A formative art show from 100 years ago

When constructivism took hold in Russia during the early 20th century, the rest of the world knew little of how this specific movement would change the aesthetic and standards of art in the western world. It would take a number of decades before the values of constructivism were fully appreciated by western artists. Many of them began to morph and adapt elements of Lissitzky or Rodchenko into some of the more minimalist and geometric movements that would arrive in the latter half of the 1900s. During September of 1921, nearly one hundred years ago, there was a two-part art show held in Moscow that is often considered a seminal exhibition for abstract art and played a part in the “death of painting” or the rejection of expressionist art (Rodchenko, 1921).

There were five artists who would display their works in the show,  Aleksandra Ekster, Lyubov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Vensin. There are no photos of the original gallery. Catalogues for the gallery were hand by the artists, including the cover by Alexander Vensin.

Alexander Vensin, 5×5=25 Cover, 1921

During the exhibition, Rodchenko would display three canvases of single colors. They were entirely red, yellow and blue. This piece was considered by him to be the completion of his research into Constructivism and was meant to act as a manifesto for the end of painting.

Lyubov Popova was another artist who would exude an anti-expressionist attitude in her work by displaying canvases that were left almost bare. Her near-paintless work would influence artists such as Kandinsky and Rothko.

Popova sitting with constructivist backdrop

In many ways this exhibit, along with Constructivism as a movement, would set the stage for future movements, allowing them to extract inspiration from the non-painterly aesthetic. For instance, it’s not difficult to see how Lissitzky’s Prouns would influence minimalist artwork in the mid-20th century. Below you’ll notice sterility and geometric emphasis of each piece, however Tony Smith manifested these ideas into the three-dimensional world with his enormous sculpture.

Lissitzky, Proun 1 C, 1919
Tony Smith, Die, 1962

The 5×5=25 show would play a key role in the future of not only Russian art, but art across the world. Without its influence, design would not exist in the same capacity it does today.

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