The Constructivism movement originated in Russia as a response to the revolution that began in 1917, when the Bolcheviques came into power with a promise to change society. This led many artists to create with a more concrete social role, as they wished to flee from the mercantile system. The Russian Revolution was a turning point for the art that was being produced in Russia and was a reflection of the people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation of the country.
In fact, the Constructivism artists were already producing before the Revolution, and the movement began. Artists like Vladimir Tatlin, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko and Kazimir Malevich were well aware of the European cultural trends and were already doing exhibitions before 1917. Being inspired by Futurism and Impressionism, they created a movement called Suprematism that included the use of monochromatic geometric forms and influenced artists like Ivan Kliun and El Lissitzky. The radical painting Black Square by Malevich, used as scenery for a Futuristic Opera, is considered a starting point for Suprematism and consequently Constructivism.
In 1914, Tatlin visited Picasso’s studio in Paris and was very enthusiastic about Cubism. He felt he had to transform the flat painted areas in “real materials in a real space.” At this time, Picasso also had experimented in building modern sculptures out of wire and metal sheets. After this, Tatlin starts producing sculptures that climb walls or hangs from the ceiling, made from ordinary material from every-day life. The use of these specific materials, like wood, string, plastic, metal, among others, wasn’t by chance, for this was boosted by the worker’s political party. These materials are references to objects used the workers in factories and industries.
The government of the Russian Revolution needed art to support and help reach its goals, meaning that the spiritual feeling of Suprematism was not in place, opening the art scene to Constructivism. This new movement kept the raw dynamism of Suprematism but took on a broader spectrum, involving architecture, industrial and theatrical design. The supporters of the newly formed Constructivism were people who worked in art establishments and supported the idea of a more functional art.
The Communist Party officially supports the Constructivism movement in 1918 and artists like Tatlin and Rodchenko dedicate their work to help the economy by creating functional designs, for example designing heaters, clothes for workers and advertisement. Rodchenko is featured for his work in photomontage, inspired by Dadaism, and how he used this technique for advertisement, movie posters, book covers and many other platforms.
The paintings being produced were not just paintings, but, in a sense, construction on canvas. Artists used simple lines, geometric forms with flat colors, metal tacks, pieces of wood, and many other materials to construct works that seem like objects. El Lissitzky paints Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, a poster on the Russian civil war that transmits a political message. This poster, as well as many others, produced at this time, used typography influenced by Dadaism. El Lissitzky saw this work as being in between architecture and painting, just as Popova will see her work, calling it architectural drawings.
In 1920 – one year after Suprematism’s end is officially declared by Malevich – two brothers called Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, wrote the Constructivism principles in what they called the Realistic Manifesto, originating the movements name. They did not want to obligate art to the requirements of the country’s political and social situation, resulting in both moving from Russia at the beginning of the 1920’s and spreading Constructivism all throughout Europe with their modern sculptures. The Vkhutemas School of Art and Design was founded in Moscow, in the year of the release of the manifesto. One year later, the first Constructivism exhibition takes place. The political status was also marked by a new economy inserted by Vladimir Lenin.
After Lenin’s death in 1924, Josef Stalin imposes Socialist realism, a movement that glorified the values of Communism in a realistic style – a complete opposite of what artists were producing – resulting in a decay of the architecture, music, literature, and art in general of the Constructivism period. The Society of Easel Painters was founded because of this sudden change in movement and consist of artists that worked with subjects that were in sync with the demands of Stalinism. They mostly worked on topics such as technology, the growing industries, the heroes of battle, sports and, of course, the glory of the revolution.