Original Creators: Constructivist Aleksandr Rodchenko
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator,” an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Aleksandr Rodchenko.
Among the many influential ideas that the Russian Revolution produced, the artistic concepts and philosophies that came from the period’s creators have been some of the most lasting. The revolution made way for unprecedented political and social changes, which together brought on the formation of some of the 20th century’s most transformative artistic movements.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, among others, was an instrumental part of the formation of some of these movements. His groundbreaking work not only influenced and advanced the development of Constructivism and Productivism, but also went on to influence the formation of future movements, such as Bauhaus and De Stijl, as well as the later formation of Minimalism. Here are a few of his most influential pieces, which, although differing dramatically in form, all serve as testimonies to Rodchenko’s radical artistic vision…
Spatial Construction no. 12, (1920)
Spatial Construction no. 12 was one of Rodchenko’s first attempts at adhering to the newly formed principles of Constructivism. Although the piece was created before his abandonment of painting in 1921, which marked a departure from the abstract Futurist styles found in his early work, Spatial Construction no. 12 can be seen as one of the seminal works that began to establish the Constructivist aesthetic. The sculpture’s components are all cut from the same aluminum-painted piece of plywood. This material choice reflects the early Constructivist idea that everyday objects and materials should be used to create abstract works of art, which broadened the conceptual definitions of art in general. Though the Constructivist aesthetic later evolved away from the abstract, leaning more towards Realism, the Spatial Construction series and other works from this period in Rodchenko’s career were extremely important in the development of the Constructivist movement.
Pure Red Color, Pure Blue Color, and Pure Yellow Color, (1921)
This three-part piece, created for a Constructivist exhibition in Moscow in 1921, was produced at the time that Rodchenko abandoned painting altogether. It represents, in Rodchenko’s own words, the “logical conclusion” of painting. As Constructivism asserted, the changing social and political climates of post-revolutionary Russia demanded similar changes in the form and definition of art. Arranged as a triptych (which sets up a rather cynical dialogue with the medium’s religious past), Pure Red Color, Pure Blue Color, and Pure Yellow Color intended to once and for all bring death to traditional painting in order to open new doors for artistic expression. It also made a drastic political statement about the ways that art functioned prior to the revolution, giving new socio-political weight to the Constructionist movement. The piece’s simplistic, yet poignant aesthetic can be seen as one of the earliest influences on abstract art and minimalism of the 60s and 70s.
Books (The Advertisement Poster for the Lengiz Publishing House) (1924)
After retiring from painting, Rodchenko experimented with many different mediums, including photography, sculpture, and graphic design. The latter, which has come to be regarded as one of Constructionism’s most defining mediums, offered Rodchenko a platform by which to explore the world of Realism as distributed through the mass media. Books is an early example of Rodchenko’s turn towards graphic design and realism. It marks the start of the artist’s long fascination with the Soviet mass media, and distinguishes his Constructivist style of the mid 20s from his early Constructivist abstracts, which, by the time “Books” had surfaced, seemed to be rooted in a different artistic movement entirely. His work in graphic design created a new kind of accessibility to artistic political commentary and went on to heavily influence the foundations of the Bauhaus movement.
Rodchenko’s fascination with photography began in 1925, when he took his first series of photographs in the streets of Moscow. His goal as a photographer was to capture ordinary and familiar scenes from a perspective that made the backgrounds seem thought provoking and new. Stairs captures a normal scene of a woman and her child walking up a set of stairs, but the ordinary subject is made eerily abstract by the camera’s perspective. The woman and child are juxtaposed with the rigid black and white stairs in a way that seems to reflect the the polarization of humans in the shadow of industrialization during the Soviet Union’s more utopian days. The photograph looks strikingly modern, even though it was taken long before the influx of abstract photography that took place in the 60s and 70s.