December 05, 2016

"We invented and changed the world": A Rodchenko Art Gallery


"We invented and changed the world": A Rodchenko Art Gallery

An artist of many mediums, Alexander Rodchenko – born December 5, 1891 – was a leader in demonstrating the socially and artistically innovative potential of photography in the 1920s and 1930s. His constructivist designs remain iconic today, and his contributions to painting, sculpture demonstrate not only his versatility, but also his lifelong urge to integrate art into daily life for all. 

He wrote:

“We had visions of a new world, industry, technology and science. We simultaneously invented and changed the world around us. We authored new notions of beauty and redefined art itself."

In honor of his 125th birthday, here’s a sampling of his works from a variety of mediums and motivations.

Propaganda and advertising

Rodchenko created works that promoted Soviet ideology, but his works can’t be reduced to simple propaganda. His iconic poster for the Leningrad Publishing House is widely recognized, having been co-opted by many movements of lesser political intent; in the early 1920s, it was a powerful juxtaposition of visual elements and a call for literacy.

Lengiz, 1924 (museum.ru)

Also involved in advertising, Rodchenko created works that were visually striking regardless of what they were trying to sell (which, in the below cases, were galoshes and the film Battleship Potyomkin, respectively).

Лучших сосок не было и нет, 1923 (arzamas.academy)

 

Battleship Potemkin, 1925 (dysphotic.wordpress.com)

Photography

From works showing the glories of Soviet construction to his portraits of individual citizens, Rodchenko’s unusual approach to angle and perspective create a visual stimulus for the viewer that can be intimate, jarring, poignant, or create any number of other impressions – sometimes all at once.

Pioneer Girl, 1930 (photoforager.com)
Diver, 1934 (photoforager.com)
Steps, 1930 (photoforager.com)
Fire escape with a man, 1925 (arttattler.com)

Graphic design

Rodchenko was influenced by – and participated in – artistic movements as diverse as constructivism, futurism, suprematism, and productivism. Without going into all those “isms,” it’s worth mentioning the array of Rodchenko’s influences because they can be found in his innovative posters (as seen above) and in his work on avant garde publications during the 1920s. In particular, he collaborated with Vladimir Mayakovsky on LEF and Novy LEF, publications focusing on Constructivist art.

Novy LEF, 1928 (moma.org)

He also wasn’t above parodying some artists’ enthusiasm for such movements.

 Caricature showing Osip Brik, 1924 (moma.org)

Sculpture

Just as he united different mediums and themes in his art, Rodchenko was also committed to applying aesthetic ideals to mundane materials. Along with Mayakovsky, Tatlin, and others, he hoped that this dynamic, aesthetic utilitarianism would contribute to a new language and way of thinking for the young Soviet Union.

Spatial Construction no. 12, c. 1920 (moma.org)

Painting

Perhaps in the throes of the futuristic promise of the avant garde, Rodchenko declared "The End of Painting" in 1921. He struck the mortal blow with three solid monochromatic canvases in red, yellow, and blue. He wrote:

"I reduced painting to its logical conclusion and exhibited three canvases: red, blue and yellow. I affirmed: it's all over. Basic Colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation."

Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, 1921 (helveticahaus.com)

Though this triptych – an ironic choice in format, since three juxtaposed canvases were historically reserved for religious scenes – was the symbolic “end” for Rodchenko, he had begun his career as a painter, and produced many great works using geometric patterns, primary colors, and the abstract.

Dance. An Objectless Composition, 1915 (wikipedia.org)

 

Costume design for We, 1919-20 (artsy.net)

Despite disavowing painting after his groundbreaking triptych, Rodchenko returned to the medium in the late 1930s. As the Soviet Union grew increasingly strict about artistic production and new leaders – Stalin, in particular – instituted socialist realism and cracked down on the avant garde, Rodchenko found himself ostracized. He continued to photograph sports and celebrations that would allow him to adhere to the party line during the 1930s and produced a number of expressionist works in the 1940s.  

Realistic Abstraction, 1940 (wahooart.com)

An artist dedicated to political revolution, inspired by the avant garde, and skilled in multiple genres of design, Rodchenko at times struggled with the tensions between innovative art and radical politics. But until his death in 1956, he believed that art could bring new vitality and perspective to everyday life – and vice versa.

You Might Also Like

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar (bilingual)

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955