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Russia has given birth to its own art, and its name it non-objectivity. Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1918.

Liubov Popova (1889-1924) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) believed art was not just something to look at in a gallery: They believed it had a social purpose. Against the background of the Bolshevik Revolution, the young Russians rejected Realism (their country’s tradition) in favour of a new movement, Constructivism. As this new exhibition at Tate Modern, Defining Constructivism, shows, the Constructivists thought art could do more than just depict subjects as they appear in everyday life – it could contribute to and change society.

The first half of the exhibition, curated by Margarita Tupitsyn,  leaves you asking the question, “And how, exactly, does this contribute to society?” Rodchenko’s and Popova’s early experiments with abstraction are too similar to compare and contrast. Most of the work on show appears to be just another example of abstract art – attractive, but arguably meaningless.

However, the second half of the exhibition comes to life, as it shows Rodchenko and Popova’s forays into advertising, textiles, theatre, film and poster design. Both artists, for example, produced propaganda and educational posters. This is where the history of the Russian Revolution seeps into their work. The poster pictured below, in the middle, reads: “The Trade Union is a Blow to Women’s Enslavement, the Trade Union is a Defender of Female Labour.” (c.1925) It was just one of Rodchenko’s many shows of support for the Revolution.

Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism can be seen at Tate Modern, London until 17 May.

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