On Tuesday 6th of December, the second day of our trip, we spent a full day at MoMA on our own. The aim was to soak in MoMA’s art and design galleries related to the period 1920-1960, as well as two temporary displays: One and One is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers and A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of Russian Avant-Garde. Visiting these displays brought about the opportunity to see the different artistic movements and ideas from the European and Russian Avant-Garde that were translated into design and fashion during the early twentieth century.
Organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator of Drawings and Prints, and Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, the latter exhibition brings together the development of one art movement, the Russian avant-garde from 1912-1935, for the first time at The Museum of Modern Art, and features 260 works from different disciplines including paintings, sculptures, posters, illustrated books, magazines, film, theatre set and costume design, drawings, prints, and objects. All pulled from the Museum’s Russian avant-garde art collection, the most extensive outside Russia, the exhibit provides a brief but intense analysis of the movement’s range of styles, media and social functions.
The exhibition, open a few months prior the hundred year anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, depicts the developments of early Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as avant-garde photography, design and film, by Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova and Dziga Vertov, among others.
The first part of this exhibition illustrates the absorption of French modernism in works by Kandinsky and especially Rozanova and Lyubov Popova. With the birth of the artistic movement in 1919, Parisian styles were carefully studied (like works by Picasso and Matisse), which, along with the ideal of a total re-organisation of life and a new form of artistic expression available to the masses, gave life to a number of abstract paintings, design and fashion by making use of fundamental geometric shapes like squares, rectangles, circles, crosses and triangles in a limited range of colours.
This provides us with a powerful visual introduction to next term’s special option, Documenting Fashion 1920 – 1960; from the social context of Europe and its relationships with Russia to reciprocal influences in art, film, design and fashion. On the latter, constructivists preferred simple geometric shapes and complementing basic colours in their avant-garde designs. Some of the artists worked in textile factories, later on becoming actively involved in other processes of textile and fashion production and design. With their way of working with materials in such an abstract manner, their aim was to design garments that could be a reflection of practicality and their vision of art.
Russian constructivism had an immense influence on fashion, a point not only clear in collections of the 1920s and 1930s, but also in later decades. The work of Russian constructivists, along with other international artists, helped establish ideas central to ready-to-wear fashion and mass production, as well as characterizing the previous idea of modern sportswear. Constructivism would also be influential in pieces like the Pierre Cardin’s space-age paper dresses from 1960, which were inspired by art of the early 1920s and were seen as progressive clothing indicative of a utopian society of the future.