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03 OCTOBER 2011

Rodchenko's revolution: a socialist with true vision

"Painter, photographer, filmmaker, set designer, teacher, metalworker, [Alexander Rodchenko] revelled in the new freedoms thrown up by the Russian Revolution and was fiercely committed to liberating art for the masses.

Whether it was his blueprint for the ideal working man's club showcased at the Paris Exhibition of 1925, his illustrated covers for engineering manuals or his pioneering film poster for Sergei Eisenstein's classic Battleship Potemkin, Rodchenko's experimentation embodied the spirit of the early Soviet era.

But just as he thrived in the intellectual ferment of the Lenin years, like so many other artists–cum–revolutionaries of the period he was to fall foul of Stalin's increasingly paranoid and brutal regime.

Today his influence lives on, not only inspiring modern–day photographers like Martin Parr, but his designs are perhaps best known for the art school chic they afford to the covers of records by the Scottish indie band Franz Ferdinand."

(Arifa Akbar and Jonathan Brown, 2 January 2008, The Independent)

Alexander Rodchenko (1925). "Lengiz books on all subjects!"

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TAGS

19252004Alexander Rodchenkoanimationart school • artist-cum-revolutionary • bandBattleship Potemkin (1925)design formalism • engineering manuals • figures in spacefilm posterfilmmakerFranz Ferdinandhomageidealism • illustrated covers • indie band • Joseph Stalin • liberating art for the masses • Martin Parr • metalworker • modernist aestheticsmotion graphicsmusic videopainter • Paris Exhibition • photographerphotomontagepioneeringposter design • record cover • regimerevisionRussian artistRussian constructivismRussian design • Russian Revolution • Scottishsequence designSergei Eisenstein • set designer • Soviet era • Take Me Out • typographyvisual communicationvisual designvisual literacyVladimir Lenin

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
14 FEBRUARY 2009

Russia's post-revolutionary architecture

"The creatively brilliant culture that flourished in Russia after the 1917 Revolution might be revered in the West – next month Tate Modern hosts Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism, the second major London exhibition on the Russian Modernist master in less than a year. But in Russia the period is still deeply controversial. After Joseph Stalin crushed the Russian avant–garde in the 1930s, the post–revolutionary period was almost erased from its history books. It still carries a stigma, says the historian Anna Bronovitskaya. 'Modernist aesthetics have never recovered from Stalin's denouncement,' she says. 'The wider public was never taught to appreciate modern, let alone contemporary art and architecture. It remains very conservative in its tastes.'

What Stalin was so keen to crush, and what has remained partly hidden ever since, was an immense revolutionary outpouring of energy, freedom and imagination that touched almost every form of culture. With the old order reversed, anything could happen. What Russia's artists, filmmakers, playwrights, writers and designers were imagining was nothing less than the shape of socialist Utopia, and it found its fullest expression in architecture. The buildings erected in Russia between the fall of the Romanovs and the rise of Stalin are the greatest concentration of Modernist architecture anywhere in the world, but, thanks to Stalin, and the Cold War, also the least well known. They are certainly among the most thrilling. The various architectural groups that flourished in the 1920s – Constructivists, Rationalists, Urbanists, Unurbanists – clashed over the precise form this Soviet Utopia should take. But between them, and backed by a state then eager to create a radical communist landscape, they built a vast catalogue of buildings – factories, dams, railway stations, government complexes, new cities, cultural centres, and entirely new building types, like communal housing and workers' clubs to re–educate the masses – which Rodchenko himself photographed as the face of new revolutionary Russia.

Western architects such as Le Corbusier looked on in envy. Just as the Bolsheviks experimented with new forms of government, so a new generation of Modernist architects such as Melnikov, Ivan Leonidov and the Vesnin brothers were encouraged to rip up the rulebook, creating new buildings of dizzying geometry, abstract shapes, thrilling collisions and bold new spaces – communal kitchens to release women from domestic drudgery – designed to socially engineer the new socialist citizen.

The project came to a grinding halt after Stalin's purges. Socialist Realism was imposed in architecture as much as in art, music and literature. The bold Modernist experiments in architecture were condemned as 'trash' and 'primitive boxes'; many were even 'improved' with traditional embellishments. Architects such as Melnikov were banned from practising and reviled. Ever since, says David Sarkisyan, director of Schusev, Russia's state architectural museum, 'Russia's post–revolutionary architecture has been in a catastrophic state'."
(The Times Online 24 January 2009)

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TAGS

Alexander Rodchenkoarchitectureavant-garde • Constructivists • Ivan Leonidov • Joseph StalinLe Corbusier • Melnikov • modernismmodernist aesthetics • Popova • radical communist landscape • Rationalists • RussiaRussian designUK • urbanists • Vesnin brothers

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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