Constructivism was a particularly austere branch of abstract art founded by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko in Russia around 1915

Naum Gabo, 'Spiral Theme' 1941
Naum Gabo
Spiral Theme 1941
Cellulose acetate and perspex
object: 140 x 244 x 244 mm
Presented by Miss Madge Pulsford 1958The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2011

Introduction to constructivism

The constructivists believed art should directly reflect the modern industrial world. Vladimir Tatlin was crucially influenced by Pablo Picasso’s cubist constructions (Construction 1914) which he saw in Picasso’s studio in Paris in 1913. These were three-dimensional still lifes made of scrap materials. Tatlin began to make his own but they were completely abstract and made of industrial materials.

By 1921 Russian artists who followed Tatlin’s ideas were calling themselves constructivists and in 1923 a manifesto was published in their magazine Lef:

The material formation of the object is to be substituted for its aesthetic combination. The object is to be treated as a whole and thus will be of no discernible ‘style’ but simply a product of an industrial order like a car, an aeroplane and such like. Constructivism is a purely technical mastery and organisation of materials.

Constructivism was suppressed in Russia in the 1920s but was brought to the West by Naum Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner and has been a major influence on modern sculpture.

Constructivism in Tate’s collection

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  • Naum Gabo, 'Model for 'Constructed Torso'' 1917, reassembled 1981
    Naum Gabo
    Model for 'Constructed Torso' 1917, reassembled 1981
    object: 395 x 290 x 160 mm
    Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1995The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2011
  • Naum Gabo, 'Linear Construction No. 2' 1970-1
    Naum Gabo
    Linear Construction No. 2 1970-1
    Plastic and nylon filament
    object: 1130 x 600 x 590 mm
    Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2011
  • El Lissitzky, '1. Part of the Show Machinery' 1923
    El Lissitzky
    1. Part of the Show Machinery 1923
    Lithograph on paper
    image: 512 x 430 mm
    Purchased 1976© DACS, 2002
  • Naum Gabo, 'Model for 'Column'' 1920-21
    Naum Gabo
    Model for 'Column' 1920-21
    Cellulose nitrate
    object: 143 x 95 x 95 mm
    Presented by the artist 1977The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2011
  • Antoine Pevsner, 'For the Facade of a Museum' 1943-4
    Antoine Pevsner
    For the Facade of a Museum 1943-4
    Welded bronze
    object: 438 x 730 x 391 mm
    Purchased 1972© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • László Moholy-Nagy, 'K VII' 1922
    László Moholy-Nagy
    K VII 1922
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1153 x 1359 mm
    frame: 1308 x 1512 x 80 mm
    Purchased 1961© DACS, 2002
  • Antoine Pevsner, 'Head' circa 1923-4
    Antoine Pevsner
    Head circa 1923-4
    object: 770 x 590 x 920 mm
    Presented by Mrs Miriam Gabo, the artist's sister-in-law 1977© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

Constructivists in focus

Alexander Rodchenko

Rodchenko worked in a variety of mediums teasing out the the components of each image  – line, form, space, color, surface, texture. He later abandoned painting in favour of photography and advertising design.

Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism
The exhibition which was at Tate Modern in 2009, starts in 1917, the year of the October Revolution, and shows how the two artists shaped the future of Russian art. Read the exhibition guide and see what artworks were on display.

In this conference, Alexander Lavrentiev discusses the three levels of the constructivist concept developed by Alexander Rodchenko, where Constructivism was the practical environment for everyday life (architecture, interior, communication design).

Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Lines of Force
This research article reflects on the successes and limitations of Rodchenko’s experiments into the concept of line, which was fundamental to the ambitions of Russian constructivism.

Naum Gabo

Gabo pioneered new ways of making sculpture from plastic, glass and metals. He started making constructions in Moscow in around 1915 alongside Antoine Pevsner and Vladimir Tatlin.

Naum Gabo, 'Model for 'Construction in Space 'Two Cones''' 1927
Naum Gabo
Model for 'Construction in Space 'Two Cones'' 1927
object: 86 x 108 x 124 mm
Presented by the artist 1977The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams/Tate, London 2011

Naum Gabo: Discovering the Archive
Listen to art historian Christina Lodder introduce Gabo through his correspondence, writings, sketches and models, from Tate archive.

Lost Art: Naum Gabo
This feature looks at Construction in Space: Two Cones, an abstract sculpture that combined geometry with a sense of movement. The original and replica are not able to go on display, due to the condition of the plastic caused over time.

Naum Gabo exhibition guide
Explore this online guide to the Gabo exhibition at Tate St Ives in 2002, which displayed Gabo’s sculptures, models and sketches for a number of major works.

The Gabo Archive
Explore the life and work of Naum Gabo through various themes with this archive of letters, works and photographs.

Constructivism in context

Watch curator Chris Stephens discuss the influence of Picasso on artists of this period and how modernity informed their work.

Lost Art: Vladimir Tatlin
This article discusses the 1917 Rusian Revolution and looks at Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, a monument which was never built. 

Naum Gabo
This feature provides an overview of Russia’s past and the pre-revolutionary world that Gabo was born into.

Naum Gabo as a Soviet Émigré in Berlin
This research article looks at Gabo’s connections with the October Revolution, arguing that he did not initially intend to stay in the West, and examining the nature of his émigré activities in this light.

Constructivism in detail

Listen to the recordings of this symposium, which explores the work of Aleksandr Rodchenko and Liubov Popova between 1917 and 1929 and how they were integral to the stylistic and theoretical underpinning of Russian Constructivism. 

Constructivism and the Art of Everyday Life
Watch these conference video recordings which looks at the relationship between art and every day life in post-war Russian constructivist art.

Naum Gabo and the Quandaries of the Replica
This Tate paper looks at Naum Gabo’s replicas and how he favoured the sculptural idea or image over the notion of the original.

Liubov Popova: From Painting to Textile Design
This paper looks at the development of Popova’s involvement with constructivism while also examining the relationship between her textile prints and the abstract language of her earlier painting. 

The Grid as a Checkpoint of Modernity
In Russia, early constructivist artists saw the grid as both a formal and ideological device. This essay looks at the history of the grid and argues that it can still be an effective device in radical art practices today.

Related glossary terms

Constructionism, concrete art, abstraction-création, cubism, modernismsuprematism