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alexandr rodchenko reference page


Brooks Adams. Rodchenko's Revolutionary Vision.(artist Aleksandr Rodchenko has distinctive modernists style). Art in America, Dec, 1998 - text
This early modernist zeal was somewhat muted in an exhibition that tried to be nuanced and well-balanced and that, while beautifully honed, was also codified and almost willfully abbreviated.
Rodchenko's art is applied and formalist right off the bat. It also carries a powerful erotic charge, visible first in the highly tactile handling of materials and finally in the almost fetishistic imagery of workers and athletes. We immediately sense a certain heat in Rodchenko's relationship to Stepanova: he tall and quizzical, with his swaggering poses and radical uniforms, she short and feisty, full of can-do energy and libidinal fun.
The originator of the shaved-head look amongst his revolutionary friends, Rodchenko is characterized in the MOMA show as a fin de siecle dandy in Soviet clothing. From the catalogue, we glean that he had a performative flair, a talent for technical know-how (his father was a theatrical properties man, his mother a laundress) and a genius for serf-promotion that would stand him in good stead in the heady days that were to follow.
Otherwise the little enamel flight pins designed for Dobrolet seemed to belong to the same artisanal tradition as Faberge eggs.
One feels hem both a radical stripping away of old motifs and a decorative piling up of new ones: after the revolution, as with Jacques-Louis David in the 1790s, new orders and new totems had to be designed right away.
This eerie vision of the delirium of social equality would seem to lead straight to 1940s Italian Neo-Realism and Roma, Citta Aperta.
His glowering head shots of the Soviet boy and girl scouts known as "Pioneers," their silhouettes shot from below against the sky, were vilified at the time as being deformed and ugly by Stalinist critics. Now they strike me as weird cyclopean blobs, latter-day Symbolist medusas.
Yet such photos have already rewritten the canon of 20th-century male beauty. At the very least, they have totally informed the later history of Olympics photography;, today both Leni Riefenstahl and Bruce Weber seem indebted to Rodchenko.
In the maelstrom of the 1920s, Rodchenko did not have time to mature as an artist, although he was wildly active as a curator, arts administrator, teacher, layout man, photojournalist, set and costume designer for both film and theater, even actor (with Stepanova) in a film test for Sergei Eisenstein's 1926 movie Old and New. The MOMA show also makes the point that Rodchenko rather gamely tried to make a go of collaborating with the Stalinist regime, but that he repeatedly failed according to the new criteria of Socialist Realism.
H. Barr, Jr., who visited Moscow in 1928 and was much impressed by the Museum of Painterly Culture.
Maybe Rodchenko's problem was that he never actually designed a product, only advertising for products. Clearly his galvanic abilities as the first great 20th-century ad man/artist, not to mention photo-propagandist, were never given adequate scope by the Stalinst regime.

Alexandr Rodchenko - text
He was one of the first photographers who realized the most dramatic way of photographing glass is to pass light through it and shoot from the 'shadow' side.
Crude as it may be, in this case placing a non-diffused photo flood lamp behind the water caraf, Rodchenko's experiments with glass pointed out a critical lighting property: glass is not so much illuminated with the brightness of light as it is dramatically defined with darkness of shadow.
It's not always glass that requires oblique and/or dramatic lighting. To better define the 'coldness' and shape of these cogs, Rodchenko opted for diffuse overhead lighting instead of direct frontal illumination. The gear teeth of the cogs are 'suggested', but it's the tops of the individual units that quickly and dramatically define the shapes.
In another situation, the lighting formula is reversed. Rodchenko wanted to emphasize the dominance of the cog teeth in the  photo, "Cogwheels". He decided, rightly so, that frontal lighting was paramount to the drama of the photograph.
This was one happy family. Not! However, it was the cultural revolution that called all these people together, demanding that they produce their fruits of labour, demanding that they put their personal lives second to the creative needs of the Revolution.
Lest anyone think that photomontage is a "lesser art", you are invited to try your hand at it. It is difficult to say the least. It's fun, but it's hard to come up with photos just the right size, neatly cut out to avoid edges and then the toughest challenge: coming up with a superior graphic design. Once you've attempted such a construction you will better appreciate the motivation behind the creation of Adobe Photoshop.

Arthur C. Danto. 'Art into life': Rodchenko - a portrait of the artist as an advertising man. (Aleksandr Rodchenko; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY). The Nation, Sept 21, 1998 v267 n8 p31(4) - text
Like Warhol and Harvey, Rodchenko was a commercial as well as a fine artist. Unlike Warhol, he began as fine, but unlike Harvey, his downshift into visual rhetoric was not a pis aller--a matter of having to make a living.
My sense is that the idea of this being the Last Painting has to do with the thought that each of the panels has the shape of an easel painting, into which any subject can be fitted. And the colors are the basic colors every painting will combine. These being the ultimate colors and the shape being the ultimate shape, painting has been resolved into its ultimate components. We now, analytically, know what painting is. And having broken through to this level of self-consciousness, we are liberated to put art to work in the service of the proletariat. With the whole of painting behind him, Rodchenko left the artistic life of bourgeois culture and, like a butterfly leaving a cocoon, he emerged as--well--an advertising artist. What would our leftist denouncers of advertising as crass say to that?
Advertising was not regarded as in any sense a sellout in the new society. Rodchenko, with inventiveness and damped gaiety, flourished.
I am reasonably sure that our own distinction between fine and commercial art makes a tacit reference to Hegel, but with artists like Rodchenko and Warhol, I think we find that "high" and "low" fuse. Warhol expressed the defining ideals of American life as Rodchenko did the defining ideals of communist life--and this is precisely the office of art in its highest vocation.
And now for the tragedy Miraculously, given his politics, Rodchenko died a natural death. He made some wonderful photographs, showing the streets from a perspective high above the action and symbolizing the distance between the artist and the society he had hoped to enhance.
In a photograph of 1947 we see Rodchenko seated beneath a painting, titled Clown With Saxophone, that must have meant a great deal to him, since he shows himself together with it. Given what painting meant to him under Marxist analysis, this was a sad effort to mm back history.
The life, as a whole, requires these final paintings, even if they are not among the "best work." From a human point of view, they are testimony to the kinds of straws this master grasped as his world disintegrated into terror and his life into neglect.

P.C. Smith. Stenberg Brothers at MOMA. (New York, New York)(Review of Exhibitions) - Art in America, Nov 1997 v85 n11 p124(1) Text
The Stenbergs reconceived the film poster as a mix of narrative drama and visual abstraction.Their compositions shift modes of representation between two or more images, as in Gossip (1928), where a diagonal bar divides a male figure from a closeup of a woman's face. The Stenbergs were attracted to exaggerated perspectives, and they projected stills with a homemade device that allowed them to distort axial orientation.
The Man from the Forest (1928), a dramatic triangle is formed by overlaying a lime-green woman's face with anguished men depicted in orange and purple.
Yet theirs are among the most complex and finely crafted visual works of modernism. Their simplified, bold renderings reflect a precise machine esthetic that embraces subtle portraiture and tonal modeling.