The Suprematism Movement
Suprematism was an art movement, focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colors. It was founded by Kazimir Malevich in Russia, in 1915. The term suprematism refers to an art based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on visual depiction of objects.
Kasimir Malevich originated Suprematism when he was an established painter having exhibited in the Donkey’s Tail and the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) exhibitions of 1912 with cubo-futurist works. The proliferation of new artistic forms in painting, poetry and theatre as well as a revival of interest in the traditional folk art of Russia provided a rich environment in which a Modernist culture was born. In “Suprematism” (Part II of his book The Non-Objective World, which was published 1927 in Munich as Bauhaus Book No. 11), Malevich clearly stated the core concept of Suprematism: “Under Suprematism I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.”
He created a suprematist “grammar” based on fundamental geometric forms; in particular, the square and the circle. In the 0.10 Exhibition in 1915, Malevich exhibited his early experiments in suprematist painting. The centerpiece of his show was the Black Square, placed in what is called the red/beautiful corner in Russian Orthodox tradition ; the place of the main icon in a house. “Black Square” was painted in 1915 and was presented as a breakthrough in his career and in art in general. Malevich also painted White on White which was also heralded as a milestone. “White on White” was a breakthrough from polychrome to monochrome Suprematism.
On video: Discussion about Monet’s Cliff Walk at Pourville (Impressionism) and Malevich’s White on White (Suprematism)
The Constructivism movement
Constructivism was an artistic and architectural philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1919, which was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art. The movement was in favour of art as a practice for social purposes. Constructivism had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing major trends such as Bauhaus and the De Stijl movement. Its influence was pervasive, with major impacts upon architecture, graphic and industrial design, theatre, film, dance, fashion and to some extent music.
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 appears as a positive term in Naum Gabo’s Realistic Manifesto of 1920. Alexei Gan used the word as the title of his book Constructivism, which was printed in 1922.
Constructivism was a post-World War I development of Russian Futurism, and particularly of the ‘corner-counter reliefs’ of Vladimir Tatlin, which had been exhibited in 1915. The term itself would be invented by the sculptors Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo, who developed an industrial, angular style of work, while its geometric abstraction owed something to the Suprematism of Kasimir Malevich. IZO, the Commissariat’s artistic bureau, was managed during the Russian Civil War mainly by Futurists, who published the journal Art of the Commune. Constructivism in Moscow was represented by VKhUTEMAS, the school for art and design established in 1919. Gabo later stated that teaching at the school emphasized political and ideological discussion rather than art-making. Despite this, Gabo himself designed a radio transmitter in 1920 (and would submit a design to the Palace of the Soviets competition in 1930).
As much as involving itself in designs for industry, the Constructivists worked on public festivals and street designs for the post-October revolution Bolshevik government. Perhaps the most famous of these was in Vitebsk, where Malevich’s UNOVIS Group painted propaganda plaques and buildings (the best known being El Lissitzky’s poster Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919)).
Inspired by Vladimir Mayakovsky’s declaration ‘the streets our brushes, the squares our palettes’, artists and designers participated in public life during the Civil War. A striking instance was the proposed festival for the Comintern congress in 1921 by Alexander Vesnin and Liubov Popova, which resembled the constructions of the OBMOKhU exhibition as well as their work for the theatre. There was a great deal of overlap during this period between Constructivism and Proletkult, the ideas of which concerning the need to create an entirely new culture struck a chord with the Constructivists. In addition some Constructivists were heavily involved in the ‘ROSTA Windows’, a Bolshevik public information campaign of around 1920. Some of the most famous of these were by the poet-painter Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vladimir Lebedev.
What is the difference of Constructivism and Suprematism?
Malevich’s Suprematism is fundamentally opposed to the post-revolutionary positions of Constructivism and materialism. Constructivism, with its cult of the object, is concerned with utilitarian strategies of adapting art to the principles of functional organization. Under Constructivism, the traditional easel painter is transformed into the artist-as-engineer in charge of organizing life in all of its aspects.
Suprematism, in sharp contrast to Constructivism, embodies a profoundly anti-materialist, anti-utilitarian philosophy. In “Suprematism” (Part II of The Non-Objective World), Malevich writes:
Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without “things” (that is, the “time-tested well-spring of life”).
Jean-Claude Marcadé has observed that “Despite superficial similarities between Constructivism and Suprematism, the two movements are nevertheless antagonists and it is very important to distinguish between them.” According to Marcadé, confusion has arisen because several artists – either directly associated with Suprematism such as El Lissitzky or working under the suprematist influence as did Rodchenko and Liubov Popova – later abandoned Suprematism for the culture of materials.
Suprematism does not embrace a humanist philosophy which places man at the center of the universe. Rather, Suprematism envisions man – the artist – as both originator and transmitter of what for Malevich is the world’s only true reality – that of absolute non-objectivity.
…a blissful sense of liberating non-objectivity drew me forth into a “desert”, where nothing is real except feeling… (“Suprematism”, Part II of The Non-Objective World)
For Malevich, it is upon the foundations of absolute non-objectivity that the future of the universe will be built – a future in which appearances, objects, comfort, and convenience no longer dominate.
Legacy and Influence of Constructivism
The Constructivists were early developers of the techniques of photomontage. Gustav Klutsis’ ‘Dynamic City’ and ‘Lenin and Electrification’ (1919–20) are the first examples of this method of montage, which had in common with Dadaism the collaging together of news photographs and painted sections. However Constructivist montages would be less ‘destructive’ than those of Dadaism. Perhaps the most famous of these montages was Rodchenko’s illustrations of the Mayakovsky poem About This.
LEF also helped popularise a distinctive style of photography, involving jagged angles and contrasts and an abstract use of light, which paralleled the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in Germany: the major practitioners of this included, along with Rodchenko, Boris Ignatovich and Max Penson, among others. This also shared many characteristics with the early documentary movement. Meanwhile LEF produced an architectural version, the OSA group directed by Alexander Vesnin and Moisei Ginzburg – for more information see Constructivist architecture.
The book designs of Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and others such as Solomon Telingater and Anton Lavinsky were a major inspiration for the work of radical designers in the West, particularly Jan Tschichold. Many Constructivists worked on the design of posters for everything from cinema to political propaganda: the former represented best by the brightly coloured, geometric posters of the Stenberg brothers (Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg), and the latter by the agitational photomontage work of Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina.
A number of Constructivists would teach or lecture at the Bauhaus schools in Germany, and some of the VKhUTEMAS teaching methods were adopted and developed there. Gabo established a version of Constructivism in England during the 1930s and 1940s that was adopted by architects, designers and artists after World War I (see Victor Pasmore), and John McHale. Joaquín Torres García and Manuel Rendón were instrumental in spreading Constructivism throughout Europe and Latin America. Constructivism had an effect on the modern masters of Latin America such as: Carlos Mérida, Enrique Tábara, Aníbal Villacís, Theo Constanté, Oswaldo Viteri, Estuardo Maldonado, Luis Molinari, Carlos Catasse, João Batista Vilanova Artigas and Oscar Niemeyer, to name just a few. There have also been disciples in Australia, the painter George Johnson being the best known.
In the 1980s graphic designer Neville Brody used styles based on Constructivist posters that initiated a revival of popular interest. Also during the 1980s designer Ian Anderson founded The Designers Republic, a successful and influential design company which uses constructivist principles.
So-called Deconstructivist architecture was developed by architects Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas and others during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Zaha Hadid by her sketches and drawings of abstract triangles and rectangles evokes the aesthetic of constructivism. Though similar formally, the socialist political connotations of Russian constructivism are deemphasized by Hadid’s deconstructivism. Rem Koolhaas’ projects revive another aspect of constructivism. The scaffold and crane-like structures represented by many constructivist architects are used for the finished forms of his designs and buildings.
Cinematic influences include Bulgarian born animator Theodore Ushev’s 2006 brief film Tower Bawher. Inspired by Russian constructivist art, the animated short features visual references to artists of the era including Vertov, Stenberg, Rodchenko, Lissitsky and Popova.
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