Royal constructivism

Thursday 31 Jan 2008

Vladimir Tatlin’s work at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

Anyone visiting London at the moment can’t have failed to notice the huge “From Russia” advertising campaign luring people into the Royal Academy where works of Russian and French masters such as Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse together with those by Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich are on display.

From Russia is highly controversial as the UK Government had to pass a special law to allow the work, some which is claimed to be stolen (By the Russian Government), to be safely displayed in London without it being impounded by the “rightful” owners.

Away from the controversy and nestled in between all the impressionist wonders is an architectural gem well worth a visit. One room is dedicated to Russian artist and architect Vladimir Tatlin and is dominated by replica huge model of his orginal designed to celebrate post-Zaarist Russia. To the man-in-the-street it appears strangly out of place being at first glance contemporary (it was over 100 years ago) and could well have been created last week by a twenty first century visionary architect. Soon however the mono prints on the walls depicting the original model circa 1917, catch the eye and clearly fix the timeframe.

Tatlin achieved fame as the architect who designed the huge Monument to the Third International, also known as Tatlin's Tower. Planned in 1920, the monument, was to be a tall tower in iron, glass and steel which would have dwarfed the Eiffel Tower in Paris (it was a third taller at 1,300 feet high). Inside the iron-and-steel structure of twin spirals, the design envisaged three building blocks, covered with glass windows, which would rotate at different speeds (the first one, a cube, once a year; the second one, a pyramid, once a month; the third one, a cylinder, once a day). High prices prevented Tatlin from executing the plan, and no building such as this was erected in his day.

Tatlin also founded Russian Constructivist art with his counter-reliefs — structures made of wood and iron for hanging in wall corners. He conceived these sculptures in order to question the traditional idea of painting. Later prominent constructivists included Manuel Rendón Seminario, Joaquín Torres García, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo.

Although close friends at the beginning of their careers, Tatlin and Malevich diverged when Malevich did not agree with the utilitarian program of Constructivism. This led Malevich to develop his Suprematist program in the city of Vitebsk, where he found a school called UNOVIS (Champions of the new art). Suprematism came to light in 1915 at the 0.10 exhibition, one of the main shows of Russian avant-garde, also called "the last futurist exhibition".

Tatlin also dedicated himself to the study of clothes, objects and so on. At the end of his life he started to research bird-flight, in order to provide human beings with facilities that would allow them to pursue one of the great dreams of humanity: to fly.

Visit Royal Academy website

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