Georgy Zelma (1906-1984, born Tashkent, Turkistan, present-day Uzbekistan, died Moscow, Soviet Union, present-day Russia), Gorky Park, Detail, 1931, from a portfolio of 29 original photographs, Gelatin silver print, printed 1997, Spencer Museum of Art, Gift of David T. and Linda E. Peters, 2005.0198.12.
Boris Ignatovich (1899-1976-born Loutzk, Russia, died Moscow, Soviet Union, present-day Russia), Dynamo, Detail, 1930, from Soviet Avant-garde, gelatin silver print, printed 1999, Spencer Museum of Art, Gift of David Tate Peters, 2004.0203.12.
Spencer Museum of Art
University of Kansas
February 2-May 18, 2008
Following the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917, Constructivism emerged from within the Russian avant-garde as an artistic practice and as a term expressing a belief in the birth of a new relationship between the artist and society. In their formally innovative photographs incorporating high or low vantage points, oblique angles, and dramatic diagonal compositions Alexander Rodchenko, Boris Ignatovich, and Georgy Zelma strove to revolutionize visual thinking. These photographers managed to capture through their lenses a changing way of life in the post-revolutionary era. This exhibition, selected from the Spencer’s permanent collection, seeks to explore how the Constructivist movement — armed with the mission of reinventing Russian society — successfully created images that were strongly rooted in design while reflecting the distinctive characteristics of Soviet life.
The term Construction Art was first used as a derisive term by Kazimir Malevich to describe the work of Alexander Rodchenko in 1917. Constructivism first appeared as a positive term in Naum Gabo's Realistic Manifesto of 1920. Alexei Gan used the word as the title of his book Constructivism, printed in 1922.
Constructivism was a post-First World War outgrowth of Russian Futurism, and particularly of the “corner-counter reliefs” of Vladimir Tatlin, exhibited in 1915. The term itself would be coined by the sculptors Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo, who developed an industrial, angular approach to their work, while its geometric abstraction owed something to the Suprematism of Kasimir Malevich. The teaching basis for the new movement was laid by The Commissariat of Enlightenment (or Narkompros) the Bolshevik government's cultural and educational ministry headed by Anatoliy Vasilievich Lunacharsky who suppressed the old Petrograd Academy of Fine Arts and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1918. IZO, the Commissariat's artistic bureau was run during the Russian Civil War mainly by Futurists, who published the journal Art of the Commune. Focus for Constructivism in Moscow was VKhUTEMAS, the school for art and design established in 1919. Gabo later stated that teaching at the school was focused more on political and ideological discussion than art-making. Despite this, Gabo designed a radio transmitter in 1920 (and would submit a design to the Palace of the Soviets competition in 1930).
Constructivism as theory and practice derived from a series of debates at INKhUK (Institute of Artistic Culture) in Moscow, 1920-22. After deposing its first chairman, Wassily Kandinsky for his "mysticism," The First Working Group of Constructivists (including Liubov Popova, Alexander Vesnin, Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, and the theorists Alexei Gan, Boris Arvatov and Osip Brik) arrived at a definition of Constructivism as the combination of faktura: the particular material properties of the object, and tektonika, its spatial presence. Initially Constructivists worked on three-dimensional constructions as a first step to participation in industry: the OBMOKhU (Society of Young Artists) exhibition showed these compositions, by Rodchenko, Stepanova, Karl Ioganson and the Stenberg Brothers. Later the definition was extended to designs for two-dimensional works such as books or posters, with montage and factography becoming important concepts.
This exhibition is organized by Spencer Museum of Art Photography Intern Ellen Raimond in conjunction with the exhibition El Lissitzky: Futurist Portfolios.