Constructivism in Art: A Brief Introduction
Constructivism was a particularly rigorous form of abstract art, appearing in Russia around 1915.
Founded by Aleksandr Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin, constructivism in art defined the social and political changes taking place in Russia at the time. The group’s approach soon spread throughout Europe, becoming particularly influential in Germany.
In this brief introduction, here’s everything you need to know about this fascinating style of artistic creation. From what exactly “constructivism” means to its founding members and most famous works of art, discover more about a movement that shaped the early twentieth century.
When was the Constructivism art movement?
The constructivism art movement began in 1915. It was relatively short-lived, lasting until the mid-1920s.
During this crucial decade, however, constructivism painting reflected and referenced the changing nature of Russian communism and industrialization. It ultimately rejected decorative art. Instead, constructivist artists replaced these bourgeoisie creations with “assemblages” of industrial materials.
In terms of painting and drawing, constructivist art often served political and social purposes. Its strong geometric forms and primary colors (frequently using red, the color of the revolution) often championed the Bolsheviks, Soviet socialism, and the Russian avant-garde.
What does Constructivism mean in art?
In art historical terms, constructivism refers to this artistic movement of the early twentieth century. While it often involved “constructing” assemblages, constructivist art also included painting, architecture, photography, and cinema.
Constructivism championed contemporary approaches to art as the development of Russian Futurism (a group that rejected the past and celebrated the modern machine age). Characterized by the abstracted “counter reliefs” of Vladimir Tatlin, sharp lines and bold forms defined the movement.
While Tatlin’s early paintings (such as Sailor and The Fishmonger) were more figurative and representational, this soon progressed to geometric abstraction with works such as Composition The Month of May.
Where does the term Constructivism come from?
Despite Tatlin’s importance to the movement, the Russian sculptors (and brothers) Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner invented the term “constructivism.” Their industrial and angular style of abstraction took inspiration from Kazimir Malevich and the Suprematist movement, which was also gaining pace at the time.
The word “constructivism” first appeared in Gabo’s Realistic Manifesto of 1920. Inspired by a series of debates at the Institute of Artistic Culture, the first working group of constructivists included Liubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova, Aleksandr Vesnin, and Aleksandr Rodchenko and the academics Aleksei Gan, Osip Brik, and Boris Arvatov.
These artists defined constructivism as a mixture of two essential elements: “faktura” and “tektonika.”
- Faktura refers to the material nature of an object.
- Tektonika signifies its position in space.
This meant the group initially worked on three-dimensional constructions. The term only later incorporated paintings, posters, and montages.
Who started Constructivism?
Vladimir Tatlin and Aleksandr Rodchenko founded the constructivist movement. After seeing Pablo Picasso’s cubist constructions in 1913, Tatlin made similar creations. These included sculptural still lifes formed from scrap metal and industrial materials. While described as “still lifes,” these “sculptures” were entirely abstract.
Tatlin’s creations inspired a whole generation of artists. Proudly describing themselves as constructivists, a manifesto appeared in 1920. Published in the journal LEF (standing for Left Front of the Arts), it represented avant-garde writers, photographers, and designers from the Soviet Union.
This manifesto declared there shouldn’t be a discernible constructivist style. Instead, art should be a logical product of “industrial order.” They compared this new art to the formation of a car or an airplane, simply stating that constructivism represented “technical mastery and organization of materials.”
What is the Constructivist view of art?
Constructivists viewed art as a reflection of the modern industrializing world. In contrast with “art for art’s sake,” the constructivists worked on political posters and street and theater designs for Russia’s new Bolshevik government.
One of the most famous political posters was El Lissitzky’s Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919). Many other artists also worked closely with the Russian government’s Proletkult, a ministry championing and protecting “proletarian” culture.
Constructivist painting transformed viewers into active participants. It was not “just art” but creative explorations furthering the Soviet political cause.
Works such as White Circle (1918) by Aleksandr Rodchenko particularly represent this effort. With abstracted line, color, and space forming the only visible elements in the painting, the viewer must create their own unique response to the artwork.
Who is the father of Constructivism art?
While Tatlin and Rodchenko founded the movement, Kazimir Malevich is widely seen as the precursor and father of the movement.
Founded in 1913, Malevich’s Suprematist movement argued artists should be liberated from the traditional rules of life and art. Malevich particularly admired Cubism for its ability to deconstruct and examine art and objects. Inspired by this approach, he led a group of avant-garde Russian artists, many of whom participated in the Constructivist movement.
Kazimir Malevich art is epitomized in works such as Suprematist Composition (1916). Here, the early shoots of constructivism painting appear. A solid black horizontal line juxtaposes with floating blocks of primary color, all vying against an impenetrable white backdrop. Compared with works such as Chanconnette (1920) by Rodchenko and Proun 19D by El Lissitzky, the similarities (mainly focusing on whites, blacks, and geometric primary colors) are striking.
Despite this, The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich is arguably the culmination of both suprematist and constructivist goals. It was one of the first truly abstract paintings, utterly devoid of any “real life.” Instead, the painting concentrates purely on shape and form. As Malevich said, he was “desperately” trying to “free art from the dead weight of the real world.”
What is an example of Constructivism art?
Painted in 1930, Composition of Circles and Overlapping Angles by Sophie Taeuber-Arp is an example of constructivism art. Although created after the movement’s main creative drive in Russia, it demonstrates constructivism’s significant influence across Europe. The painting positions circles and geometric forms (made from white, black, blue, and red) against a solid pale-blue backdrop.
As a Swiss artist, Sophie Taeuber-Arp was one of the foremost abstract artists of the twentieth century. Primarily associated with the Dada movement, she created embroideries, sculptures, puppets, magazines, and constructivist pieces. While her work is lesser-known today, Taeuber Arp’s geometric abstraction ensured the continuation of the constructivist style. The constructivist aesthetic is plain to see in works such as Six Spaces and Four Spaces with Red Rolling Circles.
Another artwork demonstrating the movement’s enduring relevance is Figuras a Cinco Colores (1946) by Joaquin Torres-Garcia. While this painting owes a great deal to crossovers with Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl movement, it also demonstrates the constructivist approach in its simplicity, pared-back color, and striking geometry.
Like the constructivists, Joaquin Torres-Garcia frequently used his art to express social and political messages (especially his Catalan identity). He also played a crucial role in pioneering European abstract art.
What did Russian Constructivism influence?
Due to its revolutionary nature, Russian leaders suppressed constructivism from the mid-1920s onwards. Nonetheless, it influenced art all over Europe.
Many artists traveled west, with sculptors and painters such as Naum Gabo and Franz Wilhelm Seiwert championing the movement. In countries such as Germany and the UK, constructivism remains a considerable influence on modern sculpture and architecture.
Indeed, constructivist art influenced major artistic movements such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl. Many constructivists taught or lectured at Germany’s Bauhaus school, and Gabo also established an English version of constructivism during the 1930s.
Art reproductions of Constructivism painting
If you’re a fan of the constructivism art movement, explore our extensive collection of oil painting reproductions by some of the most famous Russian artists. From Kazimir Malevich to El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko, you’ll find stunning art reproductions to transform your space.