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Constructivism – The Basic Idea

The term constructivism is derived from the Latin “construere” – “build, erect, connect”. In modern art, constructivism refers to a form of artistic design that is composed of controlled elements and certain defined relationships. The artist constructs a picture or a sculpture, in which the units of measurement, i.e. the relations between the elements, are precisely defined. A constructed work was often preceded by weeks of planning and mathematical calculations.

Constructivism set itself the goal of creating an art that corresponds to the conditions of a scientific and technical age and conveys a corresponding aesthetic experience to the human being living in it. Constructivism in the 20th century has three tendencies:

The propagandistic Constructivism was primarily represented by Russian Constructivism. The impulses of analytical Constructivism came from Bauhaus, De Stijl and concrete painting. Practical experimental Constructivism still has an effect to this day and has influenced many contemporary artists. The last two stages are generally summarized as International Constructivism in order to distinguish themselves from politically-nationally motivated Russian Constructivism.

Russian Constructivism

(Russian) constructivism, which had prerequisites in cubism, futurism and cubofuturism, is divided into two main branches: the utilitarianism around Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin (Russian painter, 1885 – 1953) with the intention to use art for architecture, design, typography, stage sets and fashion and to use it for the revolution of society and the suprematism around Kasimir Malevich, which withdrew the art of social functionalization in favour of pure geometric form determination. He reflected political concepts as an aesthetic-artistic element. The artists saw themselves as official representatives of the political functionaries. Their aim is to bring the communist ideas to the people with their art. The fact that art can serve as a carrier of information for people on a large scale is the great insight and achievement that we owe to the Russian constructivists. In the urge to create an absolutely new state, this kind of functionalism tends towards propaganda. Russian constructivism is trying to create a new vocabulary to distance itself from the past. “Constructivist artists call themselves “engineers,” and their architecture calls them the “front of art. Tatlin speaks of the “victory of machine art”.

The Russian counterpart to Cubism is based on the simple nature of folk art and the angular forms of Russian wooden dolls. This direction, known as neo-primitivism, is influenced by several factors: Henri Matisse, the fauvist, the “luboks” (satirical woodcuts), icons, and advertising painters. Mikhail Fyodorovich Larionov (Russian painter, 1881-1964) inserted the graffiti of his time – simple scribbling on the walls by uneducated soldiers – into his works of art. The impression created by the text fragments is similar to the way synthetic cubism uses word fragments.

International Constructivism

The focus of this new analytical – constructive phase is on spatial design and architecture. In addition, other artistic areas are also affected by this new type of formal and structured approach. Johannes Itten teaches his colour theory, adapted to constructivist needs. Lyonel Feininger and Josef Albers deal with strictly geometric surface relationships and colour gradations. Oskar Schlemmer develops a new aesthetic with his figural constructivism. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy is the leading artist who deals in depth with technoid designs and space-time relationships.

The centers of international art of the last decades can be found in Europe, America, and above all Latin America. The artists were concerned with various possibilities of using materials. In contrast to the Russian Constructivists, for whom imaginary and fantastic worlds still open up with their material research, the international Constructivists focus more on the material. Mobile mechanisms, audiovisual installations and spatial constructions dominate.