Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism: explore the exhibition, room 4 Graphic works 1919–21

Liubov Popova Space-Force Construction 1921

Liubov Popova
Space-Force Construction 1921

State Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

Alexander Rodchenko Construction no.95 1919

Alexander Rodchenko
Construction no.951919

Collection Otten © A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive / DACS 2009

Alexander Rodchenko Construction no. 88 1919

Alexander Rodchenko
Construction no. 881919

Private collection © A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive / DACS 2009

Even as they began to devote themselves to more applied, production-based work, artists continued to explore formal questions. The understanding was that such speculative exercises, which they called ‘laboratory work’, would lay the theoretical ground for future, more useful tasks.

These works show some of Rodchenko and Popova’s explorations of line. Strikingly, Rodchenko abandoned drawing freely by hand in favour of ruler and compass. Old ideas of artistic skill or expressive handwork are rendered redundant by the use of mechanical devices. The role of the Artist-Constructor lies, instead, in determining how elements are arranged on the canvas or page.

In his essay on line, Rodchenko explained that the delicate brushwork of the past was necessary for traditional figurative painting, in which it imitated the appearance of objects and other aspects of the visible world. for the Constructivist such subtleties were no longer required: ‘The brush… became an insufficient and imprecise instrument in the new, non-objective painting, and it was crowded out by the press, the roller, the ruling pen, the compass.’