After the Communist revolution in 1917, the new government took control of the art establishment in Russia, nationalising all art collections and laying down the principles that were to govern the creation of works of art. A movement was initiated to put all arts to service of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Clarity and exactitude as opposed to subjectivity and individualism
With Constructivism, the Russian avant-garde initially strived to get rid of the conventions of “bourgeois art.” Among notable persons of this movement was Kazimir Malevich, whose ideas about forms and meanings are the theoretical underpinnings of abstract art.
Red Triangles in Circles (w/c on paper), Popova, Lyubov Sergeevna (1889-1924) / State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images
Taking in the Rye, 1912 (oil on canvas), Malevich, Kazimir Severinovich (1878-1935) / Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / Bridgeman Images
The constructivists believed art should directly reflect the modern industrial world and have a social purpose. As well as abstract art, constructivists such as Popova (1889-1924) and Rodchenko (1891-1956) were innovators of the techniques of photomontage.
They explored collective ways of working and looked at how they could contribute to everyday life through design, architecture, industrial production, theatre and film.
Poster advertising the film ‘Chelovek s Kino-Apparatom’, 1929, Stenberg, V. & Stenberg, G. (1900-1933)
Model of the Monument to the Third International, at an exhibition in Moscow in 1920, with Tatlin in foreground (photo)
Constructivism had a great effect on modern art movements of the 20th century, influencing major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. Some members of the Communist party, however, did not appreciate the ‘decadent’ modern styles as it was thought that the non-representative forms of art were not understood by the proletariat and thus could not be used by the state for propaganda.
Statue of Soviet Heroes (bronze), Russian School / Novosibirsk, Russia
Stalin at the hydro-electric complex at Ryon in the Caucasus Mountains, 1935, reproduction of the original in ‘Soviet Painting’, 1939
This was a form of modern realism imposed in Russia by Stalin following his rise to power after the death of Lenin in 1924. The doctrine was formally proclaimed by Maxim Gorky at the Soviet Writers Congress of 1934, although not precisely defined. In practice, it meant using realist styles to create rigorously optimistic pictures of Soviet life, in other words propaganda art.
Poster celebrating the Labour Day, 1st May 1950 (colour litho), Russian School
Artists who strayed from the official line were severely punished and it was to become the officially approved type of art in the Soviet Union for nearly sixty years.