Alexander Rodtschenko Exhibition in Berlin / Martin-Gropius-Bau

Martin-Gropius-Bau – Berlin

Alexander Rodtschenko
Exhibition > 18. August 2008

Alexander Rodchenko is one of the great artists of the Russian Constructivism of the first half of the 20th century. His works are well-known worldwide and he still is one of the most important exponents of the modern movement. Before discovering photography in the mid 20s as a new media, he had already excelled in Moscow as an innovative artist interested in all forms of artistic expression. His idea of photography was of a total break from the artistic photography of epochal changes in Russia and in Europe.

Alexander Rodtschenko
Lilia Brik Portrait for the Poster “Knigi”, 1924
Vintage gelatine silver print cut out and pasted on pink paper,
Private collection
© A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Alexander Rodchenko was a young, left wing artist when the October revolution broke out in 1917. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1891, the son of a theatre craftsman. In 1901 the family moved to Kazan where Rodchenko attended art school in 1910. There he met the artist Warwara Stepanowa, who later became his wife. In 1914 he moved to Moscow and studied for a short time at the Stroganow School for applied arts. Even then he rejected the established concepts of a sensualistic, middle-class art and moved towards abstract painting.

In 1916 he met Vladimir Tatlin who invited him to an exhibition he had organized “Magazin„ (The store) in which Kasimir Malewitsch, Ljubow Popowa and Alexandra Exter also took part. After the revolution, like many other avant-garde artists, Rodchenko played a role in the creation of new structures of artistic production in the young Soviet Union. From 1918 until 1921 he was a member of IZO Narkompros (section for visual arts in the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment). In 1920 he was a founder member of INChUK (Institute of Artistic Culture) and developed, together with Wassily Kandinsky and other artists, the idea of a network of Art Museums throughout the whole country.
Between 1920 and 1930 he was a professor at the Faculty of Metal work at the WChUTEMAS/WChUTEIN (Higher State Artistic-Technical Institute). In 1921 he announced the end of painting on canvas after spatial constructions followed his essential contribution to abstraction (compositions of dots and lines without perspective). In 1922 he took part with his work in the „First Russian Art Exposition“ at the Gallery Van Diemen in Berlin.

Alexander Rodtschenko
Soviet Life
Project of the magazine’s cover. 1944
Private collection
© A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Alexander Rodtschenko
Political Football, Photomontage for the Magazine Za rubezhom, 1930
Private collection
© A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

In the later artistic discussions of the 20s, the role of technology acquired a greater importance. In the circle of the Constructivists, of which Rodchenko was part, the solution was found: “Art in Production”. From this Rodchenko developed the idea of an artist-engineer, who considers art mainly as the design of objects of utility. He worked in advertisement together with Wladimir Majakowski, he designed murals, banners, kiosks.

For Mayakovski’s poetry book „Pro eto“ (About This) Rodchenko made the first photomontages out of real fragments as interpretation independent of the literary text. He was also one of the founders of modern typography. At the same time he devoted himself increasingly to photography. In 1924 he bought his first camera. The first pictures he took were of his family, art friends and colleagues of the magazine LEFsuch as Wladimir Majakowski, Ossip Brik and Ljubow Popowa. In 1925 he designed the Russian pavilion for the Exhibition “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels modernes” in Paris where Rodchenko bought himself a new camera, an Ica 4×6,5. With this camera he was able to explore new subjects and views outdoors. On his return to Moscow he started to document the architectural and social changes of the city. One of his most famous series is: “Buildings in the Mjasnitzkaja-Street” in which he shows architecture from an extremely low angle. In the following years he strolled through Moscow and took photographs of the latest constructivist buildings, worker’s clubs, factories with modern plants and canteen kitchens, telegraph poles, power stations, staircases and parks. He fixes the images from extreme angles from above and from below, in diagonal, sections and details. For the visual sensitivity of the time this was an unusual procedure. However, according to him, the new tasks and topics required a new form of presentation: „We must revolution our optical perception. We must remove the veil from our eyes, which means “from the umbilical”, and the most interesting shots of the modern age are those taken from above downwards and from below upwards and their diagonals.” ( 1928 ).

The photographs were published in 1923 in the magazine LEF which he co-founded, and later in NovyLEF for which Rodchenko designed the First Page. In NovyLEF he published his thoughts on the function of photography in the sense of perceptivepsychological considerations. “The modern city with its multi-storey buildings, factory buildings, factories etc. the commercial areas with two or three story buildings, trams, cars, three-dimensional neon signs, steam-driven ocean liners, aeroplanes, all this (…), has necessarily changed the psychology of the traditional perception to a great extent. It seems as if only a camera is able to illustrate modern life.“ ( 1928 )

Alexander Rodtschenko
Girl with a Leica. 1934
Artist print,
Private collection
© A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

Alexander Rodtschenko
Guard near Shukhov Tower, 1929
Artist print,
Private collection
© A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008

However in 1928 Rodchenko was becoming subject to increasing criticism. As soon as his photographs were published in the magazine Novy LEF, the magazine Sowjetskoje commented his photographs as „dangerous“ and „bourgeois formalism“. He was defamed as a follower of Moholy-Nagy’s and Man Ray’s experimental photography. The political reason was a stronger use of photography as a means for socialistic mass-communication, which should be clearly „readable“. Soviet publishers asked again for traditional landscape, portrait and documentary photography. In 1930 Rodchenko had to leave his teaching post at WChUTEMAS and in 1931 he was excluded from the group Oktjabr which had formed in 1928 from the group Novy LEF.

In the thirties, Rodchenko worked with his wife Warwara Stepanowa as an Art Creator for many editions of the magazine SSSR na strojke (USSR in construction). 1933 he travelled to Karelia for a special edition of the magazine to report on the construction of the White Sea channel, which had to be built within 500 days, mainly by prisoners. In the period of big propaganda trials in the thirties, he started to paint again, mainly subjects from the circus world, which he also took pictures of. In 1940 an edition on the circuses was planned in the magazine SSSR na strojke which was never published due to the war. After the war, although he was in poor health, he experimented with colour photography and worked as an Art Creator. Alexander Rodchenko died in Moscow on 3rd December 1956.

The exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau shows the many facets of Rodchenko’s innovative photographic work: the beginning of photomontage, the portraits of his friends and family, partially as multiple angles, the experiments with perspectives, picture structures, effects of light and shadows, the reports with the montage of text and pictures and also the series on the circus and the last experiments with colour photography. For the first time it will be possible to view works from the estate managed by the heirs. Olga Sviblova, Director of the „ Moscow House of Photography“, acted as curator for

Berliner Festspiele in cooperation with the Moscow City Government and Culture Committee. An exhibition of the Moscow House of Photography. Curated by Olga Sviblova, Director. Sponsored by the Sparkassen-Kulturfonds of the Deutschen Sparkassen und Giroverbandes

Text © Martin-Gropius-Bau
Images © A. Rodtschenko Archiv / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008
All rights reserved


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~ by Stampfli & Turci on August 10, 2008.

One Response to “Alexander Rodtschenko Exhibition in Berlin / Martin-Gropius-Bau”

  1. […] Alexander Rodtschenko Exhibition in Berlin / Martin-Gropius-Bau […]

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