Posts tagged with "constructivism":

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A new look at montage in the practice of architecture and art

Since its inception in the late 19th century, montage has proven to be a fertile subject. It seems to disappear for a time, only to resurface as a thought-provoking monograph or revisionist survey. This year alone we have witnessed two major exhibitions on the subject: The Guggenheim presented a fine collection of Josef Albers’s photo-collages, followed by the The Ends of Collage, a tripartite international exhibition dedicated to the medium and its legacies. These shows focused on the techniques, themes, and emergence of collage-montage as a quintessential modern medium. Both conform to standard explorations dedicated to presenting works characterized by juxtapositions of fragments of visual material that have been reassembled to yield alternative readings.

Before Publication: Montage in Art, Architecture and Book Design offers a new take and makes a significant contribution to the vast body of literature on the subject. Rather than displaying finished works, this book focuses on the moment during the “liminal status of the work of art between its private inception and its public presentation,” or the mysterious, invisible process of selecting, gathering, and arranging “fragments of reality.” The eight essays collected and edited by Nanni Baltzer and Martino Stierli range widely, revisiting well-trodden terrain while moving into various new territories. But all eight are connected by a concern with the ephemeral moment before completion and presentation.

Several of the essays seem to stretch the traditional definition of montage. For example, “Drawing and/as Montage,” by Antonio Somaini, discusses Sergei Eisenstein’s drawings, some of which were associated with his teaching and part of his Notes for a General History of Cinema project. At first glance, the works on paper seem to be a scattering of personal notations in a private language of eccentric impenetrable symbols. But Somaini decodes Eisenstein’s markings to read as indications of passages through place over time, which can then be understood as a kind of montaging of thought. According to the author, montage in Eisenstein’s hands becomes an instrument of orientation, like a map within a history that would otherwise remain an intricate labyrinth.

A more obvious topic, Richard Anderson’s “Montage and the Mediation of Constructivist Architecture,” discusses the prominence of photomontage and filmic montage within the constructivist architectural practice. In their struggle for a purely modern architecture, these architects turned to the language of montage and exploited its potential for obstructing or transcending traditional modes of communication. Architectural publications such as SA (Contemporary Architecture) deployed what they termed a “montage of facts” to describe the way their articles displayed notations and dossiers of references on the page. In general discussions of urbanism, montage appeared as a conceptual umbrella for an array of spatial figures used by architects to describe an inventive approach to concerns of human habitation. The essay closes with the work of Ivan Leonidov who had developed a sophisticated system to articulate his spatial and cultural concepts, which he termed “photo-models.” Anderson cites the complex project for a Palace of Culture of 1930 in which Leonidov exploited typical montage techniques of reorientation and inversion to generate a visual heterogeneity capable of multiplying the reader’s points of view. To underscore his position, Anderson includes one of Leonidov’s charming montages, “Dirigible over the Pyramids.” The absurdist, surreal humor presages the work of Archigram and the avant-garde groups of the 70s.

Baltzer and Stierli continue their efforts to broaden the notion of collage/montage with Jason Hill’s essay “Ad Reinhardt Assembles a News Picture.” Reinhardt, known primarily for his dark yet luminous abstract paintings, was also a writer and an eccentric illustrator. He worked regularly for the nonideological leftist paper PM during the 1940s as a “collager,” a job that was described by the editor as involving “the art of pasting up paper, pictures, drawings, or what have you to create an effect.” From his huge file of 19th-century clippings, the artist would cull bits of images, cutting and splicing them together for his stories. When he couldn’t find the perfect piece to complete the concept, he would simply draw or draft it in by hand. According to Hill, the staunchly anti-fascist editors recognized that pictorial journalism had become the instrument of editorial duplicity in support of reactionary positions. Reinhardt’s handmade works offered a way to distinguish their publication from the others by enlisting the mind of the reader. His illustrations required “looking and seeing,” active processes with an implicit moral imperative. Hill believes that for Reinhardt the collages provided a way of bridging his two worlds: the world of abstraction with its absolute rejection of pictorial reference, and that of the artist/illustrator who participates in a larger conversation about urgent public issues.

By avoiding a discussion of the final product, Before Publication permits us to explore more profoundly what guides the mind and hand of the “montager.” The essays, then, might be said to treat the “how” of collage-making as an aid to grasping the “why.”

All together the collection provides a contribution to the literature by demonstrating that montage can be a more elastic and inclusive medium than previously thought. It should be mentioned that the book itself has been elegantly and cleverly designed as a montage, both in terms of its formal qualities as well as in the selection of essays.

Before Publication: Montage in Art, Architecture and Book Design Nanni Baltzer and Martino Stierli, University of Chicago Press $39.00

Nancy Goldring is a New York–based artist.

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MoMA exhibit will examine Constructivism during the rise of the Russian avant-garde

This December, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York will showcase the role of Supremacism and Constructivism in Russia's art world between 1912 and 1934. The emphatically titled exhibit, A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, will fall in line with the centennial of the Russian Revolution in 2017 and display works relating to the realms of painting, drawing, sculpture, prints, book and graphic design, film, photography, and architecture. A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Gard will feature works from some of Russia's leading figures within the aforementioned disciplines. These include Vladimir Tatlin, Iakov Chernikov, El Lissitzky, Kasimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, and Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, among others. The exhibition will use their work to show the sense of creative urgency, radical cross-fertilization, and synthesis that was present during the era. The exhibit will also illustrate the Russian avant-garde's impact on the sociopolitics and the production of art at the time. In addition, utilitarian objects that reflect that period's changing in production methods and social and political climate will be on display. Architecture–and in particular, Constructivist architecture—is due to feature in A Revolutionary Impulse. Work from renowned Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin will be exhibited; they were famously seen at The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10 (zero-ten), held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in December 1915. Nonrepresentational counter-reliefs–reliefs with a particularly pronounced tensionfrom Tatlin's rare Brochure for Tatlin’s counter-reliefs exhibited at 0.10 are due to be on display. Tatlin, though, isn't the only Constructivist architect who'll be featured. Iakov Chernikov's Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions in Color, 101 Architectural Miniatures–his work to imagine a future symbolizing the avant-garde culture within the Soviet Union, never realized due to Joseph Stalin's opposition to the Constructivism movement—will also be on view. As too will be Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist composition Airplane Flying which was exhibited alongside Tatlin and Chernikov's work at 0.10, 101 years ago. Malevich's later Suprematist compositional workWhite on White (1918), one of the iconoclastic paintings during its time, will also be exhibited. A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde will be open to the public from December 03, 2016 through March 12, 2017.
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Find the best of Moscow's constructivist architecture with this new map

The motherland of constructivist architecture, Moscow is home to many of the world's best examples of the former hallmark Soviet style. However, many constructivist buildings such as the Narkomfin and Shukhov Tower are now at risk of demolition. This map of Moscow detailing the whereabouts of the city's constructivist icons, which was released this month, makes viewing them (while they're still here) all the easier. "For us, the highlight, more than any individual building or architect, was walking for days across Moscow to find and explore these buildings," said Derek Lamberton, founder of Blue Crow Media, the company who published the map. "It was as good a way to see the city that I've experienced." Lamberton, in fact, focused his Master's dissertation at the University College London on the Russian avant-garde. The map's designer Jaakko Tuomivaara also did the same while at the Royal Academy of Art. Together, the pair travelled to Moscow, sampling the city's constructivist offerings to help them create and aesthetic for the map. The resultant map showcases 50 buildings. Working with preservation campaigner and photographer Natalia Melikova and Nikolai Vassiliev of DOCOMOMO Russia, Lamberton was able to identify the most critical and influential examples of constructivist architecture in the city. Many of these come from the prolific constructivist architect Konstantin Melnikov. "The highlights, stylistically, are certainly Melnikov's buildings, but historically Ginzburg's Narkomfin with its early attempt to manifest the experiment of communal living is essential," Lamberton said. Poignantly, the Narkomfin's tenuous existence was recently in the news when it was announced that it's owners plan to transform it into “business class accommodation.” Lamberton added: "Constructivism is remarkable stylistically and as a representation of such an intensely rich historical moment. It embodies the spirit of the complicated and exciting post-revolution era in a dynamic manner that is easily comprehensible to an onlooker today. The highlights, stylistically, are certainly Melnikov's buildings, but historically Ginzburg's Narkomfin with its early attempt to manifest the experiment of communal living is essential." Up next is the "Brutalist Washington, DC Map," due out in October. The maps keep coming after that too. "In November we will release a 20th-century overview of Berlin," Lamberton said. "For Spring 2017 we have the following: Brutalist Sydney Map, Modernist Belgrade Map, Brutalist Paris Map." Those interested can find their maps here.
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Could the Narkomfin building soon be restored?

Admired by Le Corbusier, Moshe Safdie and Denys Lasdun, The Narkomfin building has stood for 86 years. Completed in 1930, the building was designed by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis of the Organization of Contemporary Architects Group (OSA). The block of 45 flats sits on Novinsky Boulevard in central Moscow and is revered by many as a leading precedent for Constructivist architecture. However, despite its listing on the Russian cultural heritage register, the future of the now vacant and decaying structure hangs in the balance. Though only being active for five years while practicing as an architectural association in the former Soviet Union, OSA is considered to be the first Constructivist architecture studio. The Narkomfin provided Ginzburg with the opportunity to test theories on interior layout, form, and communal living. Using reinforced concrete, the building originally comprised a series of apartments elevated on pilotis that were joined to a shared amenity space. It was built for high-ranking employees at the Commissariat of Finance—one of the USSR's most important government offices—and tenants occupied two-story condos, sharing kitchens, washing space, and a kindergarten. Bedrooms face east, allowing the morning sunlight to enter while living spaces face west to make use of the evening light. These luxuries, based on Constructivist theory, were ridiculed by Stalin as bourgeois in 1929, and after trading multiple, negligent owners in the years that followed, the building has severely deteriorated. According to The Moscow Times, past owners had attempted to make a re-development of the building profitable, though the hindrance of poor materials proved a hurdle too many. "There is no easy way to transform Narkomfin into the luxurious apartments beloved by Moscow developers," writes Howard Amos. "After all, who needs tiny apartments with no kitchen?" Moisei Ginzburg's family, however, is committed to ensuring the building's preservation. His son Vladimir contributed efforts toward research and preservation and Moisei's grandson, Alexei, has continued those efforts. According to him, there is enough information on the building available to replicate its form as well as its hallmark coloring (apartment doors are painted black and white in an alternating style). The Narkomfin building is now under the ownership of the company Liga Prava, who won an auction for the building. Director of Liga Prava, Garegin Barsumyan said: “Nothing will change from what was conceived in the original architectural plans,” adding that it will be turned into “business class accommodation.” (What would Ginzburg and Milinis think?) The Moscow Times reports that those plans include demolishing the ground floor and exposing the pilotis (per the original design) as well converting part of the shared amenity space into a cafe. Back in June, Deputy Moscow Mayor Marat Khrusnullin said, “I personally believe these buildings should be left as monuments of how not to build.” The building's architectural significance was also acknowledged by Marina Khrustaleva, an expert on Constructivism and member of the Moscow-based architectural preservation organization Arkhnadzor. “There can’t be anyone else apart from Ginzburg in this project,” she said. Khrustaleva knows The Narkomfin well having traced its past during her career. “All foreign architects ask to go and see Narkomfin," she added. "Their education begins with descriptions of this building in their textbooks. It is of fundamental significance for the architecture of the 20th century.”