works by A.M. Gan, L.M. Lissitsky, etc.). In theater constructivists replaced settings with “machines” designed for scenic action (works by L. S. Popova, A.A.Vesnin, and others on stage productions by V.E. Meyerhold and A.Y. Tairov).
Constructivists saw their mission in increasing the role of architecture in life, and denial of historical continuity, freedom from decorative elements of classical styles, and use of a functional scheme as foundation for spatial composition were to promote it. Constructivists were looking for expressiveness not in decor, but in dynamics of simple construction designs, structure verticals and horizontals, freedom of the building plan.

Creativity of talented architects – the Vesnin brothers - had a great impact on design of constructivist public buildings.
Buildings of community and recreation centers became the most widespread type of public buildings personifying the basic principles of Constructivism.

A characteristic example of implementing the functional method were commune houses with their architecture corresponding to the principle stated by the French architect Le Corbusier: “A house is a machine for dwelling in”.
Quite a special figure in the history of Constructivism was A.Vesnin’s favourite student — Ivan Leonidov who was born into a peasant family and started his creative career as an apprentice of an icon painter. His projects, being future skyward and utopian in many respects, did not find application in those hard years. However, Leonidov’s art works enrapture with their improbably modern lines even today.


Constructivism is a movement that is first of all connected with architecture; however, such a viewpoint would be one-sided and even extremely incorrect, because prior to becoming an architectural method Constructivism already existed in design, polygraphy, artistic creativity. Constructivism in photography is notable for geometrization of composition, taking pictures in dizzy foreshortenings with intensive reduction of volumes. Alexander Rodchenko, in particular, was engaged in such experiments.

Among constuctivist fashion designers there stands out Varvara Stepanova, who jointly with Lyubov Popova developed fabric drawings for the 1st cotton-printing factory in Moscow from 1924. She was a professor of the Textile Faculty of the Higher Arts and Technical Studios (VKhUTEMAS) and designed models of sports and casual clothes. The most famous photo model of those years was Lilya Brik.

In 1923 a range of manifestos proclaimed Constructivism as a current in literature (first of all in poetry) and Constructivists Literature Center was created. The poets Ilya Selvinsky, Vera Inber, Vladimir Lugovskoy, and Boris Agapov, as well as literary critics Kornely Zelinsky, Alexander Kvyatkovsky and others participated in it. Constructivist writers proclaimed proximity of poetry to industrial subjects (typical titles of poetry collections were Literature State Plan, Business, and the like), essay-type of writing, wide application of prosaicisms, use of the new rhythms and recitation experiments. By 1930 constructivists became subject to persecution by the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers and declared voluntary dissolution.

In the early 1930s the political situation in the country, and, therefore, in the art field as well changed substantially. Innovative and avant-garde trends were first subjected to slashing criticism, and ended up under a ban since labeled as bourgeois.

According to some authoritative art historians in the USSR, the years 1932 to 1936 were a period of the “transitional style” called post-Constructivism.

The romantically utopian, stern and revolutionary asceticism was replaced with copious forms of totalitarian baroque and haughty redundancy of Stalinist neoclassicism. Strange is the fact that in the USSR they came to combating “straight corners” and “bourgeois formalism” and at the same time considering palaces in the style of Louis XIV to be well proletarian.

Thus, Constructivists found themselves in disgrace. Those of them who did not want to readjust had to drag on wretched existence till the end of days or were persecuted even. However, Ilya Golosov, for example, managed to fit into the framework of the 1930s and create really interesting constructions. The Vesnins Brothers also participated in creative life of the USSR, however, were prevented from regaining their previous caliber.

In the early 21st century Constructivism has been reappearing in architecture. Now it is called Scandinavian, since it is rooted in country house-building of the Scandinavian countries.

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Constructivism Architecture Avant-Garde Art   

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