This seminal work by Rodchenko (1891-1956) is a key example of the Constructivist Movement. Dating from 1920, the sculpture is a demonstration of the ways in which artists such as Rodchenko sought to make themselves ‘useful’ in a post-Revolutionary Society. The birth of Soviet Russia brought about fundamental shifts in attitudes towards culture. There was a strong inclination to see both art and artists as part of the bourgeois society that the 1917 Revolution had swept aside. With works like this, Rodchenko and others took up the task of justifying their existence in the new society that they had played a part in bringing about.
A major part of this was to try and establish art as relating to some sort of practical purpose. Artists had to be useful members of society, no longer the peddlers of decorative fluff, but workers, with a role to play in perfecting the new nation. The choice of material for this sculpture can be characterised as almost ‘anti-art’, rather than being made of exclusive and expensive traditional materials, bronze or marble say, it is made from plywood, which was cheap and readily available. This sense of democratisation is carried through to the crafting of the object – it is deliberately simplified, and straightforward. The process of creation has been demystified, so that any viewer might be able to understand how the sculpture has been put together. Constructivist art was supposed to be educational, and we see this reflected in the methods of construction. This piece of sculpture actually went on tour, but not, as one might expect, to museums or galleries, but to factories, and other centres of industrial production, where it was used as an example of different ways of construction. To this end, the sculpture is designed so that it can be folded flat in on itself, making it highly portable, something that would have been particularly necessary given the relatively flimsy materials it is made from.
Overall the sculpture thus gives a sense of bringing an egalitarian air to art. Moving away from both the ‘decorative’ bourgeois art of pre-Revolution, and the more obscure ideas of many early twentieth century avant-garde movements, it expresses a sense of purpose and clarity. Though one might argue that something is lost by this desire to demystify, to simplify, the sculpture, and its creator, seem to work with the idea that knowledge should not be hidden, but instead shared freely with all: the Communist approach expressed in art. It is new art, for a new society.