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Constructivism and the 'glorious' Russian Revolution

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924)
Extract from Draft Resolution ‘On Proletarian Culture’, point No.1

‘1. All educational work in the Soviet Republic of workers and Peasants, in the field of political education in general and in the field of art in particular, should be imbued with the spirit of the class struggle being waged by the proletariat for the successful achievement of the aims of its dictatorship, i.e. the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the abolition of classes and the elimination of all forms of exploitation of man by man.’

Key artists:

El Lizzitsky
Alexandr Rodchenko
Naum Gabo
Vladimir Tatlin
Antione Pevsner

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a group of artists calling themselves Constructivists gained some political power within the new Revolutionary government.

The Russian artists in comparison to the Cubist approach, developed an austere form of technical inquiry, a so called ‘laboratory art’. The Russian Constructivist developments remained distinct in its political and theoretical approach. The significance of the Constructivist approach was the eventual aim: the dissolution of art into life. With regard to Western Cubist thinking it was a similar route but opposite destination: the opening up of life represented in art, an ‘aestheticization of life itself’. If their hopes were fulfilled, art as it was currently practised would cease, not because it had been subsumed into life itself but because the whole of life would have been rendered artistic.

Dissension between those interested in a more personal art (sometimes known as Utopians) and those concerned with making utilitarian designs for the masses (known as Utilitarians or Productivists) soon split the group. As the political climate changed in the early 1920’s-first in favour of the Productivists, then in opposition to any avant-garde experimentation at all, (Naum Gabo, Antione Pevsner, Wassily Kandinsky and others moved to the West.) Some went to Germany’s technologically orientated Bauhaus (school of art, design and architecture), ensuring the spread of Constructivist principles throughout Europe and later the United States.

Constructivism marked the end of the brilliant flowering of the Russian avant-garde that had begun around the turn of the century with the world of art. In the 1925 the Communist Party’s Central Committee came out against abstraction; in 1932 all cultural groups were disbanded; and in 1934 a new propagandist style of Social Realism became the Soviet Union’s only officially sanctioned artistic approach.

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