January 01, 2018

Flying Machine

The Tretyakov Gallery has completed restoration of a defining artwork of the Russian avant-garde: the ornithopter, or flying machine, created by Vladimir Tatlin in 1932. He christened his work the Letatlin (based on the word letat, “to fly,” and his last name).

Tatlin is considered by many to be the father of Constructivism (see article, page 56), and he took art out of its two-dimensional format (and out of its frames) with a series of works he called counter-reliefs. Letatlin was one of his last works, produced in the final days of the revolutionary art era, just before the movement was squashed by Soviet censorship and Socialist Realism in the 1930s.

Tatlin made the Letatlin as a practical object, a one-person flying apparatus, and hoped that industrial production would make it as common as bicycles in the Soviet Union. Made of wood, leather, whalebone, and fabric, with custom-made bearings, it embodies the dream of flight and the avant-garde idea of freedom. The Tretyakov said that their restoration did not replace any of the original elements, that the piece is intact, just as it was after the previous restoration in the 1960s.

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