: WebDev : GUI : Design&Cultures1 : Consumer Studs : Portfolio Pres : Prev
design and cultures home
Week 10 - Russian Constructivism

Constructivism was an influential Soviet (Russian) art movement of the 1910's-20's. It included the first nonrepresentational constructions and introduction of kinetic elements (components that moved or changed over time). Constructivists applied a 3D Cubist vision to sculpture, influenced by such works as Picasso's reliefs of 1912-13.

This week's tutorials:


In particular, they experimented with building up a sculpture from nothing by adding elements (such as paper, metal etc) rather than traditional sculptures which were created by taking away material from a solid block (of stone, wood etc).

Many of the principles of Constructivism were more widely adopted by other Moderist streams in other countries. For the purposes of this module, assume the terms "Cubo-Futurism" and "Suprematism" are forms of Russian Constructivism. No doubt the groups and individuals at the time found their differences more significant than their similarities, but in terms of their impact on art & design and the part they had to play in the development of Modernism, I think it's fair to consider the following as one group - the Russian Constructivists.
Google.com image search for Russian Constructivism
Google Directory - Art Movements - Constructivism
curtin.edu.au/learn/unit/art/v37/v37_topic4.html (from Curtin Uni's Visual Culture unit)

There were two main strands of Constructivism:

INTERNATIONAL CONSTRUCTIVISM (aka European Constructivism)

Gabo and Pevsner wrote the Realistic Manifesto in 1920. They did not agree with the Soviet Constructivists that all art must be for Marxist political purposes. They identified the main formal features of Constructivist sculpture as:

  • planar and linear forms (avoidance of static volumes)
  • dynamic composition
  • kinetic elements (time, movement)
  • minimsation of mass (space element emphasised)
  • modern materials such as plastic and electroplated metal.

Naum Gabo (1890-1977) - born Naum Pevsner

Co-creator of the Realistic Manifesto, sculptor and painter. Did works in new materials such as Perspex and other plastics.
ubu.com/sound/gabo.html (Realistic Manifesto read by Gabo himself - in English!)

Antoine Pevsner (1884-1962)

Brother of Naum, worked in metals and plastics.
guggenheimcollection.org/site/ movement_work_md_Constructivism_124_1.html

SOVIET CONSTRUCTIVISM (aka Russian Constructivism, Productivist School)

The Soviet Constructivists wanted art to be absorbed in industrial production and invented the following terms:

TECTONIC - the whole idea, the fundamental conception of the work based on social use and expedient materials.
FACTURA - the realisation of the natural propensities (properties) of the materials themselves.

Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953)

Painter, sculptor. Passionate believer in the grand Communist cause. Designed the "Monument to the Third International" in 1919-20, which was supposed to be the USSR's answer to the Eiffel Tower - but bigger, better... and impossible to build so it never was...


Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) - also called Alexander
Constructivist painter and photographer. One of the earliest to experiment with photomontage. Leader of the Russian avant-garde, but also considered by some to be a prime propagandist of the Stalinist regime.

Varvara Stepanova (1884-1958)
Married to Rodchenko, collaborated with him in experimental photography. Painter, Collagist, Costume Designer.


Perhaps ironically, one of the leading figures of the Constructivist movement worked in a very independant way, and therefore doesn't really fit comfortably into either of the abovementioned streams. In fact, he called what he did Suprematism, not Constructivism.

Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) also called Kazimir Malevich.

Most remembered for his famous ground-breaking Modernist paintings such as the much copied "White on White" and "Black Square".

Also the designer of a nice tea-set, "exclusively" available from a number of online sources:

"Kasimir Malevich shows teapots can even be political with his “Suprematist Teapot and Three Cups.” The Russian artist founded the Suprematist movement, which sought to free art from the burden of the object. When critics complained his teapot didn’t pour well, he replied, “It is not a teapot, but the idea of one.”

Malevich also dabbled in architecture with his "Architecton" models, although I'm doubtful any building he designed ever actually got built. kmtspace.com/suprematist-arch.htm

Over his very long career, his painting style varied a great deal.

El Lissitzky (1890-1941)

Typographer, book designer and architect. Theorist on Modernism, and often collaborated on projects with Malevich.


Examples of Constructivist architecture can be seen at:

Contextual factors to consider:

  • WWI had a huge impact in Europe. So many soldiers died that there was hardly a family in Europe who had not lost someone. This was the machine age - but those machines had caused much devastation in the war. The confidence of the old empires was dented, nostalgia was replaced with a desire for a new, different future.
  • Russian Revolution and the rise of the Communist State.

Some key technical innovations:

  • New materials and processes were developed - plastics, metal alloys, plywood.

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Expressionism evolves into Dada and Surrealism
  • Cubism evolves into Suprematism, Constructivism, De Stijl, Futurism and Bauhaus
  • Modernism is also used as a Fine Art term, including all of the above.
retrokat.com quite nice sites

all graphics, text and design: copyright retrokat.com 2001-4
Note: If you personally hold copyright to any images or other content herein and wish it to be removed or credited, please email me on kat@retrokat.com and I'm more than happy to do so.