So I’m going to begin with Constructivism and then we will move on to see how it had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing major trends such as Bauhaus and the De Stijl movement.Constructivism was an artistic and architectural philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1919, and notably it was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art (an idea that we will see resurface in the 1950s later on in the course). The foundation of constructivism was that it was in favour of art as a practice for social purposes.
Last we week when we looked at Futurism I noted that they were the first movement to consciously have titled themselves. As was generally the case, the term Construction Art was first used as a derisive term by Kazimir Malevich, he was describing the work of Alexander Rodchenko in 1917.Constructivism swept away traditional notions about art, believed that it should imitate the forms and processes of modern technology. This was especially true of sculpture, which was "constructed" out of component parts using industrial materials and techniques. In painting, the same principles were applied within a two-dimensional format; abstract forms were used to create structures reminiscent of machine technology and were suspended in space in almost architectural fashion
It is important to offer a background to this art movement, allbeit a very brief, potted history.The Russian Revolution as I’m sure you are aware,is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. After the 1917 Revolution, the Russian Avant-Garde leapt to the service of the new Bolshevik regime because it seemed to promise just the sort of break into a new world, and sweeping away of the old, that they had been working for in art for years. They produced political posters, organized street pageants and fairs, and, most notably, carried out the design of the country's great public spaces for anniversary celebrations of the Revolution. Caught up in the new regime's emphasis on the importance of industrial power, they began to bring to composition a sense of the rationality and technological focus of industrial work and design. Constructivism, as it became known, continued to evolve into the late 1920s, when the conservatism of the Stalinist state renounced the Avant-Garde in favor of Soviet Realism.The seed of Constructivism was a desire to express the experience of modern life - its dynamism, its new and disorientating qualities of space and time. But also crucial was the desire to develop a new form of art more appropriate to the democratic and modernizing goals of the Russian Revolution. Constructivists were to be constructors of a new society - cultural workers on a par with scientists in their search for solutions to modern problems.
Vladimir Tatlin is often hailed as the father of Constructivism. A contemporary of the Suprematist, Kazimir Malevich, he had collaborated on the preceding Cubo-Futurist movement. But his interests fundamentally shifted during a visit to Paris in 1913, where he saw a series of wooden reliefs by Picasso. Tatlin appreciated that the reliefs were not carved or modeled in a traditional manner but composed in an entirely different way - indeed they could be said to be 'constructed' - put together from pre-formed elements. On his return to Russia, Tatlin began to experiment with the possibilities of three-dimensional relief, and to use new types of material with a view to exploring their potential. By 1919, both Malevich and Tatlin had achieved some prominence as representatives of different paths for the Russian avant-garde. They came together at "0.10, the Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting" (1919), in which Malevich exhibited Suprematist paintings and Tatlin unveiled his Corner Counter-reliefs. The latter were suspended in air across a corner of the room, instead of being attached to the flat surface of a wall, and their abstract forms defied the traditional idea that relief should depict a figure or an event. Instead, the Reliefs allowed the viewer to focus on the types of materials used, and how forms were arranged in relation to each other. Although Picasso and the Cubists had already been working with constructions and collage, Tatlin's work was important in emphasizing both the character of the materials used to fabricate the art object, and the fact that the completed artwork was itself a conventional physical object - not something that seemed to offer a window on to a different reality. However it was not until Tatlin exhibited his model for the Monument for the Third International (1919-20) that Constructivism was truly born. More commonly known as Tatlin's Tower, the unusual spiral-shaped building was designed as a government office building. Planned to rise higher than the Eiffel Tower, this triumphant commemoration of the Russian Revolution was to be at once modern, functional and dynamic. The project proved an inspiration to the artist's contemporaries, who quickly came together to debate its consequences, and hence Constructivism came to life. The First Working Group of Constructivists was established in 1921, and included AleksandrRodchenko, VarvaraStepanova and others.
More broadly speaking, Constructivists proposed to replace art's traditional concern with composition with a focus on construction. Objects were to be created not in order to express beauty, or the artist's outlook, or to represent the world, but to carry out a fundamental analysis of the materials and forms of art, one which might lead to the design of functional objects. For many Constructivists, this entailed an ethic of "truth to materials," the belief that materials should be employed only in accordance with their capacities, and in such a way that demonstrated the uses to which they could be put.Constructivist art often aimed to demonstrate how materials behaved - to ask, for instance, what different properties materials such as wood, glass, and metal had. The form an artwork would take would be dictated by its materials (not the other way around, as is the case in traditional art forms, in which the artist 'transforms' base materials into something very different and beautiful). For some, these inquiries were a means to an end, the goal being the translation of ideas and designs into mass production; for others it was an end in itself, a new and archetypal modern style expressing the dynamism of modern life.
Fundamentally these artists were not trying to create a “revolutionary new kind of art, they were trying to create art that would facilitate a revolutionary new society.”In 1921 25 artists called on the artist to stop producing useless things … because, and I’m quoting one of their manifestos now,“such work now belongs to the duty of the artist as a citizen of the community who is clearing the field of the old rubbish in preparation for the new life.” Alexander Rodchenko was one of those 25 artists who believed that art should “both facilitate change in people, making them more ideally Soviet, as well as represent Soviet ideals through their materials and construction.” Rodchenko, along with the other Constructivists, believed that art should be integrated into everyday life, theyrejected the idea of ‘art for art’s sake,’ and insisted it should serve a useful purpose in society. It was for this reason that Rodchenko moved away from fine art and took his influential knowledge of Suprematism and applied it to more useful activities such as design, architecture and photography. For Rodchenko, design was not a matter of aesthetics. It was a catalyst for social change.
Although Rodchenkomade many paintings, there is no doubt that he influenced society most through what we consider contemporary “graphic design.” For example, book and magazine design, advertising and set design. He reached large audiences through these venues.
He also turned his attention to photography, seeing it as a way to transform the representation of social life. His photographic style took the form of documentary, and he photographed his subjects at odd angles in many cases with the intention to shock the viewer. In the 1930s, with the changing Party guidelines governing artistic practice, he concentrated on sports photography and images of parades and other choreographed movements.
Constructivism was the last and most influential modern art movement to flourish in Russia in the 20th century. As I mentioned, it evolved just as the Bolsheviks came to power in the October Revolution of 1917, and initially it acted as a lightning rod for the hopes and ideas of many of the most advanced Russian artists who supported the revolution's goals. It borrowed ideas from Cubism, Suprematism and Futurism, but at its heart was an entirely new approach to making objects, one which sought to abolish the traditional artistic concern with composition, and replace it with 'construction.' Constructivism called for a careful technical analysis of modern materials, and it was hoped that this investigation would eventually yield ideas that could be put to use in mass production, serving the ends of a modern, Communist society. Ultimately, however, the movement foundered in trying to make the transition from the artist's studio to the factory. Some continued to insist on the value of abstract, analytical work, and the value of art per se; these artists had a major impact on spreading Constructivism throughout Europe. Others, meanwhile, pushed on to a new but short-lived and disappointing phase known as Productivism, in which artists worked in industry. Russian Constructivism was in decline by the mid 1920s, partly a victim of the Bolshevik regime's increasing hostility to avant-garde art. But it would continue to be an inspiration for artists in the West, sustaining a movement called International Constructivism which flourished in Germany in the 1920s, and whose legacy endured into the 1950s.
I want to talk now about a concurrent movement in the Netherlands.De Stijl or Neoplastic was a movement that lasted from 1917 – 1931 and is characterised in the work of three men, the painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg and the architect GerritRietveld. The De Stijl movement came into being as the conflation of two related modes of thought.The Neo-Platonic philosophy of the mathematician Dr SchoenmaekersThe architectural concepts of HendrikPetrusBerlage and Frank Lloyd WrightDr Schoenmaekers virtually formulated the plastic and philosophical principles of the De Stilj movement. In his book The New Image of the World, he referred to:“The three principle colours are essentially, yellow, blue and red. They are the only colours existing…Yellow is the movement of the ray…Blue is the contrasting colour to yellow…As a colour, blue is the firmament, it is the line, horizontally. Red is the mating of yellow and blue…Yellow radiates, blue ‘recedes’, and red floats.”
Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white.
Form follows function is a principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.In 1908 the Austrian architect Adolf Loos famously proclaimed that architectural ornament was criminal, and his essay on that topic would become foundational to Modernism and eventually trigger the careers of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, andMies van der Rohe. The Modernists adopted both of these equations—form follows function, ornament is a crime—as moral principles, and they celebrated industrial artifacts like steel water towers as brilliant and beautiful examples of plain, simple design integrity.“Form follows function-that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union”Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright started not with a style but with an idea, a Weltanschauung, a principle, which he called “organic architecture.” What he meant by it was that humans are part of nature, subject to the laws, rhythms and mysteries of nature and happiest if they live in harmony with it, and their dwellings should reflect this unity inside and out
DeStijl takes its name from a journal founded in 1917 in Holland by pioneers of abstract art, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. It means style in Dutch. The name De Stijl also came to refer to the circle of artists that gathered around the publication. De Stijl became a vehicle for Mondrian's ideas on art, and in a series of articles in the first year's issues he defined his aims and used, perhaps for the first time, the term Neo-Plasticism. This became the name for the type of abstract art he and the De Stijl circle practised. It was based on a strict geometry of horizontals and verticals. Neo-Plasticism is a term adopted by Mondrian, for his own type of abstract painting. Basically means new art (painting and sculpture are plastic arts). Also applied to the work of De Stijl circle of artists, at least up to Mondrian's secession from the group in 1923,following Van Doesburg's adoption of diagonal elements in his work. In first eleven issues of the journal De Stijl Mondrian published his long essay 'Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art' in which among much else he wrote: 'As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form. The new plastic idea cannot therefore, take the form of a natural or concrete representation, this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour'. Neo-Plasticism was in fact an ideal art in which the basic elements of painting,colour, line form were used only in their purest, most fundamental state: only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical lines. Notably, as we will see, De Stijl had a profound influence on the development both of abstract art and modern architecture and design.
I now want to introduce the Bauhaus, a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term Bauhaus, literally "house of construction” and its first aim of the school was to "rescue all of the arts from the isolation in which each then found itself.”Craft at the Bauhaus was more greatly influenced by industrial design and machine aesthetics. The emphasis on converting craft to industry through the creation of prototypes for mass production reflects Gropius's left wing political sympathies. Bauhaus furniture is perhaps the most successful in this. The tubular chair designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925 is still in production today.
The Bauhaus was at once a 'school, workshop, studio and laboratory', where Walter Gropius sought to forge a rare and new alliance between art and industry. As a movement it emerged as architects and artists began to rebuild war-torn Europe after the Great War.When the Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919, the artists were committed to re-examine the very basis of art that would, in turn, touch every aspect of life. It was one of the most significant experiments in art in the twentieth century. The utopian spirit in post-war Germany gave rise to the belief that the artist could help to bring about new social conditions through the creation of new environments that became the focal point for such thinking in Europe in general. Gropius wanted to remove the barrier between artists and craftsmen.Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts. Art is not a 'profession'. There is no essential difference between the artists and the craftsmen. The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, moments beyond the control of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in his craft is essential to every artist. Therein lies a source of creative imagination.The Bauhaus was born with the Weimar Republic in 1919 and died in the hands of the Nazis in 1933; they described the Bauhaus flat roof as 'oriental and Jewish', the institution as a hotbed of Bolshevism. It was transported in a revised form to America where Gropius later settled.Much of the Bauhaus vigour came as a consequence of Germany's defeat. Buildings would be imbued with considerably more significance - psychological, sexual and practical. The artist and architect would in Gropius's scheme take charge of the rebuilding of a battle-fatigued continent. In the Bauhaus, Gropius combined two schools - Art and Crafts and Fine Art - into one building. He coined the name Bauhaus - House of Building. The allusion he made was to the medieval cathedral, the building which, in his view, would be the meeting place of all teaching in the visual arts. In his ideal institution art and design would become unified ideologically and in practical terms. 'The ultimate goal of the Bauhaus is the collective work of art in which no barriers exist between the structural and decorative arts. Artists and architects would work together towards the great goal of the "building of the future"(IMAGE:Lyonel Feininger's famous Kathedrale)
The Bauhaus embodied many ideas from the Viennese Sezession and Werkstätte, and from William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Given the historical context, the Bauhaus became more fervent, more utopian than any of their precedents. It was also on a significantly larger scale. The Bauhaus departed from their precedents in that they sought to define an educational system through the institutionalised training of artists, architects and designers. Indeed, the pedagogical methods of Klee, Kandinsky and Itten had a major impact in the teaching of art and design all over the world throughout the twentieth century.
1. Revolution and Rebuilding:Constructivism, De Stijl and the Bauhaus Week 6 Deborah Jackson
2. Constructivism had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing majortrends such as Bauhaus and the De Stijl movement. Constructivism was an artistic and architectural philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1919 It was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art It was in favour of art as a practice for social purposesLazar LissitskyBeat the Whites with the RedWedge(poster, 1919)
3. Kazimir Malevich‟s Black Square, a major work of the Russian avant-garde, at the “Last Futurist Exhibition 0,10” in Petrograd in 1915 Photograph of the firstConstructivist Exhibition, 1921
4. The Russian Revolution is thecollective term for a series ofrevolutions in Russia in1917, which destroyed theTsarist autocracy and led tothe creation of the SovietUnion.
5. ConstructivismTatlin Monument to the ThirdInternational1919-20
6. Constructivist architecture emerged from the wider constructivist art movement, which grew out of Russian Futurism Constructivist architecture was a form of modern architecture that flourished in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and early 1930s. It combined advanced technology and engineering with anNarkomtiazhprom, Vesnin brothers (1934) avowedly Communist social purpose. "truth to materials"
7. These artists were not trying to create a revolutionary new kind of art, they were trying to create art that would facilitate a revolutionary new society. The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy- Nagy1920s. Rodchenko and Stepanova
8. Rodchenko saw photography as away to transform the representationof social lifeIn the 1930s, with the changingParty guidelines governing artisticpractice, he concentrated on sportsphotography and images ofparades and other choreographedmovements.
9. Examples of useful objects (according to constructivists)• advertising posters• logotypes• book and magazine covers• film titles• furniture (multi-functional furniture: flexiblebeds, chairs and storage cases• workers’ club interiors• film and theater setsRodchenkos Workers Club
10. Dr Schoenmaekers virtually De Stijlformulated the plastic and 1917–1931philosophical principles of theDe Stilj movement. In his bookThe New Image of theWorld, he referred to:“The three principle colours areessentially, yellow, blue and red.They are the only coloursexisting…Yellow is themovement of the ray…Blue isthe contrasting colour toyellow…As a colour, blue is thefirmament, it is theline, horizontally. Red is themating of yellow and Mondrianblue…Yellow radiates, blue Composition in Red, Blue and„recedes‟, and red floats.” Yellow (1930)
11. Mondrian Broadway Boogie WoogieRed and Blue Chair 1942Gerrit Rietveld1917
12. “Form followsfunction-that hasbeenmisunderstood.Form andfunction shouldbe one, joined ina spiritual union” Frank Lloyd Wright
13. Wright started not with a style but with an idea, a Weltanschauung, a principle, which he called “organic architecture.” What he meant by it was that humans are part of nature, subject to the laws, rhythms and mysteries of nature and happiest if they live in harmony with it, and their dwellings should reflect this unity inside and out.Fallingwater or Kaufmann Residence is ahouse designed by architect Frank LloydWright in 1935
14. De StijlMondrianPier and Ocean(+ and -) (1915)
15. The Bauhaus 1919-1933 The first aim of the school was to "rescue all of the arts from the isolation in which each then found itself." Breuer Tubular Chair (1925)
16. Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts. Art isnot a profession. There is noessential difference between theartists and the craftsmen. Theartist is an exalted craftsman. Inrare moments ofinspiration, moments beyond thecontrol of his will, the grace ofheaven may cause his work toblossom into art. But proficiencyin his craft is essential to everyartist. Therein lies a source ofcreative imagination. Walter Gropius Bauhaus Manifesto (1919)