PRINT May 1971

On Constructivism

“At Basis, Constructivism Was Not So Much A Method Of Artistic Organization As Of Social Regulation.”

THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN RUSSIAN art often seems like a theatrical scenario, so stylized is the impression we have of it. A lot that has reached us appears detached from credibility, surreal, fictive even. Of course, we have the paintings to look at (or some of them), and the designs and plans—these are all concrete enough. But the difficulty isn’t so much there (though I believe we are not yet looking at them hard enough) but in the surrounding ethos. Once you get interested enough in the painting, sculpture or design to want to know more about its background everything becomes suddenly far more complicated than one could imagine. There are biomechanical and psychotechnical systems, confused relationships to the State, internecine warfare between different factions, and those more specific instances in the plot where truth and fable seem compounded: the whole Caspian fleet transforming itself into a noise orchestra, that photograph of Tatlin by a home-made oven, Foregger’s troop of machine-dancers, the peripatetic consumptive Lissitzky reforming Western art from a Swiss sanatorium, and so on. All of this—the polemicism, the histrionics, the activism—can so enthrall us that instead of illuminating the art it draws attention from it and offers itself, the human energy, as the focal core.

This factor becomes especially crucial when we come to consider Constructivism, for at basis Constructivism was not so much a method of artistic organization as of social regulation within which art, conceived of as a “social condenser,” could function. But if Constructivism is a special case, the diversion of attention from objects to reasons for objects is no less in the case of most critical approaches to the pure art of that period, and this because here too theory played a highly significant role. And by theory I don’t only mean artistic theory, the expression of formal methods relating to the creation of objects, but a far more speculative interest in extra-artistic affairs, social and spiritual, insofar as they impinged on art-making. This broad preeminence of theory in Russian abstract art has somehow tended to make it resistant to formal criticism; rather it appears too often as illustration for a life style the more remarkable the more we know about it. This is also significant for such other abstractionist movements as existed contemporaneously outside Russia and which also put much weight on extra-artistic (social and spiritual) theory; and indeed one is inclined to believe that the major obstacle to our understanding of this art is not so much the well-known slenderness of our background knowledge of it, rather that our keenness in piecing together text and illustration (as George Kubler describes the iconological method) gives to the word an undue precedence, and the image often escapes the rigorous visual scrutiny it requires.

This is not, of course, to wish a moratorium on investigations of the background of this period. Plainly we will never know such crucial things as just how Malevich came to pure abstraction or what it was that transformed Kandinsky’s painting in Russia, if we have nothing more to rely on than at present. And it is most encouraging to anyone interested in Russian art to witness the recent spate of scholarly and curatorial commitment to it.

Currently we have a small Rodchenko show, organized by Jennifer Licht, at the Museum of Modern Art, and at Cornell, “Russian Art of the Revolution,” over sixty works brought together by Thomas Leavitt and Sarah Bodine. As exhibitions, these last two are not primarily educational in the sense of presenting any very new information or assessments. The Rodchenko show, almost entirely drawn from the Museum of Modern Art’s own collection, is really no more than an introduction to his work. At Cornell, there are some unfamiliar works shown, but the primary intention was to survey the period generally, including representative works by the major figures. Though limited in its sources (with one exception) to American collections, it does this admirably. With a period like Russian art where the availability of works is restricted and one is grateful to see anything and under almost any conditions, it yet comes as a special pleasure to see a survey like this: unpretentious in its ambitions, including enough “keys” to take one through the period and enough of the unusual to modify one’s idea of it.. Although its scale inevitably means that one will miss certain accents according to one’s preference, its modest presentation seemed to me a model of what an exhibition of this kind should be. The organizational separation of pre-Revolutionary painting, Suprematism, Constructivism and theatrical experiment simply presents the evidence for our looking. What, then, are the crucial issues here? They all relate, I suggest, to the essential non-purity of the art: the way in which its self-referential character is modified by association with factors from extra-artistic areas, factors which are both the stimulus for its existence and yet potential weaknesses to its formal integrity, of which the four most important are those of modernism and socialism, and machinism and theatricalization.


. . . it is the same old story: in the beginning form is always neglected for content
—Engels, 1893.

When Lenin was in exile in Zurich, the Dadaists were his near neighbors and one of their associates once challenged the degree of his radicalism. His reply: “I don’t know how radical you are or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself”1 One wonders, however, whether both parties were talking about the same thing. The artists’ insistence on radicalism was that of a complete break with the past and though they continued to use formal devices inherited from tradition these were imbued with a novel direction, itself stimulated by their desire to be new men. And as for the Dadaists, the artists of revolutionary Russia tended to believe that “yesterday” (in Anatoly Marienhov’s words) was being “crushed like a dove / By a motor / Emerging madly from the garage.” Again and again in the writings of revolutionary artists we see the revolution represented as a grand and total dividing line to mark the beginning of the present. Marxism, however, cannot be so against the past. Although the present is seen to dominate the past, because of the nature of dialecticism, the past is also the content of the present. Hence, the aggressively “modern” interpretation of art, although inflamed by political events, is in no sense an institutional response to them. Lenin, we remember, felt inclined to point out that “We are much too much iconoclasts . . . Why worship the new as a god to be obeyed just because it is ’new’? That is nonsense, sheer nonsense. There is a great deal of conventional art hypocrisy in it, too, and respect for the art fashions of the West.”2 His reference to Western fashions is apt, for when it comes to it, the “revolutionary” styles were imported bourgeois ones. What differs, however, is the intention of the artists who employed them.

In the tailoring of Western post-Cubist modes to the new situation we have an excellent reminder that what is important in studying artistic developments is not so much the evolution of individual elements or motifs per se as the evolution of the place of such elements or motifs within the structural complex of the work of art and hence within the milieu of artistic tradition. What to Picasso was an extension of Cubist painting into three-dimensionality was applied by Tatlin as a “culture of materials” which stressed far more an inherent content of tangible realities. This evolution of functions becomes especially significant for Russian revolutionary art when it attempted to prescribe a deterministic content system for itself in the Vkhutemas form experiments. Here was a willingness to remold inherited forms, a deliberate intent to “fix” element and function for all time: and we see the application of such systems in painting, architecture, theater design and so on. This approach is, of course, anti-experimental, or, more precisely, the rationalization of earlier experiment into a kind of eternal vocabulary. Just as history was supposed to end and the state wither, so art was to be transformed into containers of cosmic quintessences, basic forms which would give “meaning” to the social contexts in which they were used.

The immediate source for this kind of Formalist experiment was not only architectural in origin but derived as much from Malevich’ssystem of elements, that is, from a system decidedly a-temporal in its philosophical basis. While it is true that Malevich in his writings draws a line through Cubism and Futurism up to Suprematism, this is more to explain the developing purity of his method than to insist on its especially “modern” characteristics. In contrast, the art of Constructivism was “modern” in a polemical way, and that it was to develop into an anti-art was somehow inevitable. The far greater commitment of artists like Tatlin and Rodchenko to Communist ideals places them within that category of modern art where progress was more than a means to new forms but itself was the container of value. The sociological differentia in their definition of art meant that they could never simply maximize art’s natural subject to the extent that Malevich did, but rather looked upon it as an instrument for socialist construction “in the same class as the metallurgical industry,” as Eisenstein put it.3 And the Constructivists were right that theirs was the true art of the Revolution. It could never have flourished in the way it did had not the Revolution so impressed the fact that historical circumstances are not inevitable and natural but the man-made products of factors which can be swayed. Once the Revolution made history thus accessible, the “modern” could become a critical ingredient in a quite new way. The “production” theories of the Art of the Commune which preceded Constructivism immediately following the Revolution made this more or less explicit. “Art is simply work” wrote Kushner;4 and the concept of “the work of art,” of art as labor for producing material goods, followed. Rod-chenko’s achievement showed both the possibilities and the limitations of such a stand. The truly modern artist turned out to be the one who left “art” behind, to whom art was a means of changing environment by turning to the crafts and for whom factory production was the ideal. For an artist convinced of the virtues of collectivism anything which distinguished artist from masses, producer from consumer, intellectual from manual worker, could only be an embarrassment. And high art makes all these distinctions.


Our work must be based on a close and careful study of the program viewed in the light of our political and social conditions. Its essential goal must be the definition and creation of the SOCIAL CONDENSERS of our age.
—Moses Ginzburg, 1928.

To transform the nature of the social current: such was the ambition of the Constructivists. And following the tradition of social utopian artists they called themselves mechanics, to stress their anonymity of approach.5 If the nature of Marxism hadn’t itself forced their path towards the industrial ideal, the tradition of modernism would have done so. The high points of Revolutionary mechanolatry—Tatlin’s tower, Lissitzky’s Electro-Mechanical Show, and so on—are well known. But what seems as interesting is that relationship of machinism and the cult of efficiency which characterized post-Revolutionary society.

The ambition towards efficiency and economy is a common factor linking Suprematist painting, Meyerhold’s biotechnics, Kuzmin’s communal housing projects, indeed, the whole concept of the “work of art” and its organization. This is oneof the paradoxes of the Revolutionary art-life alliance. While the democratic or universalist pretensions of that period insisted on an esthetic of total application through either a highly reductive system of elementary forms or a sacrifice of the separate status of art, the parallel technological idealism could not heip but foster an opposite anti-democratic kind of rationality. The machine itself is often presented as being responsible for social fragmentation and alienation but it is in fact in the concept of efficiency, which underlies the application of modern technology, that the crucial value factors are to be noted. It is not the factory itself but the aligning of human labor along factory-formulated analogies, that is, according to measured units, which dictates stylized identities.6 It is not to be wondered at, however, that when social identities were relatively undefined the pressure to manufacture simplified roles was considerable. Just as a Malevich or a Lissitzky viewed his art as the isolation of variable units to be controlled as raw material, so the architect Kuzmin advocated a communal house wherein “supercollectivized” life was regulated for its inhabitants from intervals of two minutes (“to the cloakrooms”) to eight hours (“work in the mine”).7 And if this example is extreme, we have only to think of what might be called the Chicago-syndrome in Soviet life, the fanatical response to industrialized America which affected such fields as dance (Foregger’s importation of the Fox Trot because he saw it as the unconscious realization of the rhythms of American machine life), theater (Meyerhold’s biomechanics were often dubbed “Taylorism” after that version of time-and-motion study) and music (the “engineerists” group, the jazz enthusiasm, etc.), as well as architecture, literature and so on. This was really looking to some outside ideal which seemed to have produced not only the kind of results but the kind of human beings worth emulating.

Two pairs of structures dependent on the idea of economical manipulable elements may be observed within Russian Revolutionary art. The first pair is best expressed through the contrast of Malevich and Tatlin. Suprematism was in basis involved with the creation of a kind of diagram for associations, an illusionistic image of elements in free space (“a color semaphore in its infinite abyss”), which would stand as an illustration, or more precisely a display (that Malevich’s abstraction derived from his theatrical work seems very significant when one considers his work as a kind of presentation of controlled artifacts, of essentially fictive character, within a decidedly dramatic arena),8 this display of forms in an artificial space “serving to condense and organize a wide range of connotations, free of the irrelevancies, distractions, and qualifications of which daily life mainly consists,”9 that is, intended to express cosmic, nonmaterialistic properties. In contrast, Tatlin, though similarly involved with the adjustment of discrete elements, wished to refute any illusionistic possibility and simply to express the latent nature of the materials he used: material would suggest form. Form would be relevant to material. And the artist creating a new world of material objects would wish to impress the analogous constructiveness and material economy in everyday life.

The second pair of form-space structures is best illustrated in the theater, where the two main directions of experiment involved the creation of stylized display areas for pseudo-mechanical movements or the construction of a kind of behavioral environmental space of participational involvement. While these two directions often overlapped, the first is best seen in the innovations of Tairov on the basis of the “stylistic” theater where the director was elevated to a total controller and shaper of materials who “exhibited” actors and settings alike in a consciously “theatrical” and conventionalized manner to make a cogently unified display. This also characterizes Meyerhold’s work prior to his involvement with circus-based forms, when his ambitions become more and more relevant to the idea of total theater, rejecting on the way Tairov’s consistent esthetic structure for a far more turbulent and unresolved dynamic of contrasts, disruptions, and dialectic “editing.” But the true realization of the total environmental space took place in such events as Evreinov’s reconstruction of the storming of the Winter Palace or such projects as Annekov’s “The Liberation of Labor” and Meyerhold’s Khodinskaia Field project, where thousands of actors and many tons of equipment from airplanes to armored trains played out a theatricalization of daily life. But what links the two directions is the sense that the theater should be transformed into a decidedly “conventionalized” medium. Following those pioneers like Appia or Craig, the director became “a despotic drill-master” who “must play fictively with the scenic materials.”“ That actors and ”extras“ are so manipulated epitomizes how, in th evolutionary situation, reality as such gave way to symbol. And symbol, as Maeterlinck understood, ”cannot bear the active presence of a man."11

Amidst this depersonalization and idealist simplification one dissenting voice was that of a former Potemkin mutineer, Yevgeny Zamyatin, whose publication of a Utopian novel, We, led to his break with the revolutionaries. In a mathematically controlled world of cubic houses and glass cities where the “tables of hourly commandments” map out life like Kuzmin’s schedules he presented the potential dangers of uncritical modernism in a manner never equalled: space rockets, concentration camps, brain surgery, electronic music, the Iron Curtain, and so on. To Zamyatin the choice in such a world was simple: “Happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. They were not offered a third!”12

Our life is a theater piece, in which nonobjective feeling is portrayed by objective imagery.
—Malevich, 1927.

These background factors have been discussed here because the socialistic “modern” and the technologically “theatrical” are crucial to an understanding of the special premises within which Russian Revolutionary art operated. They also go far to explain why much of this period’s art may resemble diagrams for something not yet made or be emotionalized symbols for states of reality rather than simply paintings or sculptures. This is what I mean by insisting that by and large this is not a pure art and cannot be this because its theory of art is not pure. The dependence on modernism as content rather than as vehicle inevitably means that art itself becomes the vehicle rather than the result. Similarly, the theatricalization of form in space might well become an agent of persuasion instead of a self-referent entity. With this in mind we might appreciate the available options open to artists at this time, the kind of choices possible.

At Cornell, Kandinsky’s Red Oval of 1920 is hung in a room mostly containing paintings and drawings by Malevich. This contrast of a single work by an artist whose natural gifts were on the side of painterliness, of touch, atmospheric spaces and rich and heavy orchestration of color, literally surrounded by pictures dependent on ascetic linearity, explicitly prescribed space, programmatic color contrast and geometric drawing could not be more striking either in purely esthetic or in historical terms. Kandinsky’s painting represents, of course, the moment of his transition between these two sets of systems: an example of his willful tightening and flattening of his earlier manner to repudiate the last vestiges of natural allusion.13 But what in Malevich is a regulated play of dynamic forces based on definitive geometric forms, totally non-volumetric in implication, which depend for their effect on flatness and contrast is in Kandinsky but a somewhat stilted and mechanical receptacle for forms whose interdependence and whose relationship to the picture surface and support is never clear. It seems strange that two artists, both predisposed to a rather mystical interpretation of the function of art, should display such very opposite understandings of their pictorial language. What is pertinent here, however, is that Malevich’s spirituality was ever tempered by an appreciation of art derived notfrom a philosophical foundation in quite the same way as Kandinsky’s but rather from a keen awareness of recent artistic developments.

A comparison of their respective theoretical writings only confirms this. Kandinsky refers of course to others’ paintings, but has as much to say about music and spiritualism, and his formal pronouncements seem a priori and categorical when compared with the very remarkable mass of formal analysis, criticism and classification with which Malevich’s books are packed. Malevich’s critical ability still appears outstanding (when one has become accustomed to his oddness of style); and especially crucial is the fact that he responded so well to Cubism, which he recognized as being the real testing block for advanced art. Kandinsky, in contrast, owed far more to a combination of Jugendstil and Impressionism. He writes in his autobiography that the two most important influences on his art were Monet’s Haystacks and Wagner’s Lohengrin.14 While this appears quite natural to the antebellum Expressionist it is hardly a fitting preparation for the kind of rigorously controlled reductive practitioner he wished to be from the time of his Russian interlude.

This is not, of course, to say that Kandinsky’s “cold period” works could not be successful but that one simply has the impression that his systemization of formal units seems now strangely inappropriate in its subsuming of painting, that is, the art of painting, to an overtly didactic purpose. It cannot be said enough that the critical dilemma in such work is to distinguish between pedagogical importance and artistic value. The point is that a critical fixation of tendencies, on uncovering theoretical or ideological systems, such as is demanded in a historical study of an art which depended so much on such systems approves the systems it uncovers at its peril, for to approve (or dismiss) trends in the a particular is to judge intentions, not results. While any worthwhile historical criticism must scrutinize its subject to elucidate not only its immediate individual structure but its place within tradition and the broader systems within which it operates, if art is seen as nothing but its place in tradition or system, history becomes more important than art and we start making judgments of “importance,” not value; and, equally crucial, we show ourselves willing to effect a greater or smaller degree of value dispensation in the name of the tradition or system we support. This may seem too obvious to be said, but is worth saying here precisely because the so integral relationship of art, theory and society in this period may obfuscate our perception of value. Social and artistic responsibility are not identical, neither does convincing theory make convincing art.

Malevich is a continual reminder of this. Compared to Kandinsky, his theoretical propositions are hard to decipher: his definitions of Suprematism waver alarmingly from one text to another. In contrast,where Kandinsky’s pictures are confused, his are lucid and his theories seem comfortably redundant when confronting the work. The irrationality of his interpretation of the function of space in painting, his idea of a kind of cosmic continuum within which float elemental forms, is indeed supported by the works themselves: their metaphorical implications are never absent; but what is more striking is the way in which these free elements are yet anchored to the picture surface as frontal masses—and even their spatial overlappings cannot destroy this. It has been suggested that Malevich’s knowledge of Leger’s stressing of contrast in the development of Cubism was crucial to his formation of the Suprematist method.15 What, however, may have been as important is his “alogical” prelude where collaged elements were included in the paintings (Composition 0.10 at Cornell is an example of this mode).16 Taking his lead from Tatlin’s reliefs of 1914, Malevich briefly experimented with the place of real physical objects in their relationship to the plane of the work. The very fact that in some paintings large objects were fastened to the surface, then removed and their images painted instead, seems to confirm that having first established the place of the object within a concrete syntax he could then go on to create illusionistic representations of solid elements which have all the weight (and sense of being “fixed” to the surface) of the “real” thing. Hence, though Malevich’s work depends heavily on what is best called an effect of dramatic artifice, and although he drew back from a purely formalinterpretation of the art of painting because of his insistence on mystic consciousness, the paintings and drawings continue to impress in their real physical substantiality.

Malevich’s disciple, El Lissitzky, is represented at Cornell by his Chad Gadya “Jewish” lithographs, his Victory over the Sun suite, the famous photomontage of Tatlin working on his “tower,” the Story of Two Squares book, and several of his Prouns. We have got so used to hearing Lissitzky called the great eclectic or the bridge between Suprematism and Constructivism that we sometimes tend to forget that while he was these things and while much of his importance was as a propagandist, the very inventiveness of his oeuvre makes him an artist very much to be reckoned with in his own right. In one sense, Lissitzky accomplished that which Kandinsky found difficult: the organization of related flat and illusionistic elements as if floating in a controlled space; and he accomplished this precisely because his intentions were never primarily those of a painter. His space is decidedly architectural and volumetric within which he makes utopian images quite outside the limits of a painter’s range. Proun was for ever riot the organization of surfaces but the control of space, in a full sense representing what I called earlier the theatricalization of form in space so as to become a persuasive agent, a kind of plan for future action. Lissitzky himself says as much when he defines (“Proun’s power is to create aims”) and talks of its development from an invented diagram to the organization of life forms: “Proun begins as a level surface, turns into a model of three-dimensional space, and goes on to construct all the objects of everyday life.”17 This itself accounts for his somewhat misleading interpretation of Malevich’s Suprematism, for he wished to insist that the only direction for art was away from the integral plane toward an “irrational” illusionism of a plastic space which permitted “infinite extensibility into the background and foreground.” This is exactly the effect of his Prouns, which give the impression of weightless elements forming themselves in axial combinations but momentarily arrested in their colloidal suspension, around which “the viewer must circle like a planet . . . (while) the picture . . . remains immobile in the centre.”18

It is also interesting to note how Lissitzky was able at times to transform his method into a narrative one: his body of Prouns seen as a whole function analogously to scenes in the life of forms (here again, the theatrical comparison is appropriate) while the Story of Two Squares and the Victory over the Sun lithographs illustrating his “Electro-Mechanical Show” does this explicitly. This latter work (stimulated by Malevich’s interest in Kruchenykh’s opera and probably owing much of its theoretical foundation to Prampolini’s ideas)" is translated, however, into a personification of what in the text itself is pure abstract form. The result, in some ways similar to Duchamp’s malic molds, is a strange celebration of the depersonalized Ubermarionette.

Such a thing as neutral art in a class society does not and cannot exist.
—Communist Party Resolution on Literature, 1924.

The whole idea of Constructivist art is an anachronism. By the time Constructivism as such was defined in 1920 it had abandoned its pretensions of being an art form, and the general tenor of its theorists’ writings takes the form of warnings against making art objects as such. “Be on your guard against becoming just another esthetic school. Constructivism in art alone is nothing,” states an editorial in LEF in 1923.20 But the editorial also warns the Constructivists “against becoming applied-artist handicraftsmen.” There was, however, little alternative to either of these choices. Constructivism was never in a position to “become the supreme formal engineer of the whole of life” as it wished. Indeed, no sooner had it been created than the N.E.P. removed official support and left the “artists” to rely more and more on private patronage. It was somehow inevitable that the only non-art field open to Constructivism was applied-art handicrafts.

Its strength as art is, however, considerable:both in the form of art objects before 1920 and in typographical, theatrical and architectural design after that date. Puni’s 1915 Construction at Cornell is a vigorous assemblage in the Picasso-Tatlin tradition, and makes one wonder what became of this kind of art-making when Constructivism was disseminated into Europe. (I will return to this question shortly.) Similarly Rodchenko’s early works at the Museum of Modern Art have the same kind of uncompromising directness of approach. His famous Black on Black of 1918, in response to Malevich, is far more earthily tactile than any reproduction-can convey. Even more striking (though we do have to rely on photographs for our knowledge of these) are his wood and metal constructions of around 1919–1920: rough, simple, even rather clumsy at times, they impress in their transformation of unembellished materials into considered configurations of mass and space. (In this context it was surprising that the Rodchenko exhibition contained no photographic documentation of the very remarkable decorations undertaken by Tatlin, Yakulov and Rodchenko for the Moscow Café Pittoresque in 1917. While Rodchenko’s specific role in the creation of what Ehrenburg called “the only café that all the ‘artistic sewers’ in Europe’s capitals would envy” might have been that of a probationer, it is surely of seminal importance for an understanding of his development.)

Post-1920 Constructivism is represented at the Rodchenko exhibition by his typographic work and photography. Here we find what also occurred with Lissitzky: a tremendous vitality of invention—striking letter faces, photomontage, etc.—gradually giving way, or rather becoming disguised, in a purely propagandist format. Once art became the vehicle and not the end of the endeavor it could be used, it seems, to drive anywhere; in this case to a celebration of Stalin’s gymnasts or to that era’s fondness for deep brown images of workers. And yet, one still recognizes what Rodchenko had hoped to repudiate: his dependence on the power of his artistic sensibility.

Since the Constructivists never had the chance to develop their architectural interests in the way they desired, many of them went into the theater; and the room of theater designs at Cornell shows something of the vitality of that area, with examples by Exter, Tatlin, Popova, Vesnin and Yakulov. In addition models of the Gabo-Pevsner La Chatte and the Vesnin Man Who Was Thursday sets are to be displayed. One figure to whom attention should be drawn is Alexandra Exter, whose construction design for Scene Plastique et Gymnastique (previously seen at the Museum of Modern Art’s “Machine” show) confirms one’s impression that here is a very gifted artist, too little known, around whom some future exhibition should certainly be based. Perhaps as renowned as anything for her role as referee in the Malevich-Tatlin fist fight, she was Tairov’s principal designer andwas as responsible as the more well-known figures for the great advances in the Kamerny. Moreover, her painting of white ladder-like forms enclosing a fragmented composition of sections of interiors, still lifes and architecture which is shown in the company of Larionov and Gon-charova at Cornell certainly puts the latter Rayonnist to shame. While Exter surprises with a tightly organized dynamic painting, Goncharova appears very much a prettifier of surfaces and altogether overrated.

The impact of the Cornell show (to be at the Brooklyn Museum in June and July), as with any assembly of Russian Revolutionary art, must finally leave one with a strange sense of loss—that the tremendous promise of that era never had a proper opportunity to run its course. Moreover, when one looks at what became of the Abstractionist-Constructivist mode when it was exported into Europe in the mid twenties it is with frustration that especially the pioneering efforts of Malevich and Tatlin—the future promise of their achievements—was allowed to degenerate. The work of their heirs, of Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus painters, and their followers through to Vasarely or Biederman, show an ever-increasing sterility and flatly mechanical parody of what was once a truly revolutionary art.



1. Quoted in Robert Motherwell, ed., The Dada Painters and Poets, New York, 1951, xviii.

2. V. Clara Zetkin, Reminiscences of Lenin, New York, 1934, 12.

3. From -a statement in: J. Freeman, 1. Kunitz, L. Lozowick, Voices of October, New York, 1930, 231.

4. Cf. Richard Sherwood, “Introduction to LEF,” Form, 10, October 1969, 27–30.

5. Shaker craftsmen-artists were also called “mechanics” to ex-’ press their lack of distinction between fine and applied arts. Cf. E. D. & F. Andrews, Shaker Furniture, New Haven, 1937.

6. Cf. Daniel Bell, “Work, Alienation, and Social Control,” Dissent, Summer 1959; reprinted in Irving Howe, ed., Essential Works of Socialism, New York, 1970, 291–296.

7. The complete schedule is listed in: Anatole Kopp, Town and Revolution, New York, 1970, 153 & 155.

8. Also worth noting in this context is that Gordon Craig visited Moscow in 1911 to put on a production of Hamlet at Stanislaysky’s Moscow Arts Theatre and there constructed a setting of his famous “screens” and promoted his Ubermarionette theories. We know of Russian directors’ enthusiasms for Craig and for Appia and considering Craig’s highly “spiritual” tone in propagandizing his ideas ( ’the place is without form—one vast square of empty space is before us .. . and from that nothing shall come life . . .’ etc.) Malevich might well have been receptive towards them, and his 1913 move into abstraction via theater possibly have been motivated from this direction. Cf. Craig’s “Hamlet in Moscow: Notes for a Short Address to the Actors of the Moscow Art Theatre,” The Mask, VII, May 1915, 109–110.

9. Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, Urbana, Ill., 1967.

10. Adolph Appia, Music and the Art of Theatre, Coral Gables, Fla., 1962, 41.

11. Maurice Maeterlinck, Menus propos, Le Théâtre, Paris, 1890.

12. Cf. the account of We in: Jürgen Rühle, Literature and Revolution. A Critical Study of the Writer and Communism in the Twentieth Century, New York, 1969, 36–39.

13. Cf. Clement Greenberg’s note on Kandinsky in: Art and Culture, Boston, 1965, 111–114.

14. In: Hilla Rebav, ed., In Memory of Wasilly Kandinsky, New York, 1945, 53.

15. Cf. Troels Andersen, “Malevich on ’New Art’,” Studio International, CLXXIV, 892, September 1967, 100–105.

16. The provenance for this work is not known and the exhibition organizers would appreciate any information relevant to it.

17. “Proun” (1920), De Stijl, V. 6, June 1922; reprinted in S. Lissitzky-Küppers, El Lissitzky, Greenwich, Conn., 1968, 343–344.

18. “Suprematism in world construction” (1920) in: El Lissitzsky, 327–32B (referring in fact to Malevich.)

19. Cf. Prampolini’s remarkably similar manifesto on “Futurist Scenography” reprinted in E. T. Kirby, ed., Total Theater. A Critical Anthology, New York, 1969, 95–98.

20. Reprinted in Form, 10, October 1969, 32.