In a deep 20th century crevice, inbetween the mud and gas of the First World War and the permafrost of The Gulag Archipelago, lies the Constructivist movement in the USSR.

In an era that has witnessed Damien Hirst display his jewel-encrusted skull, it may be stupefying to know that past artists have answered the question ‘What is our role in society?’ with ‘It is to help liberate mankind’.

So here is Day Zero: October 25, 1917. From herein lies the foundation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

There are only two other events comparable in modern history, that of the American and French revolution. Indeed, this troika are the cornerstones of human social evolution and the harbingers of modernity.

The artist, the poet and the author – the unrecognised legislators of society – could now join the true historical catalyst, the proletarian, in reconstructing industry and culture together.

Alexandr Rodchenko and Liubov Popova were two such artists who chose to side with the Reds and Tate Modern has donated 12 rooms for a retrospective of their major work.

The Russian avant-garde had already established itself amongst the vanguard of the European movement even before the First World War. Despite some cursory contact with Dadaists and De Stijl artists, the Russian Constructivists were hidden behind an economic and military blockade in the years after 1917, which meant that their work took time to disseminate internationally.

From 1934 their legacy fought for recognition against the monolithic Socialist Realism movement.

This expansive exhibition hosted by the Tate Modern takes in all their major phases up until the late 20s.

Of their early work, texture and colour is used thoughtfully, but their central approach is through the straight line. It is as if the geometric shapes in Painterly Architectonics are fighting to be free of the canvas. Corners are as sharp as bayonets, layered colours turn in stepped movements.

The straight line, for Rodchenko, is the the ultimate symbol of urban modernity.

Next in the exhibition are the beginnings of the mass production of their work as they reject the concept of the alienated romantic artist, and fully embrace mass usage and industrialisation. Witness Liubov Popova’s abstract collages as embroidery designs for ‘Verbovka’, an artisan cooperative in the Ukraine; and her foray into architecture with The Struggle and Victory of the Soviets.

In Constructivism No. 104 and No. 108, Rodchenko follows the inevitable and abandons the free hand for the ruler and the compass. This is scientific art – measured, repetitious, constructed. As the economy was now planned, so too creativity. Paintings were now being created like a building – and buildings were to be created like art.

If circles are used by Rodchenko they are subservient to the straight line and texture is less important than the form.

And nowhere is the form of human shapes to be found. Their modernity is impersonal.

All this experimentation comes of age during the New Economic Policy when the Bolsheviks, desperate for economic activity, gave limited room for private profiteers.

Here Rodchenko reached his highest artistic peak in the mass appeal of product advertising. Going into partnership with Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, his use of earlier experimental techniques were marshalled for the promotion of such items as that of soap, biscuits and sweets.

Lenin and the commissars appreciated the value of visual art for propaganda in a largely illiterate nation, and the promotional poster for Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin is perhaps the greatest example of the use of symmetry in design in the entire collection.

Popova too was co-opted into frontline design work with the 1920s ‘New Everyday Life’ campaign being intent on transforming domestic life, for which she donated designs for clothing and household goods.

The exhibition finishes with a reconstruction of Rodchenko’s design for a Workers Club that was part of the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in Paris.

Then we walked out into the iPhone interior of the Tate Modern cafeteria – an institution that has often hosted the Young British Artists.

It’s best not to shed a tear at the corruption of art by big capital, but to get angry instead.
Repeat after me: If ever I come across that Mammon art fucker Damien Hirst I think I shall shoot the bastard. He is not worthy of walking on the same planet as Rodchenko and Popova.

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