Russian Constructivism

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Constructivism is the Soviet avant-garde method (style, direction) in the visual arts, architecture, photography and arts and crafts, which was developed in the 1920s and early 1930s.
As wrote V.V. Mayakovsky in his essay on French painting: «For the first time, a new word of art came not from France, but from Russia — constructivism …»
In the midst of a constant search for new forms, implying a renunciation of everything «old,» revolutionaries proclaimed a renunciation of «art for art’s sake.» From this point on art was obliged to stand in the service of production. Most of those who later joined the constructivists were the representatives of the so-called «production art». Their goal was to encourage artists to «consciously create useful things», as well as the realisation of the dream of a new harmonious person who will use convenient things and live his life in a comfortable world.
Thus, one of the theorists of «industrial art» B. Arvatov wrote that «… They will not depict a beautiful body, but bring up a real living harmonious person; not paint the forest, but grow parks and gardens; not decorate walls with paintings, but paint these walls «. “Production art” did not become more than a concept, however, the term constructivism was pronounced precisely by the theorists of this trend (the words “construction”, “constructive”, and “construction of space” were also constantly encountered in their speeches and brochures).
In addition to the above direction on the emergence of constructivism, Futurism, Suprematism, Cubism, Purism and other innovative trends of the 1910s had a great influence, however, the “production art” with its direct appeal to the current Russian realities of the 1920s became the socially determined basis.
The term «constructivism» was used by Soviet artists and architects in 1920, but for the first time it was
officially designated in 1922 in the book by Alexei Mikhailovich Gan, which was called so-so «Constructivism».
A.M. Ghana proclaimed that «… a group of constructivists sets as its task the communist expression of material values … Tectonics, construction and texture — mobilising the material elements of industrial culture.» That is, it was explicitly emphasised that the culture of the new Russia is industrial.
Proponents of constructivism, having advanced the task of constructing an environment that actively guided life processes, sought to comprehend the formative possibilities of new technology, its logical, expedient designs, as well as the aesthetic possibilities of materials such as metal, glass, and wood. Constructivists strove with ostentatious luxury to oppose simplicity and emphasised utilitarianism of new objective forms, in which they saw the reification of democracy and new relations between people.


Constructivism is characterised by rigour, geometric, conciseness of forms and monolithic appearance. In 1924, the official creative organisation of constructivists was created — the OCA, whose representatives developed the so-called functional design method, based on a scientific analysis of the functioning of buildings, structures, urban-planning complexes. Typical monuments of constructivism are kitchen factories, labour palaces, workers clubs, communal houses of a specified time. In the artistic culture of Russia in the 20s, constructivist brothers architects Vesnin, M. Ginzburg relied on the possibilities of modern construction technology. They reached artistic expressiveness with compositional means, comparing simple, laconic volumes.
In the history of Russian constructivism, professional architects designed all kinds of modular construction of residential units, interconnecting in large complexes, elevators moving along the outer walls, etc. Konstantin Melnikov is considered the Corypha of Russian (Soviet) constructivism. Starting with the construction of Russian pavilions at international exhibitions in the style of traditional wooden architecture, thanks to which he gained international fame, Melnikov proceeds to design very relevant buildings of a new (revolutionary) type and purpose — workers’ clubs. Club them. Rusakov, built by him in 1927-28, has nothing to do with the architecture of the previous century, nor with the architecture of modernity. Here, purely geometric concrete structures are organised into a certain structure, the shape of which is determined by its purpose. The last remark applies to almost the entire architecture of modernity and the 20th century and is defined as functionalism. I constructivism architecture, functionalism leads to the creation of dynamic structures consisting of fairly simple formal elements completely devoid of the usual architectural decor, connected in accordance with the
organisation of the internal space and the work of the main structures.

The language of architectural forms is thus «cleansed» from everything optional, decorative, non-constructive. It is the language of a new world that has broken with its past. The emerging architectural image clearly conveys the dynamics of artistic processes and life in post-revolutionary Russia, the thrill of modern technical possibilities. Architects of the constructivism style believed that all elements of the building should take part in creating the architectural image of a modern structure, even such as signs, clocks, billboards, loudspeakers, elevator shafts, etc., therefore the architect should also design them all. Soviet constructivists focused their efforts on two major tasks: designing an exemplary socialist city and communal multi-family housing for workers — communal houses.

Coming to meet the new needs of the socialist state, constructivists were engaged in the design and construction of such types of buildings as offices, department stores, sanatoriums, printing houses, research centres, factories and plants, workers clubs and hydroelectric power plants. The young Soviet architecture of the first post- revolutionary decades was actually at the forefront of world architecture, implementing or creating the most daring projects on paper, including the famous Palace of Soviets, which could not be built on the site of the destroyed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
Constructivism is a direction that is primarily associated with architecture, however, such a vision would be one-sided and even extremely wrong, because, before becoming an architectural method, constructivism existed in design, printing, and artistic creation. Constructivism in photography is marked by the geometrization of the composition, shooting at dizzying angles with a strong reduction in volume. Such experiments involved, in particular, Alexander Rodchenko. In graphic forms of creativity, constructivism was characterised by the use of photomontage instead of a hand-drawn illustration, extreme geometrization, the subordination of the composition to rectangular rhythms. The colour range was also stable: black, red, white, grey with the addition of blue and yellow. In the field of fashion, there were also certain constructivist tendencies — in the wake of the global fascination with straight lines in clothing design, the Soviet designers of those years created geometrically emphasised forms.
Among the designers, Varvara Stepanova stands out, who from 1924, together with Lyubov Popova, developed fabric drawings for the 1st textile mill in Moscow, was a professor at the VkHUTEMAS textile faculty, and designed models for sports and casual wear.

The artists of this direction (V. Tatlin, A. Rodchenko, L. Popova, E. Lisitsky, V. Stepanova, A. Exter), having joined the movement of production art, became the founders of Soviet design, where the external form was directly determined by function, engineering design and material processing technology. In the design of theatrical performances, the constructivists replaced the traditional pictorial scenery with transformable setups — “machine tools” that change the stage space.
For constructivism of printed graphics, art books, posters are characterised by scant geometrized forms, their dynamic layout, limited colour palette (mostly red and black), the widespread use of photographs and typesetting typographical elements. Characteristic manifestations of constructivism in painting, drawing and sculpture are abstract, geometrical, the use of collage, photomontage, spatial constructions, sometimes dynamic ones.
Ideas of constructivism matured in the previous directions of the Russian avant-garde. His program, which was formed in the post-revolutionary period, bore the features of social utopia since the artistic design was conceived as a way to transform the social being and consciousness of people, to design the environment.
Constructivism rejected traditional ideas about art in the name of imitating the forms and methods of the modern technological process. This is most clearly manifested in the sculpture, where the design was created directly from products of industrial production. In painting, the same principles were carried out in two-dimensional space: abstract forms and structures were located on a plane like an architectural drawing, recalling elements of machine technology. Although “pure” constructivism existed in Russia only in the first post-revolutionary years, its influence was perceptible throughout the entire twentieth century.
In the early 1930s, the political situation in the country, and, consequently, in art, changed significantly. At first, innovative trends were sharply criticised, and then completely banned, as bourgeois. Constructivists were in disgrace. Those of them who did not want to “reorganise”, until the end of their days, dragged out a miserable existence (or were even repressed). According to some reputable scientists in the USSR in 1932-1936. there was a «transitional style», conditionally called «post-constructivism».
In the 1960s, when, as a matter of fact, the struggle against «architectural excesses» began, they again recalled the constructivist developments. The study of their heritage has become mandatory for young architects. And since the early 1990s, many non-embodied ideas of the 1920s became a reality. An example is the shopping centre «Three Whales» on Minsk Highway (designed in the spirit of the twenties), diverse in performance luxury housing in Moscow and other facilities of the modern metropolis.
Thus, we can conclude that the main areas of the Russian avant-garde were: futurism, Cubo-futurism,
suprematism and constructivism. Despite the fact that futurism and Cubo-futurism belong to different directions of the Russian avant-garde, they are similar. Cubo-futurism was the result of such areas as cubism, which was not very common in Russia, and futurism. In addition, representatives of futurism, mainly poets (the groups o «Gilea», «Mezzanine of Poetry», «Centrifuge»), over time, began to represent a new direction — Cubo-futurism.
But Suprematism and constructivism are quite independent directions, each of which had its own peculiar and unique features, as well as its own bright representatives.