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  Constructivism is a loosely defined movement in architecture, design and fine art, associated particularly with the decade following the 1917 Revolution in Russia. It was seen as a political movement which sought its aesthetic expression in mechanical structures, celebrating structural and technological advances, and attempting to remove the traditional distinctions between art and life.

In architecture, the first phase of Constructivism in Russia was associated with temporary timber constructions used for exhibitions and street art, and the second phase with buildings proper. Buildings were conceived of as part machine form and part biological structure; an influential work being that of Vladimir Tatlin (1885 - 1953) who designed the Monument to the Third International of 1920, a slanting tower, a distorted frustum in spiral form, which would contain a cubic hall for the legislative council of the Third International, a pyramidal executive block above, and on the top a cylindrical information centre. Each of these separate blocks would rotate at different rates, and the structure was made of steel and glass. A contemporary account spoke of ‘by the transformation of these forms into reality, dynamics will be embodied in unsurpassable magnificence’. However, although its model was paraded through the streets, it was never actually built for there was a shortage of steel. Also notable is the radical work of , Konstantin Melnikov (1890 - 1974) who worked both in timber, in a reinterpretation of traditional Russian agrarian construction, and later in a sophisticated concrete construction. He built five workers\' clubs in Moscow in 1927-29, each of which revealed externally the auditoria and circulation spaces. In the later 1920s, the influence of Constructivism was felt in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and the Netherlands, in almost ‘translucent’ buildings of the 1920s and 1930s in which most of the internal workings were exposed, often revealing the movement of lifts or conveyor belts.

In painting, sculpture and the other fine arts, constructivism, to some extent, opposes its contemporary movement expressionism through its promotion of the reasoned deployment of the principles of ‘pure’ art. It articulates dimension in terms not of mass but of volume in space. In this sense it is the sculptural equivalent of suprematism in painting or the Cubist assemblages of Picasso. Constructivism\'s early exponents in Revolutionary Russia championed it as a socially relevant art (as exemplified in the title of Tatlin\'s Monument to the Third International, described above), but the revolution soon turned against abstraction in favour of socialist realism, disillusioning many of its principle adherents and sympathizers (such as Gabo, Antoine Pevsner, Kandinsky, Lissitsky and Maholy-Nagy), and forcing them to flee Russia. This emigration had the effect of spreading the principles of Constructivism throughout Europe and the US. PD MG JM

Further reading J.M. Nash, Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism.



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