New York

Alexander Rodchenko

American Institute of Architects

Alexander Rodchenko was a leading figure of the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde, and one of Modernism’s most vigorous proponents and visionary talents. His work shown here, including drawings that have never been seen in this country before, were obtained through the efforts of Alessandra Latour, curator of this gallery, with the cooperation of Rodchenko’s daughter Vavara Rodchenko, his grandson Alexander Lavrentjev, and the State A. B. Shchusev Architectural Museum in Moscow.

The subject of the earliest drawing in the show, Carnival, 1914, is one that Rodchenko returned to later in his photographs of the circus. This colored sketch, a figurative composition, reveals not only Rodchenko’s roots in representational art but echoes of Art Nouveau in the simplified figures of women. Several works from 1917 indicate the quantum esthetic leap he took in the three intervening years—years in which World War I and the Russian Revolution completely transformed the world around him. During this period his work became more and more abstract, as in the “Compass and Ruler” drawings of 1914–16 (none of which, unfortunately, were included here), developing his ideas on Nonobjectivism at the same time that Suprematism and Constructivism were evolving in the Russian avant-garde. The collage-drawing and watercolors from 1917 that were shown here indicate the direction in which Rodchenko was moving: the application of Nonobjective principles of color and form to design. The same vocabulary of faceted geometry and overlapping structures that he used in his drawings and paintings can be seen in the lamps that he designed in 1917 for the Café Pittoresque in Moscow. The drawings for these lamps are rendered in a spare style, with erasures showing the care that he took in finetuning the individual planar elements to maximize the impact of the total object.

Rodchenko’s astonishing ability to discern the dynamic potentials of plane and line (especially of line) and to realize them in concrete form comes through in every area in which he worked. Perhaps this is what enabled him to create new plastic metaphors for the rhythms and constructive life-force of the city, the speed and energy of the new industrialized society that was the ideal of the young Soviet nation. Included here were examples of his achievements in almost every medium up to 1932: drawings, watercolors, designs for newspaper kiosks and for new urban structures, wall decorations, graphic work, and photography. It is especially in the drawings that we get a close look at Rodchenko’s sensibility and can feel the passion of his belief in the symbolic power of visual statement.

Ronny Cohen