Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism: explore the exhibition, introduction introduction

Aleksandr Rodchenko Design for an advertisement for the Mossel' prom (Moscow agricultural industry) cafeteria 1923

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Design for an advertisement for the Mossel’ prom (Moscow agricultural industry) cafeteria 1923

Anthony d'Offay, London © A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, Moscow, administered by DACS 2009

The Russian Revolution was accompanied by a remarkable period of artistic experiment known as Constructivism, which questioned the fundamental properties of art and asked what its place should be in a new society. The Constructivists challenged the idea of the work of art as a unique commodity, explored more collective ways of working, and looked at how they could contribute to everyday life through design, architecture, industrial production, theatre and film.

Liubov Popova (1889–1924) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891–1956) were pivotal figures in the debates and discussions that defined Constructivism. Rodchenko, whose wife Varvara Stepanova was a major artist in her own right, energetically embraced almost all of its manifestations, from advertising to photography and film. Popova’s achievements in painting, theatre, and graphic and textile design took place in spite of ill health and tragedy: her husband died of typhoid in 1919, and she spent a year recuperating from the illness herself. In 1924 she and her son both died of scarlet fever.

The Constructivists compared the artist to an engineer, arranging materials scientifically and objectively, and producing art works as rationally as any other manufactured object. This was, in theory, an art that transcended gender differences. The equality of the sexes was an important Communist principle, and this was one of the first periods in history when female artists were valued as highly as their male counterparts.

Rodchenko & Popova Room 1 Paintings 1917–18

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Modern 12 February – 17 May 2009: explore the exhibition, room 1

Rodchenko & Popova Room 2 Graphic works 1917–19

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Modern 12 February – 17 May 2009: explore the exhibition, room 2

Rodchenko & Popova Room 3 Paintings 1919–21

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Modern 12 February – 17 May 2009: explore the exhibition, room 3

Rodchenko & Popova Room 4 Graphic works 1919–21

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Modern 12 February – 17 May 2009: explore the exhibition, room 4

Rodchenko & Popova Room 5 Kandinsky

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism at Tate Modern 12 February – 17 May 2009: explore the exhibition, room 5

Rodchenko & Popova Room 6 Sculpture: Objects in Space

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room 6

Rodchenko & Popova Room 7 5 x 5 = 25 Paintings

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room 7

Rodchenko & Popova Room 8 5 x 5 = 25 works on paper

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room 8

Rodchenko & Popova Room 9 Advertising and graphic design

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 9

Rodchenko & Popova Room 10 Textiles and costumes

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 10

Rodchenko & Popova Room 11 The female journalist

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room 11

Rodchenko & Popova Room 12 Workers' Club

Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism exhibition at Tate Modern: explore the exhibition, room guide, room 12