Thursday, 5 December 2013

Avant-Garde, Suprematism and Constructivism and the Russian Revolution

Kazimir Malevich founded the Suprematist Movement in Russia in about 1913. It can mostly be identified by shapes, very very simple shapes. It was moving on from Cubism which they didn't see as abstract enough!

Back in the day Russia home to the Tsars. They were basically the monarchy with absolute power. Then one day a march to commemorate Woman's Day got out of hand. Striking Putilov metal workers hijacked the march to start a protest towards the Tsar currently on the throne: Nicholas II. Nicholas II spent the First World War out on the battle field as he felt it would keep morale higher that way - people at home however saw this as Nicholas abandoning them while savage famines and high unemployment was raging the country. Nicholas, in response to this protest sent some troops out to settle the matter, the only problem? they actually joined the cause instead. After a couple of days, Nicholas' closest advisors told him he should resign. He did exactly this in Early March 1917. To fill the Tsars place, the Provisional Government was set up and worked like a democracy. However, discontent at the top of the food chain meant the PG got dissolved a total of 5 times (i think), the clear weakness of the Government and their inability to solve any of the problems left by the Tsar they were eventually overthrown in October of that year. It was Lenin who overthrew the PG and set up his own regime. The deed was not fully done though, because shortly after revolution the anti-communist white army fought back and caused a civil war to last for four years. Therefore, from 1917 onwards Lenin had a policy of 'war communism' where he centralised all industries in order to fund materials for the Civil War. He eventually won, and most avant-garde artists supported the communists (I haven't come accross any that didn't), and in fact they were actually quite excited about the whole change.

Before, the avant-garde of Russia were developing their own style and it was an eclectic mix of things they'd seen in Germany, France and Italy. It was perhaps a mix of Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism. Many of the artists had travelled back and forth. However, once the revolution happened the artists were moved into a different direction and I have based my coursework on the fact that I believe that the revolution directly created and nurtured the Constructivist movement. Of course, the Constructivists were clearly influenced by those who they saw before the revolution and you cannot simply eradicate what they've seen - but the Bolsheviks completely accepted avant-garde with open arms and in fact asked them to paint slogans, adverts and tins for foodstuffs for them in their propaganda campaign spearheaded by Anatoly Lunacharsky the 'Commissar of Enlightenment' who famously said 'let 100 flowers bloom'.

Although we can see the beginnings of Constructivism before the revolution happened, what is important is that the Bolsheviks used them EVERYWHERE and I believe that was the beginning of mass advertising. The contructivists were out to change art into a science almost, they weren't artists they were constructors of Russia and Russian society. Furthermore, the images travelled throughout Europe and let the others see what they were up to. In my opinion, it really did change the face of Modern Art - it allowed it to paint and act as if it were THE style instead of pushing for some ultimate recognition. Modern art become THE art thanks to the revolution.

Olga Rozanova
Flight of an Airplane: Non Objective Composition, 1916
Energy of Futurism about it and leading to abstraction. The airplane broke the idea that the world is endless - with airplanes surely we could break the boundaries? Which we have done since and seen the moon :)

Kazimir Malevich,
Supresmus No. 56, 1916
After his infamous 'black square', these free floating forms in the atmosphere are 'transcendent' and do not allude to simply the delights of technology but a Romanticised idea of the universe too.

Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918
Although it may not seem like it, it is meant to be a concentrated philosophical idea that white is freedom, and the tilted square shows how freedom can move in a free world.

Black Square, 1915
Er yeah... Not everyone's cup of tea. I can hear everyone's belief 'I COULD DO THAT' and yes you could....but would you have dared to in 1915?

Agitprop Train, 1917
The Bolsheviks invited all the big names in Russian avant-garde art to come and decorate their train that was to tour the country with propaganda.

Alexander Rodchenko
Rodchenko was primarily a photographer, but had a lot to do with graphic design and was the perfect pupper for Lenin and a Bolshevik enthusiast.
Mayakovsky, 1924

Stepanova at her Desk, 1924
Stepanova designed Bolshevik clothes - the Bolshevik idea was to diffuse into every area of life! She was a 'clothes constructor'. She was all about creating the new Communist man and woman. Some of her work was exhibited in Moscow in 1982 'Moscow-Paris 1900-1930'. Art was moving into the domain of design and engineering.

Spatial Reconstruction 12, 1920
Looks like the thing at the beginning of 'the Big Bang Theory' intro... Linking art to the scientific world.

Design for Kiosk, 1919
The propaganda was everywhere - and they were happy to oblige

Lili Brik, 1924

Books! 1924
This woman photographed above is now shouting 'Books'! at us to encourage us to read some love Marxist-Leninist literature.

Osip Brik for LEF Magazine, 1924
I can't find out what it says in his glasses- does anyone know?

Poster for Battleship 1925
As I said, their influence was felt everywhere.

Workers Club, 1925

Assembling for a Demo, 1928

El Lissitzky, 
Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919
Painted during the Civil War. The 'red wedge' are the Bolsheviks and the white circle the whites. The idea of sticking something sharp into a something circular gives you the imagery without explaining I think. I can't help but think of a balloon popping or even IVF lol. Point is, the red wedge will easily bring down that deceitfully powerful looking white circle.

Prounenraum, 1923

Book Design and Typography for the Voice, 1923

The Constructor, 1924
Portraying himself as a constructor. The regime was really giving these artists are sense of high self esteem - they were excited. Would they have acted in this excited way without a regime to support them? no.

Vladmir Tatlin, Counter Relief, 1915

Monument to the 3rd International, 1919-20
This didn't ever get build unfortunately. It was a monument to the Bolsheviks. Not only was it a monument you would have actually been able to go inside - well the Commissars at least. Parts of the exterior were meant to revolve like a clock I believe and it was meant to be higher than the Eifell Tower!

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