In 1923, Popova and Stepanova were invited by the first State Cotton-Printing factory in Moscow to contribute original designs for new textiles. Before the war, all such designs had been imported from the west. Popova embraced the task with gusto, creating more than a hundred highly inventive patterns for mass production. Rodchenko also made fabric and costume designs, but Popova’s work represented one of the rare occasions when Constructivist design was able to reach a genuinely popular audience without compromising its ideas. After her death, Popova was quoted by osip Brik as saying ‘no single artistic success gave me such profound satisfaction as the sight of a peasant woman buying a piece of my fabric for a dress’.
In 1921, Popova began to teach at the State Theatre workshops, applying Constructivist principles to stage and costume design. For the Constructivists, the performing arts offered an escape from the isolated environment of the studio, and a way of bringing art to the wider public.
Her most important production was The Magnanimous Cuckold 1922, a farce by Fernand Crommelynck, which Meirkhol’d used as a showcase for his system of biomechanics, an acting style based on gesture and movement. The set was a stylised mill with turning wheels, chutes and conveyer belts in operation throughout the play. Popova also designed geometric working clothes for the actors, recasting the body as an abstract element in a Constructivist composition.
Rodchenko too collaborated with Meirkhol’d on The Bedbug 1929, a satire by Mayakovsky whose proletarian hero adopts the slovenly, dissolute lifestyle of the bourgeoisie. Frozen in ice, he wakes up fifty years later in a soulless socialist utopia, which he infects with music, alcohol and love. Rodchenko was brought in to provide the futuristic designs. Unable to develop his radical ideas for furniture, clothing and architecture in real life, plays such as The Bedbug and Inga 1929 allowed him to embody them on stage.
In the early 1920s, a multitude of new cinemas opened, and audiences flocked to see the latest German and American productions. Artists worked on film magazines and designed advertising posters whose visual style echoed the bold compositions and dynamic modernity of the films themselves.
Rodchenko’s engagement with film included art direction for Boris Barnet’s Moscow in October 1927, shown at the entrance to the exhibition. He also designed the titles for Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda (‘Cine-Truth’), shown in several rooms in the exhibition. This newsreel series was intended to both document and analyse everyday life in Soviet Russia. Unusual camera angles and sophisticated editing enabled viewers to see their own lives and social surroundings in a new light. Echoing the philosophy of ‘art into life’, Vertov wanted to project his films in streets and factories rather than in cinemas, to become part of the environment they were depicting.