History and Characteristics of Constructivist Art

Constructivism was a radically new movement in art, which started in the Soviet Union. This influential idea spilled over the Russian borders into Paris, Germany, London, and the USA. This ArtHearty articles records constructivism art history and characteristics to make it easier for you to understand this movement.
ArtHearty Staff
Did You Know?
The term constructivist art was first used by Russian painter and art theoretician Kazimir Malevich to describe the work of a Russian artist, Alexander Rodchenko.
Even though Malevich first used the term "constructivist art," it was a Russian and Soviet painter and architect Vladimir Tatlin who first placed the cornerstone of the constructivist art movement.
  • The inception of the constructivist art movement dates back to 1913 when Tatlin visited Paris. He was inspired by a series of wooden reliefs done by Pablo Picasso. Tatlin was inspired by the way Picasso had arranged the preformed elements together rather than carving the reliefs. After returning, Tatlin started creating his own sculptures with assorted materials that he had found. Those sculptures were on the similar lines used by Picasso.
  • In 1919, Tatlin exhibited his relief "Corner Counter-Relief." Unlike any other sculptures, it was suspended in the mid-air and in a corner. This abstract sculpture attracted readers' attention to the types of the materials as well as their arrangement in relation to one another.
  • Tatlin's sculpting culminated in the exhibition of Monument to the Third International, or Tatlin's Tower in 1920. The tower was an unusual spiral-shaped building, which was planned to build a headquarter after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Unfortunately, the tower was never built. However, it became a symbol of the movement, and thus, the movement was truly born.
Russian constructivist art is defined as the combination of faktura and tektonika, which means the combination of the particular material properties of an object and its spacial presence.
  • In the meanwhile, under Bolshevik rule, art came under the Institute of Artistic Culture and its chief Wassily Kandinsky. He was dismissed as his ideas did not match with the working class. This led to a row and separation of two groups of painters. The first group stuck with the traditional fine art, but the other group considered it as dead. The second group included Tatlin, Rodchenko, Popova, and others. They gained public preference and were termed as Constructivist or Artist-engineers. In 1922, a Russian art theorist Aleksei Gan issued a Constructivist Manifesto.
  • The movement embraced the new development caused by the World War I and the October Revolution. The artists were concerned with using real materials. The constructivists were involved in different projects in architecture, fashion designing, photography, graphics, interior designing, literature, ceramics, cinema, photography, etc. With traditional form of painting deemed as dead, there were lots of experiments in other areas of art. A new motto was formed―"Representation is finished; it is time to construct." 
  • Russian constructivism had spread across the world especially in Germany, England, and America. The movement was considered to be a symbol of the modern era. However, the movement suddenly came to an end with the power struggle after Lenin's death in 1924. Under Stalin's rule, industrial production increased and a new modern art movement, Socialist Realism, took shape. In order to appeal to the masses, this movement was entirely naturalist. This made constructivist art movement was condemned on the opposition of the government.
Key Characteristics of Constructivism Art
  • Constructivism stood for three ideals―abstraction, functionalism, and utilitarianism. The movement focused on the construction of the art rather than the composition, which distinguished them from the traditional art movements. Constructivism art was devoted to modernity.
  • It tried to attain universal form. It consisted of three- as well as two-dimensional art forms. It consisted of themes that were often geometric, minimal, experimental, and rarely emotional. Constructivist artwork was usually broken down to its basic elements. This art form simplified everything on the fundamental level.
  • New media was used in the creation of artworks. Industrial materials like glass, steel, and plastic were used in the artwork creation.
  • This artwork would combine different sans serif fonts for their visual properties as well as their meanings. Colors used in the artwork would be simple, flat, and symbolic. A white space was a part of the design. Rather than a hand-drawn illustrations, the photo-montage technique was often used.
Famous Constructivism Art Examples
Constructivism Art Examples
  • Counter-Reliefs (1914-1915) by Vladimir Tatlin
  • Beat the Whites with Red Wedge (1919) by El Lissitzky
  • Monument to the Third International (1919-1920) by Vladimir Tatlin
  • Paperback book covers (1924) by Alexander Rodchenko
  • Poster Advertising Leningrad Publishing House (1925) by Alexander Rodchenko
  • Which of the Two, Film Poster (1927) by Georgy and Vladimir Stenberg
  • Russian Exhibition Poster (1929) by El Lissitzky
  • Workers, Everyone must vote in the Election of Soviets! (1930) by Gustav Klutsis
Changes in the Movement
Although Constructivism made headway into the fields of visual art such as sculpture work and painting, the movement nursed the ambition to increase mass production because of which artists explored decorative and applied arts. As a result, the Higher Art and Technical Studios trained its pupils in such art forms, which brought back the lost interest in decoration of ceramics and textile. Ilya Chashnik came up with special ceramics that were composed of abstract two-dimensional forms while Stepanova explored textile design that had bold planes of color and stroke elements. El Lissitzky and Rodchenko earned recognition for their graphic design and typography, which employed bold letters, bold colors, and diagonal elements.