Key Dates: 1915-1940
Constructivism was an invention of the Russian avant-garde that found adherents across the continent. Germany was the site of the most Constructivist activity outside of the Soviet Union (especially as home to Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus, a progressive art and design school sympathetic to the movement) but Constructivist ideas were also carried to other art centers, like Paris, London, and eventually the United States.
The international character of the movement was proven by the various origins of its artists. Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner, and El Lissitzky brought Constructivism from the Soviet Union to the West. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy came to Germany from Hungary, Theo van Doesburg from the Netherlands. Ben Nicholson was the most prominent English Constructivist. Josef Albers and Hans Richter encountered the movement in their native Germany but were also instrumental in its international dissemination.
Constructivist art is marked by a commitment to total abstraction and a wholehearted acceptance of modernity. Often very geometric, it is usually experimental, rarely emotional. Objective forms which were thought to have universal meaning were preferred over the subjective or the individual. The art is often very reductive as well, paring the artwork down to its basic elements. New media were often used. Again, the context is crucial: the Constructivists sought an art of order, which would reject the past (the old order which had culminated in World War I) and lead to a world of more understanding, unity, and peace. This utopian undercurrent is often missing from more recent abstract art that might be otherwise tied to Constructivism.